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Archive
 12


Mazda hit the mark nearly a decade ago with the MX-5,
but does the updated version live up to the old model?
We check it out.


The British love affair with the sports car was rekindled in 1989 with the launch of the MX-5. Today, with sales approaching half a million world-wide, the appeal of this open two-seater remains undiminished, but after nine years a major revamp was overdue.    Mazda's main problem was how to improve its popularity, yet not upset the many devout admirers at the same time?
   This was a real dilemma, but sensibly the Japanese manufacturer followed the 'if it ain't broke, dont fix it' philosophy, so the changes are largely under the skin with just a deft touch and a slight tweak on the surface - nothing too drastic that would change the overall appearance of a winning formula, although not many panels from the old car have been taken over.
   The most obvious visual change is the replacement of the pop-up headlamps with fixed units, while at the rear the boot lid has been raised slightly, along with minor tinkering elsewhere, to make the body aerodynamically more efficient and just 5mm wider. Otherwise it shares more-or-less the same dimensions as the model it replaces.

One of the objectives set by Mazda was for the car to retain its familiarity - which has been achieved - so that existing enthusiasts would immediately identify with the car yet, at the same time, gain one or two new devotees to open-air motoring.    The snug interior is where the makeover is most noticeable. Redesigned seats for greater support, a slightly more curvaceous dashboard and re-worked instrument panel, dual airbags (as well as other passive safety features) and a wind aeroboard on the 1.8 derivative to lessen the air flow from the rear during open top motoring, are just some of the alterations/additions that have taken place.
   A larger boot (the space-saver spare wheel now lives beneath the floor divider with the battery) and more interior stowage space adds to the practicality of the car.
   Raising and lowering the vinyl hood remains superbly easy after releasing just two side catches and pushing the frame back. A tonneau cover is supplied as standard. Equally welcome is the integral heated rear glass screen. This is a real bonus in comparison with the restrictive visibility often associated with the plastic screen on most other convertibles.
   The same couple of engines from the previous MX-5 has been retained for the newcomer, although both have been revised to increase their flexibility and give a performance boost throughout the range.
  
On the road these improvements are immediately evident as the power is delivered and you slice cleanly through the five-speed manual gearbox to skim about a second off the 0-62mph with the 1.6-litre and just over half-a-second from the 1.8-litre powered version as compared with the old model. Actual timings are now 9.7 and eight seconds respectively.

  Top speed for the smaller engined car is 118mph (up 9mph) and 127mph for the 1.8-litre, an improvement of 4mph. Stopping is equally impressive too, the all-round disc brakes are superb with just the right amount of feel to the pedal. ABS is standard on the 1.8iS version.
   Most important in this day of the 3-plus gallon of petrol is the consumption and in both cases this has decreased with over 30mpg being easily attainable during normal everyday use. Again, this is a useful improvement on earlier variants.
   With its classic front engine rear wheel drive layout to give excellent weight distribution and balance, the new car now feels even better due to various mechanical changes that have tightened up the suspension to give even sharper handling. But that's not all, the body feels altogether more rigid and beefier, although not to the detriment of the ride quality which is difficult to fault.
   With an on-the-road starting price of 15,520 for the new 1.6i MX-5 and another 1,130 for the higher powered derivative, this roadster offers maximum fun for a reasonable outlay. Throw in three years/60,000 mile warranty & European recovery, Group 11 insurance on the 1.6 and 12 for the larger capacity 1.8-litre unit and you have a package that is unrivalled in this expanding small sports car sector.
   Certainly nothing has been lost in the new model, but much has been gained. In our opinion the car is better than ever and should easily achieve the maker's aspirations and bring the joys of open air motoring to a still wider audience.

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