Mazda MX-5 2.0 Sport
By Chris Thorp
hen Auto Express tested Mazda's all-new MX-5 against its competitors, we were smitten with its lively handling, styling and well built cabin. Our only major complaint concerned the engine.
The entry-level machine's 1.8-litre petrol powerplant feels breathless on demanding roads, and has to be worked hard by the driver in order to deliver its full potential.
However, there is an alternative as the car finally hits British streets for the first time this week: buyers also have the option of a more potent 2.0-litre four-cylinder engine.
With a snappy change to the six-speed manual transmission, the 158bhp 2.0 range-topper is capable of sprinting from 0-60mph in 7.9 seconds - that's 1.5 seconds quicker than the lower-powered model. The top speed is 130mph. In everyday use, the extra 34bhp takes the hassle out of maintaining a swift pace. However, you shouldn't expect a relaxing drive. The engine's peak power doesn't arrive until a buzzing 6,700rpm, while maximum torque is little better, at 5,000rpm.
As a result, the driver will often be stirring the gears in order to stay in the powerband,but this is all part of the MX-5's playful personality. It's reasonably refined at motorway speeds with the roof up or down, and trying to keep the engine spinning at high revs adds to its involving character.
What's more, the new 2.0-litre unit feels like a better match for the MX-5's chassis. Track-day fans will have just enough power to cause the rear end to slide controllably, while the weighty and accurate steering should provide more than ample feedback.
The real beauty of Mazda's roadster is that it won't cost the earth to run. Economy is decent at 34.5mpg and emission bands are affordable, while low-maintenance parts such as the manually operated hood feel like they won't ever need replacing.
At an impressive £18,900, the MX-5 has few competitors in the roadster class which come close to matching it for either thrills or performance.
However, if you can live without wind-in-the-hair motoring, the latest breed of top-flight hot hatches are similarly priced, faster and far more practical. Nevertheless, although out of the reach of budget buyers, the newcomer is the pick of the MX-5 range.
In consciously trying to preserve the spirit of the original MX-5, Mazda has built a hugely appealing 21st century roadster. With the extra punch offered by the 2.0-litre powerplant and a snappy six-speed gearbox, the range-topper has bags of appeal. If you don't like the idea of a hot hatch, there are few more entertaining cars at this price.
At a Glance
* The MX-5's 2.0-litre engine is the more powerful of the two available. Two manual gearboxes are offered, with a sequential six-speed due later.