Japanese roadster meets famous British race track
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A FAMOUS JAPANESE ROADSTER MEETS AN EQUALLY FAMOUS BRITISH RACE TRACK
It was always going to be interesting to discover how Mazda’s SkyActiv technologies would influence the new MX-5.
A handful of laps around the famous Goodwood motor racing circuit in Britain last week provided some early insights and suggests Mazda has applied the “less is more” principle for the fourth generation of its roadster.
Over three generations the MX-5 had become a little bigger and a little heavier. While by no means afflicted by the extremes of “middle-age spread” that have weighed down some other sports cars over the years, another step along that path would probably have put the MX-5 ethos at risk.
The new MX-5 is not only lighter and more efficient but also boasts enhanced safety, connectivity options and driving refinement as elements of its skills set.
Most importantly the new MX-5 weighs in up to 100kg lighter than the outgoing model and the 975kg kerb weight of the new entry level 1.5-litre manual makes it the lightest MX-5 since the 1989 original — not a bad achievement considering the increased safety and specification content in the intervening quarter of a century.
This is a smaller MX-5 with the wheelbase being 20mm shorter than the third generation car and overall length is reduced by 105mm. But the body is 15mm wider and the track widened by 5mm at the front and 10mm at the rear. It also has a little less boot space.
Settling into the snug cockpit and reaching for the short gearshift lever atop a raised centre console is a familiar experience. The 2.0-litre manual version I’m driving the engine fires into life by pressing a starter button.
Out in the circuit the 2.0-litre SkyActiv-G unit serves up a blend of revvy eagerness and some useful mid-range flexibility. The new 1.5-litre is regarded as a peakier experience requiring a little more gearshifting work and ultimately delivering a more rewarding drive but our track programme allowed time for a single car and I’ve ended up in a 2.0-litre manual.
Goodwood is a very quick circuit with fast corners — a couple of which have double apex. I’m grateful for the braking, turn-in and apex markers that guide the learning experience.
The steering feels quick and unfiltered while the poise of the MX-5 through the Goodwood sweepers showcase the benefits of a 50:50 front-to-rear weight distribution, rear-wheel-drive and a low centre of gravity.
Other early impressions include a noticeable gain in refinement and body integrity while a few minutes at standstill allows time to test out the simple operation of the soft-top.
The fabric roof is fully manual and is secured by a central latch at the top of the windscreen.
If you’ve been enjoying open top driving and want to close the roof there’s a release at shoulder height between the rear seats. Unlatch that and the roof pops up far enough to easily grab the centre handle and with little effort pull the roof closed and secure the lid.
This new version of the world’s best-selling roadster comes out of the starting blocks in New Zealand at the end of August and the early adopters are already in the queue for the initial batch of 20 cars — all 1.5-litre and six-speed manual variants.
The 1496cc direct injection SkyActiv-G unit is a punchier version of the new Mazda2 engine and develops 96kW at 7000rpm with 150Nm of torque at 4800rpm. Mazda reckons it’s the small-bore MX-5 that will have the most appeal to the hard core sports car fans.
There’s a wait of a few months before 2.0-litre cars — with six-speed manual or six-speed automatic transmission choices — arrive in New Zealand. Hardtop MX-5s will come later in 2016.
The 1998cc SkyActiv-G engine has 118kW at 6000rpm and 200Nm of torque at 4600rpm. That’s the same power output — but at 1000rpm less — than the previous 2.0-litre S-VT engine while the peak of the torque curve is 12Nm higher yet reached at lower rpm.
In both cars the six-speed transmission is no-longer overdriven in top gear and has a 1:1 sixth gear. The suspension is a double wishbone layout at the front and multi-link at the rear.
The sports car market is a small one but the arrival of new generation models always brings a spike in sales — especially when there’s a sports car available at mainstream price points.
Details of the New Zealand specification and pricing have yet to be confirmed but the “less is more” philosophy is also expected to apply to the pricing with a significantly more affordable entry point for the new 1.5-litre model.
Mazda New Zealand will be launching the car in late August.