by Brad Leach - 31/10/12
We’ve just spent a day driving the updated Mazda MX-5 over the challenging mountain roads in the Gold Coast hinterland. A brand new MX-5 with the roof open on roads like those - you bet it was a great day.
The final upgrade for the NC3 model Mazda MX-5 before the all-new model (a co-development with Alfa Romeo) arrives in 2014, the MX-5 gets a new, aggressive look and detail changes to improve the driving dynamics.
Best of all, Mazda MX-5, the world’s best-selling two-seat sports car, remains very sharply priced – starting from $47,280.
And here’s Mazda’s attention to detail: weight is down. How? Well newly developed resin technology allowed a new, thinner front bumper (down from 2.3mm to 1.9mm), slashing its weight from 3.2kgs to 2.8kgs and the total length of the wiring was reduced by 6.8-metres which saved a further 104gms. Doesn’t seem much but in a car which weighs 1,167kgs (Roadster Coupe) every gram counts.
Due to very limited customer demand, Mazda Australia has not stocked any soft-top models of the superseded MX-5 – you had to order one from a dealer and wait for production in Japan. For the latest model, the soft-top versions have been deleted altogether so the new lineup is exclusively hard-top convertibles.
The updated range is:
Roadster Coupe (manual) $47,280
Roadster Coupe (automatic) $49,405
Roadster Coupe Sports (manual) $49,885
Roadster Coupe Sports (automatic) $52,010
Sports models look superb with leather-trimmed Recaro sports seats and BBS alloy wheels.
No mechanical changes for the 2.0-litre engine. Maximum power is 118kW at 7000rpm for the six-speed manual (6700rpm for the six-speed automatic) and peak torque of 188Nm arrives at 5000rpm. Combined cycle fuel consumption is rated at 8.1l/100kms.
But one of the features of the update is more linear throttle response (manual transmission models). Mazda says its engine management system monitors the amount of throttle movement in response to speed and the firmness of the drivers’ right foot, dividing the input into two categories.
And reduced friction in the brake booster means braking forces more closely match the force with which the driver hits the brake pedal.
Minor interior changes mirror the gunmetal colour for the fog-light bezel and alloy wheels. So the previous metallic colour for the dashboard, instruments and steering wheel bezel is replaced by gunmetal which provides a sportier look.
And the curved instrument binnacle is smaller.
Mazda MX-5’s seven-speaker Bose audio audio system has been improved with almost every speaker now having an individual equalizer channel and the new AutoPilot2 noise compensation technology.
On paper the front-end styling changes of the Mazda MX-5 seem minor, but in the metal, the new look ramps-up the ‘aggro’ with a lower, wider look bringing a much more athletic appearance.
The grille is actually 47mm deeper and there’s a new shape for the front bumper as well as around the fog light bezels (now finished in gunmetal). The bumper corners flare out further, reducing the turbulence to the front wheels.
And Mazda MX-5 owners will notice the number plate bracket is fully within the front grille area for a cleaner look.
New gunmetal 17-inch alloy wheels further enhance the new ‘mucho’ look for the Mazda MX-5.
Mazda has also added a new colour to the MX-5 range – a modern hue called ‘Dolphin Grey’.
Nobuhiro Yamamoto, Mazda’s MX-5’s project manager was in Australia to launch the updated model. He said the styling changes at the front also have an aerodynamic effect at speed – reducing front lift and balancing that lift front and rear is crucial to reducing understeer.
Over the high speed twists in the Gold Coast hinterland the improved braking feel and better throttle response were noticeable although you would need to drive this latest MX-5 back-to-back with the outgoing model to get a true feel.
Mr Yamamoto says efficient cornering requires putting the G-force load onto the correct tyre – that applies to braking into a corner, mid-corner balance and also onto the rear wheels when accelerating out of corner. And that’s the essence of the MX-5 (naturally aided by the engine being located behind the front axle and the 50:50 weight distribution).
Balance is the key and while we know tuning shops around the world are making living fitting turbochargers to MX-5s, for us, the 118kW/188Nm 2.0-litre is a big part of the Mazda MX-5’s balance. Throttle response and the slick-shifting six-speed manual transmission (we didn’t drive an automatic version) are now, and always have been, a huge factor in the MX-5’s dynamics.
Yes the Mazda MX-5 is still precise and firm – as all sports cars should be. Not unduly so but a couple of major bumps on our drive route found the limit.
Bottom line remains fun with a capital ‘F’.
In the ‘once around the block’ test-drive scenario, current Mazda MX-5 owners may struggle to detect the sharper throttle response and improved braking which are at the heart of the improved driving dynamics but trust us, once into the high-speed twisty stuff you’ll notice the improvement.
And while Mazda says there has been little customer interest in the soft-top model we just wonder if deleting it altogether might have been a tad too harsh.
With around one million Mazda MX-5s already sold, sports car enthusiasts have voted with their wallets. File this one under ‘I’ for ‘Icon’.
For driving dynamics and dollar-for-dollar the Mazda MX-5 remains king of the everyday two-seat hardtop sports cars. The purity of the design and the execution in terms of engineering are beyond question – Mazda hit the sweet spot when the first MX-5 arrived and is still hitting it with this, the final version of this generation.
Photos struggle to do justice to the updated look – in the metal the combination of the athletic new looks and 17-inch gunmetal alloy wheels gives the latest Mazda MX-5 the sporty boost it needed, the on-road dynamics are sharper than ever and pricing remains sharp.
In the $47,000 - $53,000 price range, Mazda MX-5 has few direct competitors as a two-seat sports car.
MINI has the Roadster ($45,500 for the Cooper S). While not a pure sports car like the MX-5, we’re fans of the two-seat hardtop MINI – precise German engineering and slick dynamics score points.
Nissan has the mercurial 370Z in Roadster form but at $75,790 it’s really out of the MX-5’s price range.
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