The 2019 Isle of Man TT Senior winner loves big engines and old vans. Good lad
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£20,095 when new
We’ve seen the new Mazda MX-5 already, no? Yup, and we’ve driven it. But that was the entry-level, 1.5-litre version. This is the more powerful 2.0 - the one the keen drivers are likely to beeline to. I’m one of those. Give me some numbers. Like its little brother, the 2.0 possesses four cylinders and zero turbos, the MX-5 remaining true to its rev-happy, naturally aspirated ethos. With 158bhp and 148lb ft, it’s 29bhp and 37lb ft up on the 1.5. Power may remain modest, then, but with just 1,075kg to shift, the 0-62mph sprint takes 7.3 seconds. That’s one second quicker than the 1.5-litre and enough to have this MX-5 knocking on the door of heavier hot hatchbacks.
While its 158bhp is identical to the outgoing 2.0’s, the engine is completely new, being one of Mazda’s thrifty Skyactiv units. It’s 8kg lighter than its forebear, and its 161g/km and 40.9mpg ought to be far more attainable than the somewhat artificial figures claimed by turbocharged cars. So how much does it cost? At £20,095, the entry 2.0 is £1,600 pricier than the cheapest MX-5, but compare like-for-like specs with the 1.5 and the premium is a more palatable £850. This is good value: as well as more power, you get bigger 17in alloy wheels and a limited-slip differential on the back axle. If you’re keen to explore the little Mazda’s front-engine, rear-drive layout, the diff and extra power make a difference, and less than a grand to add them could be a no-brainer. So is it loads faster than the 1.5? In truth, the difference between the 2.0 and the 1.5 is not night and day. Both have a similarly rorty, if workmanlike soundtrack, and both feel short on lungs in a world of 200bhp Fiestas and Corsas. But the 2.0 represents a notable step up under sustained acceleration, making lighter work of overtakes. It just pulls that bit harder, asks of a bit less effort, and out of corners it serves up more options. It’s more willing to exhibit the benefits of a sweetly set-up rear-driver than the 1.5, its extra power allowing a nice little squiggle out of corners if you so desire. Don’t think that means you need to be Ken Block-esque to enjoy this, though. Quite the opposite, in fact. The MX-5 likes to pitch and roll in corners, which would anger more stringent (read German) manufacturers enough to inspire a new electronic acronym to flatten things out. Such behaviour fits the MX-5’s role on this planet sweetly, though, Mazda making a concerted effort not to change its roadster’s approachable character. And the MX-5’s very physical messages about its balance allow it to feel interactive and involving at lovely, modest speeds. The kind you do on normal roads as opposed to race tracks. So it’s a laugh to drive? Definitely. And it’s not all down to the balance: the driving position is sweet and the snickety gearchange superb, a great exemplar for saving the manual. It’s all about the simple pleasures here. There are no driving modes to toggle through, there’s a big rev counter slap bang in front of your eyes, and its convertible roof is manual, opening in mere seconds under human, rather than electric, power. The newly electric power steering follows the script you’ve read elsewhere, lacking any real feel or weight. But it’s the only real chink in the armour, and such is the alacrity of the MX-5’s turn in, and the transparency of its balance, it’s hard to care too much. You’ll be having too much fun for that. Anything else of note? Upgrade to top-spec Sport trim and you get fancier suspension, starring Bilstein dampers, while there’s plenty of big boy technology on the options list. A highlight is a Bose stereo with nine speakers, a pair of them in the headrests so that your music isn’t carried away with the wind when the roof is down. It works well. Less appealing, we’d say, is a gamut of active safety stuff, including blind-spot monitoring and lane-departure warnings. In a car this dinky and open, we’d argue it’s all a bit unnecessary. Is the 2.0 a no-brainer, then? If you like your MX-5s for driving more than tanning, we’d say yes. The jump in cost isn’t huge and you’ll extract noticeably more satisfaction from it. But the difference isn’t big enough to shame the still excellent 1.5 if you’re short on cash or simply not fussed about fractional degrees of cornering precision. The moral of the story? You can’t really buy a bad MX-5…
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