Text: Vince Pornelos / Photos: Brent Co | posted August 03, 2009 00:00
This is the purity of the roadster experience. This is the new Mazda MX-5.
Rewind twenty years and the Mazda eXperimental project 5, or MX-5, is unveiled at the 1989 Chicago Auto Show, reviving the traditional British roadster and sports cars as a whole. Now, with nearly seven digits of production over three generations of the badge, Mazda Philippines brings in a new and improved MX-5.
Over the original 3rd gen model, the new MX-5 has an aggressive new face, bringing it in line with Mazda's new, more athletic design language. There's a new five-point grille dominating the fascia, heightening the much stronger character lines that stretch along the skirt towards the new rear bumper. Completing the new face is a new set of sharp, bezeled foglamps.
Inside, the touches are much more subtle, with a new matte, deep silver trim gracing the dashboard, giving a classier feel. The only other marked differences include a new center console cupholder and color schemes, but apart from those, the dash remains fundamentally the same, no-nonsense approach to the roadster. The leather seats get improved bolstering... the better to attack corners with. The passenger seat is quite unique, as it has ISO-FIX anchors so that your toddler need not miss out on the fun.
I find it peculiar that the MX-5 doesn't come with automatic climate control, or even traction control, but those shortcomings are made up for by an exclusive BOSE audio system. With a 6-channel amplifier sending sound to 7 speakers, and with a noise compensation system to boot, entertainment is well and truly taken care of, though it's only secondary to the Roadster's true nature and purpose… and it begins with the controls.
The seats hug you tight. The steering wheel's rim fits the palm so perfectly. The rifle action of the shifter feels so natural and direct. The pedals are so perfectly placed and spaced. The gauges are large and easy to read, while every prominent control is within easy reach. It really does feel one with the driver… and I haven't even left the parking lot yet.
Firing up the 2 liter engine for the first time resonates a deeper, throatier rumble than before. MX-5's have never really been aurally exciting machines from the dealer forecourt, but this one, with the new Induction Sound Enhancer, sounds absolutely glorious from the first turn of the key up to the new rev limit of 7500 rpm.
At the heart of the MX-5 is the 167 hp (169 PS) four pot MZR engine, the same as the original 3rd generation, but with several key improvements. There's a new forged crankshaft, new floating piston pins and valve springs. There's no significant hike over the outgoing model, but there is a marked difference in terms of power delivery, as peak power is now rated at 7000 rpm as opposed to 6700 rpm in the outgoing engine. The six-speed manual transmission that sends drive to the rear wheels has also been updated and uprated for smoother shift feel.
My left foot prods the light clutch, my right hand slots the short throw shifter into the first of its six gears, and I let her off the leash. On a clear patch of road, a hundred kilometers per hour is dispatched in a blink under 8 seconds after rowing through the closely ratioed gears at full throttle. The MX-5 will top out at well over 200 km/h, yet remains very stable. It even yields 8.4 kilometers to the liter after 4 days of performance, city and highway driving with both the top up and down.
We make our way out of the Metro, venturing deep into the mountains, atop a glorious combination of corners of varying radii and cambers, long stretches of tarmac, all with the breathtaking backdrop and weather at the edge of the Sierra Madre range in Tanay, Rizal. We've driven a multitude of cars here, from the BMW 325i Coupe to Mitsubishi's shining star, the twin-clutch Evo X MR… but none of them can compare with the experience of the MX-5.
Just beside the engine is a double wishbone suspension set up while at the back is an independent multi-link set up, all riding on new 17 inch aluminum wheels with wide Bridgestone Potenza RE050As wrapped around them. For 2009, Mazda retuned the shock and spring rates to improve the directness of the car's feel, and it shows.
Turn into a corner and the front digs in, pushing the new face of the MX-5 into the apex. The rest of the roadster follows suit, motivated by the power from the MZR engine, rocketing the car out of the corner and onto the next one. The front does have a tendency to rock from side to side upon hitting a bump mid-corner, lending the feeling that this little Sunflower Yellow roadster is getting unsettled, but it's always so controllable.
It's definitely easy to push the MX-5's envelope, especially with a perfect 50:50 weight distribution from front to back. It's even easier to get sideways, but not here, where there's a 200+ meter drop beyond the guardrail, and I wouldn't want to test the airbags.
Just as we enter the highest reaches of the mountain range, the clouds open up, letting the sun caress the lush greens and black tarmac in the horizon. With just a release of a lever, a push of a button and 12 seconds, the MX-5 transforms from coupe to open top roadster; the 3 piece roof folding back, tucking neatly into a concealed compartment just behind me.
Immediately the interior gets bathed in sunlight with fresh outdoor air rushing into the open cabin and into my hair. Strangely, the cabin is relatively quiet despite the open top, while the audio system automatically compensates for the new environment.
The MX-5, for all its great handling and emotional appeal, is quite pricey at a whisker under PhP 2.2M.
And there lies the rub.
Many would contend that the Mazda MX-5 isn't worth it, especially since there are performance cars out there like the Subaru Impreza STI with nearly double the power, yet at only PhP 200k more. In that respect, it's easy to agree... but that's missing the point completely.
Sure, in the STI or other performance machines, knowing that you have the power to make supercar owners truly nervous will command an almost evil smirk on your face. But the Mazda MX-5, with the top down, will elicit a genuine, unadulterated smile of pure satisfaction.
Isn't that what a roadster is all about?