Speed Week: new Mazda MX-5 goes mad on track
Boasting a mere 129bhp, is the tiny Mazda worth its Speed Week place? You betcha
My radio crackles into life. “Tom,” it squawks, from one of the MX-5’s cupholders. “Where are you?” It’s my colleague Sam Philip, and he sounds worried. I’m not going that slowly, but it’s not been 20 minutes since The Boss gathered us together in Garage 11 and left us in no doubt that, should we embed something in the Armco, he would be most unhappy. I have been missed. “Don’t worry, I’m on my way back,” I reply, as I round Pirelli at half-speed. Which, in the Mazda, is maybe 6mph.
Fast, the all-new MX-5 is not. In this company, 0–62mph in about nine seconds feels almost inadequate. Particularly if you’ve just stepped out of a Huracán. Oops. But speed isn’t really the point of the Mazda. It’s how big it is, which isn’t very, and how heavy it is, which, again, isn’t very, and how that makes it behave. At 3,915mm end to end, it’s shorter than the 1989 original, and 100kg lighter than the car it replaces. It looks lighter, too. Certainly less substantial than the rounded MkIII and, to my eyes, much better-looking. Modern, yet classically proportioned. It just works.Advertisement - Page continues below
You can get a 2.0-litre if you really want it, but Mazda reckons this 129bhp, naturally aspirated 1.5 showcases the MX-5 in its purest form. And they’re probably right. It’s a peppy, eager thing, with a fairly gruff exhaust note when you’re on it. Which is always. You never feel as though the lack of outright grunt is holding you back. In fact, chasing and maintaining momentum is great fun (and means you can amuse yourself at half-sensible speeds), as you work the superb six-speed manual ’box, wring out the little engine for all it’s worth and manage the amusingly soft suspension. Yeah, it’s a bit rolly, but that’s part of the fun. It’s almost like driving a classic – a Lotus Elan or Triumph TR6 – only with air-conditioning and DAB.
And it’ll drift. A bit. There isn’t enough power to initiate or maintain a slide as you might normally – with a liberal poke of the accelerator – so you really have to chuck it into the apex, relying on the rapid change of direction and weight transfer to break the skinny rear tyres loose. And, when it does go, catching it is easy as.
And that’s why we love the MX-5. It’s easy fun. Easy to drive, easy to live with, easy to fall for. It’s one of those cars that, as soon as you open the door, demands you thumb the start button and take it for a long, meandering, purposeless drives. And, brilliantly, it never feels as though it’s merely tolerating your driving, however ham-fisted – it excites and encourages in equal measure, without ever feeling even slightly intimidating
The MkIV is truly the restitution of the MkI’s gamesome spirit, and for that it should be much applauded. There’s certainly no doubt in the collective TopGear hive-mind that it deserves its place at the winners’ table. And were it not for its pre-prod status and lack of numberplates, we’d have been seriously tempted to get it out on the road…Advertisement - Page continues below