MX-5: the smile costs nothing

What is it?

From the outset Mazda played a game of poker to see how the market would react to its pure little sports car.

That was in 1989, and it was massive success, spawning a loyal following that made it the world’s most popular sports car.

Now in its fourth generation, it’s available as a 1.5-litre Roadster or a 2.0-litre RF.

The Skyactiv-G motor in the RF has had its power lifted from 118 to 135kW, and torque is marginally up by 5Nm to 205, making it the most powerful one yet.

You can still get the 97kW 1.5-litre Roadster version, but I was in the RF GT, which apart from more muscle, has a snazzy, powered retractable hardtop that gives it a sexy silhouette.

RF stands for Retractable Fastback, but I reckon Real Fun is more appropriate.

What’s it cost?

There’s quite a choice for buyers: Roadster prices are from $34,190 for the 1.5 and $41,960 for the 2.0-litre GT.

The RF is from $39,400 and the RF GT, $45,960.

You can slightly dull the driving experience with the $2000 option of a six-speed automatic on any variant.

The car now comes with more standard features, such as a reversing camera, autonomous emergency braking and some extra safety software, and the GT also has driver attention alert, lane departure warning and rear park sensors.

The nose has LED headlights with adaptive-automatic high-beam, plus fog lights, and the refinement extends to keyless auto-entry with push-button start.

Infotainment is via 7.0-inch touchscreen MZD connect system with a rotary switch on the console, AM/FM radio, satnav,  Bluetooth and USB inputs.

Also, the RF GT has the no-cost option of chroma brown Nappa leather trim.

And it has a nine-speaker Bose audio system.

Why? Nothing the Bose produces can match the sound of the Skyactiv’s howl of delight around the 7000rpm mark.

What’s it go like?

The newest model reminds one how little space a car needs to provide a pure driving experience.

I had to fully extend the seat and now rake and reach-adjustable steering, to get my long frame in, but once there I was set.

The seats are great, perfectly supportive for the sporty urban set and there’s just enough space to pack and overnight bag for two and hit the road.

The softly set up suspension is a revelation in time, almost a retro throwback to the 60s and 70s when quickest way around was not always track-ready, hard and stiff.

The newest one is soft in the back with a stiffer front setup that lets you change direction so, so well.

With urban compliance built in, it runs on 17-inch alloys and handles bumps, and absorbs and dispatches uneven surfaces with ease.

The engine revs freely and has a nice zing all the way to the 7500 rpm redline.

The six-speed gearbox is a sweet, close-ratio, snappy shifter.

That and the motor really unlock the chassis potential.

It’s a hoot zipping along and flinging it into bends, not even considering the brake.

Its makers say it has ‘Jinba-ittai’ in its DNA, and that term translates roughly to ‘horse and rider in one.’  

It’s not blindingly quick, but rather a very competent runner with an abundance of cornering confidence and an enormous fun factor that makes every drive sheer joy.

It’s an efficient powertrain that doesn’t require a lot of fuel. I averaged 7.2L/100km.

The cabin has a quite spacious vertical storage box between the seats, where you can stow the detachable cup holders.

Real drivers would chuck them out, but they’re probably ‘essential’ for the latte lads and lasses.

Roof up, the RF is a cosy coupe, roof down it’s a sporty targa. Take your pick.

The reversing camera is a big help with the roof up because rearward vision is impaired by the big B-Pillars.

Buyers can select from six colours: Soul Red Crystal Metallic, Machine Grey Metallic, Snowflake White Pearl Mica, Ceramic Mica, Eternal Blue Mica and Jet Black Mica.

And for a few more dollars, you can have your RF GT’s roof in black.

Doesn’t make it go any faster, or keep it cooler.

If  you are an MX-5er for life, this one will give you that 25 per cent more go you looked for all those years — plus a five year warranty.

What we like?

  • Looks
  • Handling
  • Huge fun factor
  • Reversing camera
  • Long warranty

What we don’t like?

  • B-pillar blind spot
  • No spare wheel
  • Pricey

The bottom line?

Great fun and smiles with every drive, traffic included. The smile factor and spartan nature is still true to its founder’s ethos. It ain’t cheap, but it sure is good.

CHECKOUT: Mazda finally ‘fixes’ MX-5

CHECKOUT: MX-5 nails sports car experience


Mazda MX-5 RF GT, priced from $45,960
  • Looks - 9/10
  • Performance - 8.5/10
  • Safety - 8/10
  • Thirst - 8.5/10
  • Practicality - 7.5/10
  • Comfort - 8/10
  • Tech - 8.5/10
  • Value - 7.5/10

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