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Test Drive: Mazda MX-5 – The answer is still always Miata

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Shorter, wider, lower and most importantly, lighter, than its predecessor, the new MX-5 can do no wrong.

 

Longer, higher, larger, heavier; cars keep packing on the plump with every successor. Sure, larger cars may carry more people cosseted in increased comfort but surely sports cars should be able to outrun this obese objective that manufacturers seem to believe.

Unfortunately, the heavy hand of heft has not spared sports cars as each and every one of the quick and the deadly grow with every new generation that replaces it.

Even the Mazda MX-5 (known as the Miata in some markets), the very embodiment of a lightweight sports car, has not been pardoned. Since the first one wowed the world back in 1989, every replacement has progressively grown and became less pure to drive.

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But this time, somehow; with plenty of witchcraft and wizardry (more like SkyActiv and smartness) we believe, the all-new MX-5 is smaller and lighter than not just its predecessor but the very first generation model. The fact that Mazda were able to achieve that, over the very car it was based on almost 20 years ago, is downright mindboggling.

The MX-5 ND is over 100kg lighter, shorter, wider and lower than its predecessor. It also has more power. Mazda promises the most bona fide “Jinba Ittai” experience yet, the Japanese term used to describe horse and rider as one and the marketing machines’ catchphrase to sell the car.

If you are a numbers person, the digits to digest are these; 105mm shorter in overall length, wheelbase shortened by 15mm, 20mm lower and 10mm wider.

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At this point in time, we would like to inform you that based on all these facts alone that the car will be amazing to drive and if you are planning to get one, save yourself some time reading this and get a head start to the showroom and put that pen to bloody paper already.

If you are like the rest of us and cannot have one because of reasons but want to know why the answer to the proverbial motorsports question is always Miata; read on.

Maximising its SkyActiv initiative, extensive use of aluminium for the chassis, bonnet, boot lid, front fenders, front and rear bumper supports as well as the soft-top mechanism allowed for ample weight reduction on the exterior. Going back to basics, the roof is a strictly manual affair with arguably the simplest single-motion move to open and close.

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The use of aluminium goes way beyond skin deep however. Almost all of the front suspension components are formed from the light alloy with some designed smaller as well, as is the rear bulkhead, roll-hoop, transmission casing, differential casing, and the structural brace that runs down the spine of the car, connecting the transmission and differential.

Shaving 100kg from a car that is already considered to be on the light side of the spectrum requires some nitpicking and the engineers went so far as to reduce the wheel bolts from five to four.

Inside, the car is as spacious as can be expected. The use of stronger materials in the structure opens up cabin space. The all important driving position is now much better with the seat lower by an inch and reclinable further. With the door sills rising high over your shoulder, you get the proper feeling of sitting inside rather than on top of the car.

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The minimalist dash is similar to that in the Mazda 2 and all controls except the air-conditioning are integrated in the multifunction infotainment system with the rotary dial controller. A Bose sound system delivers decent music with some of the speakers integrated in the fixed headrest itself.

Nonetheless, forward visibility has improved despite the lower seating position. All this is courtesy of the engine being pushed back by an inch and lower by half an inch, allowing the hood to be lowered by an inch.

Speaking of which, the engine is a 2.0-litre SkyActiv piece based on the CX-5’s powerplant and adapted for longitudinal use in the MX-5. Some of the major changes over the mill in its SUV sibling are the intake manifold, exhaust system and cylinder head.

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158hp and 200Nm off torque is what you will get, more than enough for something weighing at a feather over a tonne. Interestingly, a 1.5-litre engine is available in some other markets as well as an entry level variant but Malaysia will only get the larger engine.

For something as pure, unadulterated and immersive as the MX-5, a manual option is the only way to go. Unfortunately, Bermaz only has the six-speed automatic with paddle shifters for now. It has promised that the three-pedal version will be making its way here sometime this year though so you can hold off on compromising your petrolhead beliefs if you want yours with a proper clutch.

The center of gravity has dropped by nearly a quarter of an inch. As we mentioned earlier in the article, we just know the car will be phenomenal to drive. All that is left to deduce is just how far will we be willing to go to own one.

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Will it just be selling both family cars because ISOFIX mounts are unnecessary, refinancing the house because the car has a roof and anything with a roof is home or emptying out your EPF funds on medical grounds because you will not be able to work after this is you do not get an MX-5?

Double wishbones up front and proven multilinks at the rear give the MX-5 excellent dynamics at any speed. Riding on sticky 205/40R17 Bridgestone Potenza S001’s, grip is available in abundance and it took some real flogging to even make them squeal.

Even with the switch to electric steering, feedback is communicative and weightage is spot on. It takes plenty of effort to turn the wheel yet manages to not feel counterfeit.

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The term point-and-shoot is best used here, with tall fender creases making it effortless to place the car on the asphalt. Sitting so low and the shorter wheelbase has its advantages, allowing you to feel and sense what the chassis is up; even the rear axle and its labours.

With such narrow rubbers connecting the roadster to the road, doing foolish things at higher speeds would seem half-witted but the MX-5 remained nimble and planted.

Load transfer is one of the ways the car communicates with the driver but in something lacking weight, some compliance was engineered into the suspension to convey the feeling of load transfer to the driver during corners as the car squirms a split-second initially before responding to steering inputs.

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When the grip does give up the ghost, the MX-5 is easily reigned in although catching the slide is not one for the amateurs.

Mazda has outdone itself with the latest MX-5. It had set out to answer the question that asked for an affordable, fun roadster in the style of classic British metal such as the Triumph Spitfire and Lotus Elan but with Japanese reliability to eliminate the puddle of engine oil on the driveway floor each morning.

The answer to that question, and almost every other motorsports or driving enthusiast query since then, has and always will be the Miata.

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Specifications of the Mazda MX-5
Engine: 1,998cc, DOHC 16V, inline-four, direct injection
Max power: 158hp@6,000rpm
Max torque: 200Nm@4,000rpm
Transmission: Six-speed automatic
Safety features: Four airbags, ABS, EBD, BA, stability control, traction control, lane departure warning, adaptive front lighting, high-beam control system
Price: RM 226,376.33 OTR w/insurance

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