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Mazda MX-5 2.0i Sport
8/10

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Mazda MX-5 2.0i Sport

Driven April 2009

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If you thought it was a bit girly before, you'll still think it's a bit girly now. That's pretty much all the criticism that can be levelled at the face-lifted MX-5, which gets a whole bunch of subtle-yet-important revisions for 2009. Yes, it's a bit sharper - both to look at and to drive - than before, but this won't be enough to sway those who think it's a bit high-street tanning salon.

Their loss. Embrace the MX-5's mild metrosexuality. Embrace the extra noise, for a start. For 2009, Mazda has treated the MX-5 to something called an Induction Sound Enhancer, a neat system that amplifies the sound from the throttle valves and pipes it into the cabin. It might strike you as a bit gimmicky, but it imbues the MX-5 with a sharper and welcome aural edge, adding a woofly, thumping kick on downchanges and a resonance as you stamp it to the redline.

You only get the ISE if you opt for the bigger 2.0-litre engine instead of the entry-level 1.8-litre unit. This is good news, because the worked-over 2.0-litre is a cracker: though power remains at a modest 158bhp, the rev limit is up from 7,000rpm to 7,500rpm while claimed consumption drops four per cent. More importantly, only the 2.0-litre gets the revised six-speed manual gearbox (the smaller engine makes do with a five-speed), which is slicker and snickier than ever before. Don't consider the six-speed auto - offered with paddle shifters forthe first time - unless something unpleasant and irreversible has happened to your left leg.

Opting for the bigger engine also means you can spec your MX-5 with Recaro bucket seats and tougher Bilstein dampers. Which you should: the specced-up 2.0-litre Sport is beautifully flat and neutral through the corners, but not so stiff that you'll be coughing up pieces of your lower spine the next day. The revised, lowered front suspension has tightened up the steering response, while the traction control system will happily let you scare yourself a bit before it reigns things in.

The mechanical revisions mesh nicely with the MX-5's new, pointier front end, which, says Mazda, makes the car a massive two per cent more aerodynamic. Try as you might, even this stellar pub fact won't be enough to convince the Nomex-clad sceptics who want a hardcore MPS version of the MX-5, a proper rival for the Honda S2000. But that isn't what the MX-5 is trying to do, it's not part of its brief: for all its subtle sharpening, it's still an easy-going roadster that's almost completely devoid of homicidal tendencies. It's dead on, just as it is.

Sam Philip

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