Infidelity. Driving a Mazda MX-5 is as close as the word ‘Infidelity’ gets. It’s like your 60-year old self casually dating Scarlett Johansson; the it-woman who some equate to as the Marilyn Monroe of the 21st century. Scarlett has got it all. Good looks, husky voice perfect for bedtime stories and is quite the all-around walking definition of the word alluring. Since donning the Black Widow costume, she has inadvertently found a permanent spot on the bedroom ceiling and screensaver of many adolescents. If you’re one of them, don’t worry, we won’t judge.

Just like Scarlett, the MX-5, in due course of its existence, has officially become the nameplate for being the most popular roadster in history, ever. Guinness has a book of records to show for it, if by any chance you didn’t believe us. Almost one million units of the MX-5 have been shipped worldwide, and Mazda has tirelessly met consumer demands over three generations (codename NA, NB and NC) and 25 years of their droptop roadster. Every unit by the way, is produced and assembled in Hiroshima, including the new ND.Mazda-MX-5-1.5L-Japan-23

QUICK FACTS

Name Mazda MX-5 1.5L Skyactiv Mazda MX-5 2.0L Skyactiv
Engine
1,496cc; DOHC direct injection, inline-4
1,998cc; DOHC direct injection, inline-4
Transmission 6-spd manual/auto 6-spd auto with Sports Mode
Max Power 129 hp @ 7,000 rpm 158 hp @ 6,000 rpm
Max Torque 150 Nm @ 4,800 rpm 200 Nm @ 4,000 rpm
0 – 100 km/h; Top Speed 8.3 seconds; 204 km/h 7.3 seconds; 222 km/h
Price (OTR with insurance) Not available RM226,376.32

When Mazda took the veils off the fourth-generation MX-5 exactly a year ago, it sent a tsunami of an impact to enthusiasts the world over and for multiple reasons. One, it looks nothing like before and two, a 1.5-litre Skyactiv-G engine nestles under the hood – the smallest displacement engine to be offered in the MX-5’s history.

It’s also new from the ground up, featuring the company’s full suite of Skyactiv technology. As a result, the new platform sees a 20mm reduction in wheelbase length, with both the front and rear overhangs reduced by 45mm and 40mm respectively. The ND also sits 10mm closer to the ground.  All this translates to it being the shortest MX-5 ever to be created, and gone with the length too is its weight – over 100kg has been shed from the NC, making it the lightest MX-5 after the NA.

EXTERIOR

This fourth iteration roadster is by far the best looking one of the lot, and one that inarguably exudes masculinity with fair ease as compared to its older brothers. It’s like growing up with three full-on fashionistas, only to have an Arnold Schwarzenegger of a man as your youngest sibling. With the new KODO – Soul of Motion theme, the MX-5 loses the bulk of its curves in favour of sharper, more finely sculpted lines. Almost all visual cues of past MX-5s are lost, save for two key portions; the gaping front grille and the tail lamps – both given a modern touch whilst paying tribute to the original NA.

Despite Mazda’s pursuit in making the MX-5 as lightweight as they possibly could, they made no compromises when it comes to furnishing the car. In Malaysia, even the spoilt-for-choice among you will be contented with how well the car is equipped. Forward illumination is job managed by a pair of auto-levelling LED projector headlights (with Adaptive Front Lighting and High Beam Control), whereas the lower recess gets dressed with a neatly placed LED daytime running lights. Peek through the grille and you’ll find the radiator, and finishing off the front fascia is the integrated diffuser finished in matte black.Mazda-MX-5-1.5L-Official-Pic-23

The ND’s side profile appears to be strikingly flat, accentuating its lowly-slung proportions. Its side mirrors are finished in gloss black contrast and come with no integrated signal indicators – because lightweight. We were told that the side mirrors have been strategically positioned as to not create unwanted turbulence, and it also doubles by improving stereoscopic visibility. The A-pillars have also been meticulously contoured to achieve one seemingly insignificant but drastically crucial effect; reduce high frequency wind and draft. This means you and your significant half can converse in comfort and uninterrupted, even with the top and windows down.

