By Paul Gover.
You have to love the Mazda MX-5.
Since 1989 the taut little tyke has been spreading miles of smiles around the world and nothing has changed in 2020.
It’s still a two-seater roadster that is intimate and involving.
The MX-5 is nowhere near the performance of a Ferrari or Lamborghini, but that’s not the point. Or the objective.
It’s a car to be enjoyed at sensible speeds, not rocket-ship velocities on a racetrack, and that’s what has made it the world’s favourite sports car for three decades. You really have to drive.
The latest MX-5 is sharper in the styling than earlier models, with six variations – bodies, gearboxes and engines – but the basics are the same as always with a nimble chassis, rear-wheel drive, and a body that can be opened to the elements.
In recent times the most-popular MX-5 is the least ’sporty’ of the line-up, the 2-litre auto with the mechanised folding hardtop roof. And that’s a shame.
Sliding into the basic car, with a 1.5-litre engine and a manual roof and gearbox, I am transported straight back to ’89 when I was one of the first people in Australia to drive an MX-5. It was memorable then and it’s just as memorable now.
Again like then, the boot is too small, and you have to stir the engine and gearbox, and it can get noisy in the cabin and the sound system is lacklustre.
But… But what?
No-one buys an MX-5 because they want a boring commuter box, or they cannot wait for autonomous driving and electric cars.
It’s a raw car for people who like to shift gears, like a direct connection to the road, and would prefer the long way home if it included a combination of tricky corners.
Twice during my latest MX-5 time I went driving just because. Because I wanted to drive.
The weather at the moment is chilly at best, but the folding canvas roof is easy to use and the car opens to welcome the world. Even a few spits of rain are no real inconvenience, as it’s quick and easy to stop and lift the roof back into place.
Come summer, the MX-5 really rises to the occasion.
Some people say the 2-litre engine is best for the MX-5, and they also like the auto with paddles on the steering wheel, but I much prefer the 1.5-litre power-plant despite it’s relatively lacklustre performance figures. It’s more lively, more responsive, and it feels lighter over the front wheels and makes the car more sharp when you turn into corners.
For me, the cabin is still a bit cramped – age and girth are both rising – and I would prefer a better sound system. The boot is also tricky to unlock, although my 11-year-old – after a birthday – found it easiest to kill the engine and use the remote control.
The MX-5 is super-easy to park, is light on fuel, and has good headlights and brakes.
It’s not perfect, and it never has been, but that’s also part of the attraction.
If you want to drive, and like to drive, the MX-5 outperforms cars that cost double and triple and quadruple its affordable price-tag.
Someone important once told me that the last litre of petrol would be poured into a sports car.
It’s very likely to be an MX-5.
Price: from $35,890
Transmission: 6-speed manual, rear-wheel drive
Position: sports car
Plus: nimble, focussed, rewarding
Minus: tiny boot, noisy
THE TICK: Every time