Text: Vince Pornelos / Photos: Kelvin Christian Go | posted September 09, 2016 14:14
Mazda MX-5 A/T
If purists had their way, the world would be black and white; beer must be full bodied and not light, chicken must be fried with oil and not air, and music must be made with instruments and not apps.
But we live in a world that's gray, one where everything is about compromise, one where we want what's pure but don't necessarily want to live with the consequences.
And that's where the Mazda MX-5 automatic comes in.
By and large, the Mazda MX-5 is four-wheeled representation of a purist's automotive dream; one that -for four generations- has been the modern day interpretation of the classic British roadster like the ones made by the great Colin Chapman.
This MX-5 A/T gets perhaps the purest expression of Mazda's signature design, and came in their striking shade of Soul Red. The roadster's shape and shade were accented only by a subtle kit (in gloss black) and a proper set of polished black wheels. There are no excessive details or bits that don't serve a particular function; no gills, fancy lights or other pieces installed for the sake of making the spec sheet longer. Yes it's Japanese, but there isn't much rice.
The MX-5 is low to the road, as a proper roadster should. The cabin isn't much to gawk at apart from the tan upholstery and the red accent on the doorsill. The interior is really more of a cockpit; clean and straightforward with zero nonsense. Everything here serves a function and purpose from the design of the gauges, the touchscreen multimedia display and the centralized control knob.
The hood is long but not overly so, as the MX-5 was never intended to accept bigger engines like a V6 or a straight six. Engines like those will simply add more weight, and like Lotus, Mazda has a bit of an obsession with weight; that's why this has a manual soft-top mechanism, not a power retractable hardtop. There's no spare either; not enough space in the trunk. What you get is an emergency tire repair kit. And just to clarify: No, this isn't a rotary either, but they're working on one for the upcoming RX.
As it stands, the MX-5 was engineered to accept either the 1.5-liter or 2.0-liter versions of their advanced SkyActiv straight four, but locally all we get is the latter, and that's cool. 160 horsepower and 200 Newton-meters of torque are plenty to play with, especially in a car that weights just 1,063 kilos; just as much as a top spec Toyota Vios and lighter than a Honda Jazz VX+. Mazda achieved that by using thinner but stronger steel all around.
The key difference in this model we're driving is the 6-speed automatic. Just to be clear, this isn't the first MX-5 automatic. The first generation model actually had a 4-speed auto, followed by a 6-speed slushbox with paddleshifters in the previous generation, but the feedback on those cars revolved around one word: Pointless. But something tells me I won't be feeling that way with this one.
If its a sportscar that you want to be able to drive in urban traffic on a daily basis, then the MX-5 automatic works. Driving a three-pedal car with two legs can be tough especially when you start seeing nothing but red on Waze, but it's even more frustrating in a sportscar or convertible because all you want to do is go fast.
The automatic gearbox works very nicely, giving the convenience of a Mazda3 when tooling around the metro. At 8.9 km/l in the city (22 km/h average) the MX-5 can be very economical, and that's with the auto start/stop off. While it's an effective piece of eco tech, their iStop can be intrusive when you're driving in traffic. Of course being a low slung roadster, you will have to avoid as many potholes as you can, unless you like visiting your dentist for loose fillings. Also its worthy to note that the MX-5 can be very tricky for tall or heavier set people to get in and out of.
Once you do venture out of town, all that doesn't matter. The MX-5, even in automatic mode, responds quickly to your right foot's command. The cornering and braking are almost exactly alike to the standard MX-5, and the gearbox quickly pops down intuitively to the correct cog when you brake for a turn. For some corners, I prefer to override the gearbox and pull on the paddles; it's just more involving that way.
The real difference, apart from the lack of a clutch pedal, is how the exhaust note doesn't fully match the RPM; the sound is that little bit louder than what the needle on the tach implies. I'm still on the fence about this MX-5 AT; while it has the makings of a daily driven car, I don't think I would drive it to and from the office everyday just yet.
The angry mob of purists out there will probably still see the automatic MX-5 as something deserving they need to skewer with pitch forks, and I understand completely. Personally, the way to go is still the manual gearbox if you really want the full MX-5 experience, but this 6-AT isn't as far off as I thought, serving as a happy medium between convenience and purist driving. Whether MT or AT, with the MX-5 you'll still be looking for every opportunity for clear skies -night or day- to drop the top and have a bit of fun.