More than a quarter of a century ago, Mazda reinvented the traditional affordable sports car with the first MX-5.

Now, Mazda has gone and reinvented that car, and we’ve just driven it.

 

By Alex Forrest

So, the Japanese brand has taken its iconic baby back to the roots of the original MX-5.

Of course, that first MX-5 was itself channelling its spiritual progenitors such as the legendary Lotus Elan, Alfa Romeo Duetto Spider and the MG T-Series.

Among the biggest surprises to come with the launch of this all-new Mixer was the huge price cut it received. It went from a retail ask of $47,280 to $31,990, where the two entry level manuals are compared.

The other important changes are its reduced measurements. The new MX-5 is actually 90kg lighter than its immediate predecessor, and shorter than the original NA MX-5.

The driver and passenger sit lower and closer to the centre of the car, and importantly, there are now also two side airbags in addition to the two front airbags. It hasn’t yet been rated by ANCAP.

At the national launch, only the 1.5-litre version was available. The 2.0-litre, 118kW version of the MX-5 is due out later this year.

The 1.5 is the smallest engine that has ever been in an MX-5, and makes just 96kW and 150Nm. Although that’s more than the original MX-5’s 85kW from 1.6 litres, it’s still a tiny output by the standards of other modern sports cars.

The Toyota 86 has 147kW, while the Hyundai Veloster Turbo SR has 150kW and the Volkswagen Polo GTI has 141kW. Like the MX-5, these are priced at around $30,000 or just over.

Remember though, that the 86 – itself rightly promoted as simple, light sports car – weighs 250kg more than the MX-5. The Polo GTI and Veloster are similarly heavier.

The outright performance of these is still better than the MX-5’s, but if you measure the Mazda simply on performance, you’re completely missing the point.

The manually operated roof can be opened by the driver without them having to leave their seat. It takes about two seconds to lower, using one arm and marginally more effort than that required to put on your sunglasses.

Immediately, there’s nothing between the top of your bonce and the universe and typically at this point, you’re already smiling.

Then, when you drive it, the MX-5 immediately feels like – and I’m sorry to use the weathered old cliché – an extension of your own body.

Not a lifestyle extension or anything of that sort, rather a machine which blurs the perceived line of where the driver’s body ends and the car begins.

Mazda uses the Japanese term “Jinba-Ittai”, but you may have also heard it expressed as ”the horse and rider are one”.

To have a machine so responsive to the driver’s whim is a rare pleasure in modern, affordable cars and in the MX-5, it appears Mazda have found a way to pipe dopamine directly into the brain.

Much of this driving delectation is related to the car’s tiny proportions. This is the car Mazda needed to shave the previous NC MX-5 back down into, and they’ve done that.

There are strictly two seats, no glove box, the boot will only fit two pieces of carefully wedged-in carry-on luggage and if we’re being picky, it’d be good to have a limited slip differential in the auto versions.

However, given MX-5 customers know what they’re buying into, the first three are largely irrelevant. The last one – well, if you’ve chosen the auto, a tricky diff probably isn’t your top priority.

It does lack a telescopic steering column, and Mazda themselves have said they are expecting an ANCAP safety rating of only 4 stars.

We’re looking forward to driving the 2.0-litre MX-5 later this year.

For the meantime, all you need to know is the new ND MX-5 – in 1.5-litre form at least – is really a 2015 rendition of the blissful 1989 original, only better.

Watch out for a review in Horizons magazine after we’ve driven through Perth in the MX-5 with the warm wind in our thinning hair (apologies Marianne Faithfull).

2015 Mazda MX-5 Specifications

Price: From $36,600 driveaway
Engine: 1.5-litre petrol
Power: 96kW @ 7,000rpm
Torque: 150Nm @ 4,800rpm
Claimed fuel economy: N/A
ANCAP Rating: Not tested
CO2 Emissions: N/A