The Japanese manufacturer rolls out its fourth-generation model of the world’s best-selling roadster – a lightweight, agile, fun-to-drive car that puts the driver back in charge…
Growing up in the 1960s there was only one Grand Prix star that I worshipped and a single road-going sportscar I wanted to own – the Lotus Elan, driven by my hero Jim Clark. It was the lightest, best-looking little car that you could ever want. The iconic 1.6-litre Ford twin-cam engine produced only 105 horsepower yet the Elan weighed just 726kg and handled like
a single-seater racing car.
Production ran until 1973 by which time the company had sold the rights to build its Lotus 7 model to Caterham and decided to also leave the Elan behind and focus on more upmarket four-seaters – but the company soon floundered. In 1989, the model returned with the M100 Elan – powered by an Isuzu engine that was an abomination of all things the Lotus tradition enshrined. Little did we know that a saviour would arrive from the most unlikely of sources – Japanese carmaker Mazda. In 1991, it became the only Japanese manufacturer so far to win the Le Mans 24 Hours race. Yet an even greater achievement was the launch a year earlier of the MX-5 sportscar.
Always looking to be different, Mazda dared to unveil exactly the type of car the Europeans had always been best at making. By this March the success of that design could be reflected by 953,000 sales worldwide – the best-selling roadster ever. A fun-to-drive, rear-wheel-drive sportscar, with just 115 horsepower and weighing 950kg, it couldn’t match the power-to-weight ratio of the Lotus, but it certainly had the handling to match.
The second- and third-generation MX-5s grew a little fatter and a touch softer but now the fourth generation is with us and the focus has been turned back to the agility of the original – it’s 100kg lighter than the outgoing version. Prices start at £18,495 for the basic 131 horsepower, 1.5-litre version and nothing provides quite so much driver satisfaction for your money. There are no options here for automatic gearboxes or flappy paddles, just a straightforward six-speed manual – and a handbrake that is a lever you pull up. Three simple dials ahead of you supply all the information you need and you can have a ‘Nav’ model for an extra £600 if you need something to tell you where to go.
But wherever you go there’ll be a smile on your face. The suspension isn’t that of a rock-solid track car – there’s a bit of body roll which gives you plenty of feel for what the car is doing in a corner. It won’t suddenly bite but gently move around. A McLaren P1 might be able to corner at 60mph glued to the road but you’ll have more fun guiding an MX-5 round the same bend at 40mph.
In a motoring world dominated by headlines for 1,000 horsepower ‘hypercars’, the Mazda MX-5 puts you back in charge.
Mazda MX-5 2.0 Sport
0-62mph in 7.3 seconds
2.0-litre, four-cylinder twin cam generating 160hp