Honest to the bone

Despite the arrival of two new similarly priced rear-drive sports cars, the Mazda MX-5 is still a good drive

WHAT'S NEW?

A generation for most cars usually lasts around six to seven years, so the market ought to see the fourth-gen MX-5 from Mazda rolled out this year.

But it hasn't because just last year, Mazda and Alfa Romeo have announced that they will be co-developing a new roadster. Although each brand will use its own engine, the car will be based on Mazda's new rear-wheel-drive platform and will be built in Japan.

Which is why an all-new MX-5 is still at least more than a year away from showrooms, hence the second facelift as you see on this page this week.

Updates are mostly cosmetic, although Mazda says the new front end has been re-engineered to be more pedestrian-friendly in the event of an impact between the car and people crossing the street as such.

Which brings us to question: is the 8-year-old MX-5 still a worthy sports car at under 3 million baht, despite the arrival of the similarly priced Subaru BRZ and Toyota 86?

WHAT'S COOL?

In spite of a carried-over 160hp 2.0-litre engine and six-speed automatic transmission, real-world performance in the MX-5 is still spirited, linear and responsive.

Despite being naturally aspirated, there's still sufficient low-end torque. And when you want more grunt, the gearbox shifts down a gear just to your liking.

The MX-5 really shows that when a car isn't that heavy in weight, big horsepower is not always necessary. In the BRZ and 86, by contrast, you need to rev the engine more to get a kick out of things.

The driving characteristics in the MX-5 also remain a boon. The steering is nicely weighted at all times, the ride is sufficiently supple and the brakes bite well.

Totally disengage the chassis electronics and the MX-5's rear end can be easily unsettled but is equally adjustable. Simply put, the car still handles sweetly. Even in its default mode, the MX-5 entertains _ without any sport setting required on the engine, transmission or suspension.

The tweaked face may only look minor. But if you go into detail, the visual changes give the car a smidgen more aggression on the catwalk.

WHAT'S NOT?

For this amount of money, you can get a more practical and rigid coupe body in the Subaru or Toyota. But that's simply because the MX-5 wants to be in a class of its own with a classic two-seat body whose hard-top can also be retracted (via a two-step process, though) for open-top motoring.

And while we have no misgivings that the interior is still generally easy to use and live with, certain design details are starting to look dreary such as air-con vents and staid-looking door panels which can't match the more modern-looking seats.

Another two aspects include the excessive amount of road noise that can be heard from the cabin at high speeds and the engine that sounds absolutely soulless when pushed to the redline.

BUY OR BYE?

At 2.64 million baht, you can't find a rear-drive roadster in the Thai market at such a price level. So even if it has gotten old, the MX-5 is still an open-topper of choice for those needing a good drive.

In fact, the MX-5 feels very honest on the move, which is becoming quite a rare commodity in many new sports cars.

We are pretty sure that many sports car fans will wait for the all-new model. Or they may either simply settle for the more refined coupes from Subaru or Toyota since Thailand's weather really doesn't favour open-top cars.

But if you're a hardcore roadster fan who cherishes a genuinely fun car to drive at a not-too-high price, the MX-5 is still the one.

Third-gen MX-5 was launched in 2005; first facelift came three years later; second cosmetic tweak appeared late last year.

About the author

columnist
Writer: Richard Leu
Position: Motoring news Editor