The Australian launch of the 1.5-litre Mazda MX-5 was just Part One of the story of the latest-generation model. Now Part Two has arrived in the form of the 2.0-litre version, giving buyers of the classic roadster a choice of two different sized engines for the first time.
The new 1.5-litre was as good as we hoped when we first drove it on Aussie roads – light and sharp it had the same simple fun factor that made the MX-5 a cult favourite.
Sure, its engine makes just 96kW, but an MX-5 isn't about brute force - it's a puppy that wants to play.
So we approached the 2.0-litre with caution – was this bigger dog going to be less playful or would the extra grunt actually mean more fun? And faced with the choice of two different engines which car best lives up to the legend that is MX-5?
With an entry fee of $34,990 the 2.0-litre is priced sharply like the 1.5-litre (which starts at $31,990) and undercuts its Toyota 86 GTS hard-topped rival by a grand.
Mazda focussed on making this fourth generation MX-5 lighter and stronger than the outgoing car. When it's wearing the manual gearbox the 2.0-litre car tips the scales at just 1033kg giving it the same power-to-weight ratio as a Lotus Elise.
Another major focus for the engineers was to ensure the new MX-5 retained the fun factor of the previous generations - that communication the driver has with the car and the way it responds.
New more rigid front and rear suspension, sharper steering, moving the engine rearward by 15mm were just some of the steps taken to retain the and even improve the fun.
As MX-5 Programme Manager Nobuhiro Yamamoto says it's "engineering devoted to taking our original aims into the future".
The 2.0-litre tore up the side of mountains like a show-off
We reckon they achieved this in the 1.5-litre and as our plane lands at Mount Hotham on a runway beside a fleet of waiting MX-5s with the Great Alpine Rd twisting away from them towards the Tasman Sea we're about to find out if the same is true for the 2.0-litre too.
On the road
Dropping down into the seat of the base model Roadster with a six-speed manual I hit the ignition button, tap the accelerator and listen. It doesn't have the sound! The 1.5-litre lets out a deep growl of an exhaust note when you feed it more throttle. Rev the 2.0-litre and things get louder but the note gets higher and shriller, too.
It's through the turns that MX-5s shine
As we head out of the carpark and onto the highway that climbs through the mountains my disappointment with the sound disappears when I discover the grunt. The extra 22kW and 50Nm equates to 23 per cent more power and 33 per cent more torque than in 1.5-litre.
Having spent the last three days struggling up the hills of Sydney's Eastern suburbs in a 1.5-litre I could have done with this extra oomph. The difference was clear as the 2.0-litre tore up the side of mountains like a show-off.
Mazda's claimed 0-100km/h sprint time of 7.1 seconds is not supercar quick, but it's 1.4 seconds quicker than the 1.5-litre car and the car pulls strong from low revs.
That said the 2.0-litre is rev limited to 6000 rpm, while the 1.5-litre spins all the way to 7000rpm before cut out.
But it's through the turns that MX-5s shine and on the alpine switchbacks the 2.0-litre showed it had not only the cornering ability the roadster is known for but the power to pull even harder out of them.
The 2.0-litre is armed with bigger brakes that wash off the speed nicely, and while its larger 17-inch wheels make for a slightly harder ride the 10mm wider rubber they wear holds the road better than the 1.5's skinnier ones.
Mazda needed to add larger springs and dampers to compensate for the 14kg heavier 2.0-litre engine – the result is a ride that is still comfortable but firm enough for impressive handling.
That six-speed manual is wonderful – small flicks of the wrist swap cogs effortlessly. The only drawback was striking my knee on the steering wheel occasionally when releasing the clutch – partly my fault for being 6ft 3 and mainly all legs, and also because the steering wheel can't be adjusted for reach.
If we're going to get bitchy then there's also a bit of wind noise when the roof is up. Oh and there's no digital speedo.
Talking of the roof – the way it folds back and click away with one arm movement is brilliant.
We reach the Victorian coast, and dive into the six-speed automatic and make a bee-line back to Hotham. The steering wheel paddle shifters are great and changing up through the gears is fun, but not as much as doing it yourself. But as the sun dips and we hit the highway the time to cruise and relax is welcome.
We're in the top-spec Roadster GT and it's a nice place to be with its stitched leather seats, metal-finishes to the instrument cluster and air vents and door trim which is colour matched to the exterior.
Both the GT and the base model come with the 7-inch touch screen with MZD media unit and satnav, which makes the entry car an enticing proposition.
Looking out over the bonnet with its pontoon-like flared wheel arches, you could think you're in something far more exotic but the truth is you don't need to be when something is this good. It's a beautifully styled car, that is still very much MX-5.