The Philippine auto market has never had such a wide choice of performance cars to choose from. We have turbocharged sport sedans, sport coupes and hot hatchbacks, but none of them offer driving pleasure quite like an open top roadster.
Such is the case for the fourth generation Mazda MX-5; a convertible that is pure, simple and exhilarating to drive. But we’re getting ahead of ourselves.
Examining the car for the first time and it’s clear that Mazda designed it to look like it’s moving even when sitting still. Mazda didn’t use any fancy spoilers, aero splitters, vents, louvres or other rice-rocket essentials, as they achieved this look of motion, thanks to their Kodo design philosophy; an interpretation of animalistic motion to automotive expression. The snout is long and sleek, featuring the signature Mazda radiator grille and intake, flanked by a very sharp pair of LED headlights. The lines, curves, and creases are all shaped to represent a cheetah while running.
Sitting inside, the MX-5 is tight. It’s expected, given that this is purely a 2-seat roadster. The dashboard, much like Mazda’s other models, is clean and straightforward; no fancy details or unnecessary trim or trinkets. The fabric seat hugs the body nicely and comfortably, while the primary controls such as the steering wheel and shift knob are perfectly shaped and wrapped in leather.
Of course, being a roadster, the top can and probably will be dropped. Unlike the third generation MX-5 (NC) with the power retractable hard top offered by then-distributor Ford, this fourth generation ND offered by Mazda is a manual soft top only to keep down the weight, an obsession that has been at the heart of the MX-5 since 1989.
SkyActiv, Mazda’s name for it brand of efficient performance philosophy, gives Mazda’s engineers and designers the tools they need to combat the number one enemy of fuel economy. Things like high tensile steel allow Mazda to use less material on the monocoque (hence less mass), lightweight materials like aluminum and composites, and a minimalist approach to the roadster like the manual soft top, a simple manual airconditioning system and omitting power features like power adjustable seats and the like is widely applied. The result is a car that weighs just 1,041 kilograms. To put that in perspective, a similarly specced Toyota 86 2.0-liter with a six-speed manual transmission weighs in at around 1,275 kilos.
No muscle car
Powering the MX-5 is a 2.0-liter SkyActiv inline four. With 160 PS (158 horsepower) and 200 Newton-meters, it’s not exactly revolutionary, but it’s plenty for the weight. With the push of a button, that 2.0-liter motor gets going, letting out a rumble from the exhaust. It’s no muscle car, but the sound is pretty good for a four banger. In the city with the top up, the MX-5 is actually a viable car to use everyday.
The ride is surprisingly better than I would have expected. It’s not plush by any means, but it’s definitely not harsh; there’s a good level of absorption going on, especially for a sports car. Do expect exterior noise (i.e. motorcycles) to protrude into the cabin; that’s just a part of roadster motoring.
Where the Mazda MX-5 really shines is on an open mountain road. With the top dropped, I engage second gear while heading uphill. It’s visceral. The exhaust note and the power are just perfect for a car of this size and weight, as the powertrain can accelerate the MX-5 from a standstill to 100 kilometers per hour in just 7.3 seconds. The transmission has a very positive feel to it; no notchy or spongy shifts.
Find a corner and you’ll see how well Mazda’s vehicle dynamicists have truly earned their pay. The MX-5’s brakes are excellent, easily scrubbing off the speed you’ve built up after going full throttle.
The steering, despite being assisted electrically instead of hydraulically, gives a good degree of feel and has pinpoint precision. If you want to grab gutters and drop the front tires on the dirt at the apex of a corner, you can do so again and again with ease. Once you clip the apex, just feed in the throttle if you prefer to keep the back in check, or you can mash the throttle and kick the tail out a bit.
At P1.680 million, this MX-5 2.0-liter 6MT is a hoot to drive, and that’s even compared to models like the Genesis Coupe, the 86, the BRZ and the CR-Z. All those sports coupes have revitalized interest in the performance car with their handling, power and outright speed, but the Mazda MX-5 roadster is still special.
This MX-5 is a car where your only limit is your skill, how much you want to spend on fuel, brakes and tires, and how much you want to comb your hair afterwards.