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Mazda MX-5 manual 2015 review

EXPERT RATING
8
Peter Barnwell road tests and reviews the new 2015 Mazda MX-5 at its international launch.

Before me is the latest incarnation of the world's best-selling two-seater sports car. Close to one million people have bought an MX-5, lured by the promise of old-fashioned, wind-in-the-hair driving thrills.

So the weight of expectation on this little red roadster is immense. In the metal, it looks well and truly up to the task.

The sensational new look is both more compact and more aerodynamic than its predecessor. But the looks only tell half the story. Over the years, Mazda's iconic convertible has drifted ever so slightly from the original formula of lightweight, affordable driving fun.

The new model is tipped to steer things back on course. It's 100kg lighter than before and suggestions are the cheapest version could sneak in under $40,000, well shy of the current price tag that is creeping towards $50,000.

But that means nothing if the new Mazda can't crack it on a twisting mountain road. Thankfully, the new MX-5 is an awesome car to drive.

After a searching drive through the outskirts of Barcelona, we can report it to be evolutionary in every respect, with incremental gains to dynamics, performance, functionality, specification, technology and quality.

Part of the secret to its improved roadholding is the liberal use of aluminium in suspension and body structure components, as well as the incorporation of other composite materials into the structure.

The classic mountain road is where this car comes into its own offering precise (electric) steering.

Some things never change, though. The soft-top roof remains manually operated and has one central latch for simplicity. The cabin is smaller than before but more accommodating and has more head room thanks to lower set seats and better design.

But the dash is hard apart from "leather" cladding to the lower section. Inside it feels and looks like an upgraded MX-5 but now has a large centrally mounted tacho while the wheel affords more legroom for the driver.

You sit closer to the passenger because of the designers' desire to centralise mass for optimum handling. We drove the 1.5 manual and have to say were sceptical about its potential.

The engine is based on a Japanese domestic market Mazda3 unit — also in the new Mazda2, but modified. They reworked the engine's camshafts and control computer as well as installing a better quality steel crankshaft to allow a red-line of 7500rpm.

The exhaust features equal length headers and an engineered "note", with a stirring burble on the throttle over run. The 2.0-litre donk is also out of a Mazda3 with similar upgrades as the 1.5-litre.

Though rated at just 96kW, the 1.5 has plenty of performance and laps up hard driving. And in the right environment, it gives nothing away to more powerful (and expensive) cars.

It's a car that does justice to the MX-5 legend.

The classic mountain road is where this car comes into its own offering precise (electric) steering, a supple but well controlled ride, a super rigid chassis, strong braking and vibrant engine performance all rolled into one attractive package.

Speaking of which, we would rate the new MX-5 as far and away the best looker of them all particularly around the front that boasts LED headlights, raised guards, a short overhang and sharp creases in the sheet metal for a look that owes nothing to any other car on the road.

Any gripes? It needs lumbar support adjustment and we think the hard dash is a step in the wrong direction even though they use double row red stitching to highlight the interior. But aside from that, it's a car that does justice to the MX-5 legend.

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And there's more good news: the price. There are suggestions the new model could come in at as little as $36,000 for the new 1.5 litre manual. That is if Mazda's Australian managing director, Martin Benders, gets his way.

"We will be pushing our case hard in negotiations with head office and are aiming to get the new MX-5 in at the most competitive price possible ," he said at the official press drive. "It all comes down to numbers, how many we think we can sell, and on that score, it's a difficult call," Mr Benders added.

Four versions will be available with a choice of the 1.5-litre or 2.0-litre four-cylinder engines and either a six-speed manual transmission developed and manufactured by Mazda itself or an efficiency optimised "SkyActive" six-speed conventional auto.

SkyActiv technology is used in both engines, which operate on an exceptionally high compression ratio and with minimised internal friction to use less fuel and generate fewer emissions.

While the 1.5 is good for 96kW/150Nm, the 2.0-litre should achieve about 125kW/200Nm. The latter is an incremental gain over the current 2.0-litre, which is rated at 118kW/188Nm.

And there's more good news: the price.

This car has been almost a decade coming, with the global financial crisis six years ago delaying development of this fourth-generation car.

Thankfully, despite the wait, the formula has remained pretty much the same over 25 years: a front-engined, rear-drive, four-cylinder rag-top with great dynamics, 50/50 weight distribution and a high fun quotient.

And Mazda executives have given a commitment that there will always be room for that formula in the future because it's the essence of the brand's "philosophy" of driving pleasure. You know ... the "Zoom Zoom" thing.

Verdict

The iconic roadster goes one better and is likely to be more accessible this time around.

Pricing Guides

$24,985
Based on 43 cars listed for sale in the last 6 months
Lowest Price
$19,990
Highest Price
$28,989

Range and Specs

VehicleSpecsPrice*
(base) 1.5L, PULP, 6 SP AUTO $24,888 – 25,888 2015 Mazda MX-5 2015 (base) Pricing and Specs
25th Anniversary L.E. 2.0L, PULP, 6 SP AUTO $26,290 – 32,450 2015 Mazda MX-5 2015 25th Anniversary L.E. Pricing and Specs
Coupe 2.0L, PULP, 6 SP AUTO $25,080 – 31,020 2015 Mazda MX-5 2015 Coupe Pricing and Specs
GT 1.5L, PULP, 6 SP AUTO $22,990 – 28,989 2015 Mazda MX-5 2015 GT Pricing and Specs
EXPERT RATING
8
Pricing Guide

$19,990

Lowest price, based on 24 car listings in the last 6 months

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