REVIEW: Did Mazda get the latest MX-5’s formula wrong?

Without hesitation you can say that the Mazda MX-5 is the world’s best-selling open-roof sports car. Not because it has the looks, but because the sales are proof thereof.

More than a million units have been sold the last few decades and are petrol heads yearning for this special car. Whether it’s a second-hand car or brand new, the MX-5 wants to be had.

What’s always made the MX-5 a fun car is that it is lightweight and it sends its power to the rear wheels via a manual gearbox. Add to it a near-perfect weight distribution over the front and rear axles, and an engine that fits the car like a glove.

Ask anyone in the know and you’ll have to sit and listen why it’s the truth.

Mazda managed to build one of the most fun cars that won’t cost you an arm and a leg. Due to the car’s nature it’s not very practical, but no one really cares. You know what you’re getting yourself in to and you live with the shortcomings. If you have no kids, the car will fit you. If you’re a light packer for that weekend away, the car will fit you.

If it’s just you and your partner keen on a weekend breakaway… well, the MX-5 will make sure the libido boils over.

mazda,mx-5,mazda mx-5

                                                        Image: Warren Wilson

Only one model

In 2017 Mazda took the decision to remove the soft-top version of the car from the market and to only have the RF model on sale from that year on. The Retractable Fastback. This car has a hard roof instead of the cloth roof of the previous model, and a six-speed automatic gearbox in place of the previous’ six-speed manual ‘box.

It sounds like small changes, but it makes a huge difference to the car's overall feel.

READ: Road test - Mazda MX-5 in pictures

Fortunately Mazda left the car’s design unchanged and it's still instantly recognisable as the MX-5. The long nose, the short rear, and the cabin that you can see from the outside is very tight. It's still MX-5 all the way, and man does it make you excited to clamber in.

That's another story itself - getting in. You basically fall into your seat and are you as close to the ground like the mankind to the dear Lord’s grace. Unfit creatures (like me, due to my height) will gasp for breath after each and every clamber, and the slightest hint of a belly will shoot forward out of relief.

It might not be fun and games climbing in, but you would want to be in this car. It’s very tight - almost claustrophobic - but that doesn't matter either.

mazda,mx-5,mazda mx-5

                                                        Image: Warren Wilson

Great turn-in

A big part of the MX-5’s success recipe is its steering; the way this little sports car sticks to a bend like a fly to jam. It sits and can you attack the next apex with confidence. It was especially evident of the previous MX-5, the one with the cloth roof and manual gearbox, and it was easy to extract fun out of the car. Just turn off the traction control and play between the first two gears to get the car’s rear out. The only other car that generates the same amount of fun for the price is the Toyota 86.

This new MX-5… well, a lot of the previous model’s character has gone by the wayside. The automatic gearbox does not react in the same playful manner when traction is switched off and is not so easy to get the ass out anymore.

READ: Mazda launches a special edition MX-5 to commemorate 30 years since its official debut

In the previous model it was easy to have the utmost fun with the 2.0-litre engine’s 118kW and 200Nm, but here, with the same power outputs, that’s not so much the case. The clutch in the soft-top ensured that you could go sideways, but the automatic gearbox with its slow cog-overs limits you quite a bit.

You can, of course, switch the drive mode over to Sport and change gears with the steering wheel mounted paddles, but it’s not the same. The MX-5 should really be available with a manual gearbox.

mazda,mx-5,mazda mx-5

                                                        Image: Warren Wilson


It's always nice being reacquainted with the world’s most popular open-roof sports car. It’s a one of a kind vehicle and always manages to bring a smile to the fore; even with the changes that’s been brought about. Few cars manage to get that right. But you can’t look away from the fact that the car’s changed. It’s softer, more accommodating, more… limited.

Mazda had a look at the market and adjusted the car to the trend, but those buying the MX-5, in South Africa at least, is a select group of people. Mazda knows this, but still decided to adapt the car for a different market. Was it wrong of Mazda to do it? Probably not, as long as the sales justify it.

But the MX-5 now, in essence, is a different car. And therein, according to me, Mazda made the wrong decision.

Price: R538 200

Charlen Raymond is the editor of Manskap.

mazda,mx-5,mazda mx-5

                                                        Image: Warren Wilson

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