Mazda MX-5 2012 Review

Mazda MX-5 2012 Review

Sometimes you have to look for a picture that perfectly describes a car, and in this case, the MX-5 does handle like it’s on rails.

The world’s best selling sports car has returned in slightly more muscular clothing to give you back road thrills on a budget. If the Lotus Elise is a featherweight and the Dodge Viper is a heavyweight, Mazda punches in the lightweight class. Mazda has kept the same formula: keep it light, keep it rear wheel drive and make the handling like it’s your own hands pummeling the tarmac.

So, to that extent, nothing was broken, but there’s only so long you can hold out before

you bring the interior specification up to scratch because you get more gear on a car half the price these days.

Fifty-five grand is a lot of coin for a car with no reversing sensors, no Bluetooth phone integration, no Bluetooth audio streaming, no iPod integration, a slightly cramped footwell, an ugly stereo, no automatic lights or wipers and two thirds as many airbags as almost all vehicles on the market today.

But it’s still a lot of fun. Our tested model was the $55,190 6-speed manual, hard-top 2-litre (you can get an Activematic auto for $57,240). Manual is how you should drive a car like this: blipping the throttle on the downshift, chucking it hard into the corners and trying to think of superlatives to describe the feeling of oneness with the road.

The MX-5 experience feels like you are sitting right in the middle of the car. This balance comes from a near 50/50 weight distribution, a very low centre of gravity and a short wheelbase. The car wraps around you even more so now with its leather seating and semi-bucket seats and Mazda has even kept the essence of the exhaust note that has been with the car since its inception.

Since the first MX-5 Mazda has added traction control, ABS and dynamic stability control to keep you safe in the wet (it’s almost unstickable in the dry). Front and side airbags are included – a curtain would be challenging to engineer in a convertible).

The six-speed gearbox is short-throw and great to use, but doesn’t have quite enough centre weighting for you to easily feel fifth vs third. Pedals are slightly offset to the right because of a transmission tunnel bulge in the driver’s footwell. This doesn’t affect the driving experience if you don’t mind keeping your foot on the dead pedal, but if you’re likely to want to move it around a bit on longer journeys, there’s nowhere else to put it.

The black 17-inch alloys look incredible on the white car. They are wrapped in 205/45R17 tyres. I had numerous compliments from various people about how smart and sporty this new MX-5 looks, including people stopping to chat while I was photographing it, and wanting to sit in it.

The interior: well, it’s not exactly packed with fruit, as I said above. There are a couple of small cubby holes other than the glovebox (one between the seats and one behind the handbrake), and some stretchy mesh pockets in the door. If you can’t travel light, your MX-5 is going to have items floating around the footwells.

What we have in the MX-5 is the world’s favourite sports car because it’s been consistently awesome to drive. It’s the perfect combination of reasonable fuel economy, reasonable acceleration, raspy exhaust note, crisp handling and bulletproof reliability (I raced an MX-5 a few months ago that had over 200,000 on the clock!)

Even with the folding hard top roof down, the MX-5 feels planted to the road. The roof disappears into a section behind the seats. Simply unclip the one clip at the front and push the button to lower the roof. Owners of old school MX-5s will remember that they had two clips at the front and then you needed arm and shoulder power to raise and lower it. It’s much more simple now.

There’s not a great deal of wind buffeting with the roof down. There is a small wind diffuser between the seats which didn’t seem to make much difference at motorway speeds. There are two speakers below this diffuser to help you hear the stereo with the additional noise when the roof is lowered.

But it’s resting on its laurels. This pugilist needs to learn to new techniques. The only reason you don’t get Bluetooth and iPod integration is because the only viable similar alternatives to a new MX-5 are an old MX-5, or a second hand Lotus Elise Series 2 (because it’s the same price). The Elise is much faster, more exclusive, even more compromised, and you don’t get the folding hard top roof. If you don’t care about the folding roof there are more options because you’d have just as much fun in theToyota86.

While it’s still a fantastic drive and probably more than any sports car enthusiast will need, the MX-5 still needs to get back to the gym and smarten itself up. Perhaps the next version with Skyactiv technology will bring the MX-5 back to where it should be.

Price: $55,190

Pros

  • Looks awesome
  • Handles exactly like the most popular sports car in the world should handle

Cons

  • Noisy on harsh surfaces
  • It’s missing a lot of accessories that should be standard by now

Words and photos: Darren Cottingham

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