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Mazda MX-5 1.5-litre automatic 2015 review

EXPERT RATING
8
Richard Berry road tests and reviews the Mazda MX-5 1.5-litre automatic with specs, fuel consumption and verdict.

Car geeks will fight each other to the death over which sportscars they think are the best, but the one car that breaks up their brawling is the Mazda MX-5. That's because just about everybody agrees this little roadster is damned good and has been ever since it introduced to the world in 1989.

The latest generation of the MX-5 arrived in 2015 and is available for the first time in a choice of two different sized engines. We've already reviewed the new MX-5 with the larger engine, and also the smaller 1.5-litre version with the manual gearbox so here's a look at that less muscly twin but with an automatic transmission. While we're at it we'll also find out if the purists are right – is the MX-5 best driven with a manual gearbox and does an auto take all the fun out?

Design

The first MX-5 came about because in 1980 Mazda's head of R&D asked an American what he thought the company should do next. The American was a car journalist and he answered as every self-respecting Californian should: "a convertible sportscar". Mazda ended up hiring that journo to oversee its creation.

The MX-5 is now universally considered a landmark car, because it brought affordable and fun driving back in an age when roadsters like the British MG had ended production and other convertibles cost the Earth.

That same approach to design was applied to this fourth generation model too – the entire car has been re-crafted with fun driving in mind. That included using lighter and stronger materials, moving the engine slightly rearward to improve handling, and finding the perfect seating position and some painstaking adjustments such moving the windscreen backwards by about 5cm and lowering the bonnet just so you can see better. That's the kind of lengths you have to go to make good things better.

The foot well is deep and it's a bit like sitting in a bath tub

Exterior designers have dropped the cute Disney cartoon looks in favour of a car that's styled to look tougher and more serious, but still instantly identifiable as an MX-5.

The cabin's been given an overhaul and now has an interior which looks as up-to-date as the rest of Mazda's range with our GT spec getting the dash mounted touch screen as a standard feature.

Even at 6ft 3 slipping into the driver's seat isn't a problem – the foot well is deep and it's a bit like sitting in a bath tub, although headroom is a bit tight with the lid on.

About town

The MX-5 is low to the ground – just like a sportscar should be - so if you crave the elephant ride feeling you get in an SUV you may not enjoy the sensation that comes with turning to look out your window in the Mazda and seeing the tyres of the cars in the traffic at eye level.

There's also getting in and out – it can be awkward if you're tall, over 40 and hopelessly uncoordinated. The top tip is to get in and out with the roof folded back, so that you can pretty much step in and slip down and reverse the process to get out.

That fold down fabric roof, by the way, is wonderful – it's all mechanical and so simple you can unlatch it and swing it back in a single movement with one hand without getting out of the car. That basic low tech mechanism will still be working in 20 years long after the posh electric roofs of more expensive cars have got stuck half way up... most likely in the rain.

Manuals are great fun for twisting country roads, but you have to be a masochist if you reckon changing gears constantly in bumper to bumper traffic is enjoyable

We spent most our time buzzing about the inner city streets of Sydney and its beaches in early December as the city was coming out of its winter hibernation. It's here that the automatic transmission was perfect suited. Manuals are great fun for twisting country roads, but you have to be a masochist if you reckon changing from first to second then into first then into second constantly in bumper to bumper Christmas traffic is enjoyable.

The MX-5 is a two seater, the roof folds down into a compartment behind the seats, but the boot has enough room for a decent load of shopping. But if you're giving anybody a lift to the airport they better have carry-on luggage only.

On the road

When we did break free of the city on our blast north through the bush MX-5, the auto stepped up to the challenge too – there's a sport mode which keeps the revs higher in what's called the powerband and that means when you push the accelerator a tad more you get instant oomph.

Talking of oomph the 1.5-litre being reviewed here is the smaller of the engines – the other is a 2.0-litre. There's a very noticeable difference in power between the two, but this car is not about brute force power – it's about fun and feeling and the latest generation of the MX-5 has bags of it.

Yes, it won't outrun your neighbour's V8 suburban beast in a straight line, but I'd like to see if they can keep up with you on a twisty race track because the MX-5 is nimble and agile.

That said, there was something missing during the blast through the bush – and that was the six speed manual. Flicking through the gears just accentuates the experience and really connects that driver to the car. Driving an MX-5 on a wriggly country road with an automatic transmission is like watching a foreign movie with the subtitles – you can follow the story but you're missing out on some crucial involvement.

There's an incredible sensation that comes with just cruising through the backroads, top down

But not everybody feels the needs to be this involved and there's an incredible sensation that comes with just cruising through the backroads, top down with the auto letting you absorb the sights, sounds and smells that greet a top down roadster on its journey.

Verdict

The MX-5 is brilliant, whether it has an automatic transmission or manual gearbox. It's up to the driver and where you decide to take it. For the city the auto makes life easy, while the manual adds that extra bit of connection for full-on fun. Either way you can't go wrong.

Are the purists right? Well, they should probably get a life and realise that not everybody is like them.

What's it got

Our top of the range GT-spec car has standard features such as a display screen with satnav, keyless entry, push button start, heated leather seats and daytime LED running lights.

What it hasn't

Reversing camera and parking sensors.

Ownership

Mazda has a three-year/100,00km warranty with services needed very 10,000km that end up costing about $1350.

Would you prefer the manual or auto experience in an MX-5? Let us know in the comments below.

Click here for more 2015 Mazda MX-5 price and spec info

Pricing Guides

$24,937
Based on 42 cars listed for sale in the last 6 months
Lowest Price
$19,990
Highest Price
$28,990

Range and Specs

VehicleSpecsPrice*
(base) 1.5L, PULP, 6 SP AUTO $23,000 – 28,990 2015 Mazda MX-5 2015 (base) Pricing and Specs
25th Anniversary L.E. 2.0L, PULP, 6 SP AUTO $26,400 – 32,560 2015 Mazda MX-5 2015 25th Anniversary L.E. Pricing and Specs
Coupe 2.0L, PULP, 6 SP AUTO $25,190 – 31,130 2015 Mazda MX-5 2015 Coupe Pricing and Specs
GT 1.5L, PULP, 6 SP AUTO $22,990 – 26,999 2015 Mazda MX-5 2015 GT Pricing and Specs
EXPERT RATING
8
Richard Berry
Senior Journalist

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Pricing Guide

$19,888

Lowest price, based on 7 car listings in the last 6 months

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