Vehicle entry is made convenient with keyless entry, whereas stance is topped off with a set of lightweight 17-inch alloy wheels and 205/45 profiled rubbers. Finally, the rounded rear end of the older NC makes way for flatter surfaces on the ND, looking sleeker than ever with the LED tail lamps and a fog lamp. On the whole, the KODO application works well with the model, and for the first time in the moniker’s history, it will turn more heads than stirring hormones among purists.

INTERIOR

Now, at first glance, the dashboard of this two seater roadster looks as though it was lifted off the Mazda2 and given a mild tweak. You may be right to spot the similarities, but that’s by no account a cheap way for Mazda to reduce costs. In fact, it has much to do with the independent company’s Monotsukuri innovation – a strategic plan to commonise parts across the model lineup. That deserves its own story, so we’ll save that for another day.

Those familiar with the Mazda2’s dashboard will notice an undeniable resemblance with the MX-5, right down to the air conditioning vents and rotary controls. However, the latter boasts a big leap forwards in terms of materials used, effortlessly shaming close rivals Toyota GT86, Subaru BRZ and the bare interior of the Lotus Elise.

There are four things to love about the interior; seats, steering wheel, audio system and the soft-top. The leather upholstered bucket seats are comfortable and hold you snugly in place, and if you look closely you’ll see speakers built into the head restraints. Nifty.

As for the driver, the all-new three-spoke steering wheel (not flat bottom though) adds to the car’s sporty impression, but the most impressive bit of the car – while stationary of course – is one you’ll likely not see coming – its retractable top. Putting on the rag top is incredibly easy. Though manually done, it’s an excellent example of going back to basics. Sheer uncomplicated brilliance.

PERFORMANCE

The MX-5 was always offered with two engine configurations, and it’s no different this time around with a 1.5-litre and 2.0-litre Skyactiv petrol mills. Both engines can be had with either a six-speed manual or automatic transmission, and in Malaysia we get the bigger engine paired to a slush box. It’s not quite the ideal package for purists, but there are reasons to like the automatic, especially if you’re new to the MX-5.2015-Mazda-MX-5-Malaysia-30

Let’s get down to the numbers. The 1.5-litre engine (similar unit powering the Mazda2) makes 129 hp and 150 Nm of torque, and is longitudinally mounted to send drive to the rear axle. If you’re expecting a blown unit (by way or supercharging or turbocharging), don’t look away just yet. Because it weighs just over 1,000 kg, it’s brisk enough for a century sprint time of 8.3 seconds.

As for the 2.0-litre unit, it produces considerably better numbers – 158 hp and 200 Nm of torque. This configuration gives the MX-5 a better power to weight ratio, and propels the car from nought to 100 km/h a full second quicker at 7.3 seconds. It’s also the only variant to come with a factory fitted mechanical limited slip differential. The wheels are also larger here, measuring 17-inches compared to the 1.5-litre’s 16-inches. Now, with all the basics out of the way, let’s find out how it all sums out on the road.

THE DRIVE

Our test drive stint took place at the very core of where the MX-5 was put through its paces during the development stages – Mazda’s covert Proving Ground located in Mine (pronounced Mee-neh). Now, because the MX-5 is only available with the 1.5-litre engine in Japan, there were no 2.0-litre examples lined up for us to do a direct comparison. Fair enough, we thought, for skeptical we were not.Mazda-MX-5-1.5L-Japan-7

The four-cylinder goodness shines right from the get-go, whizzing to a delectable throaty note while the exhausts hum in a pleasant tune that’s quite uncharacteristic of a four-pot unit this size. Clutch feel is remarkably light, almost that of a regular car. It is in no way punishing, and we would gladly make it out a two-hour city gridlock without once complaining of the sore foot. Hey, the attention pretty much makes up for it, no?

If there’s one thing Mazda never gets wrong with the MX-5 is the manual gearbox. This six-speed close ratio Skyactiv-MT is joy to row; short, light, tight and hardly inaccurate. The pedals are repositioned and placed more towards the right side of the footwell, making heel-and-toeing all the more instinctive and intuitive, if you will. This driver-centric engineering is achieved by moving the front wheels forwards by 80mm, and that according to Mazda, was the toughest hurdle to overcome. Hats off to them for succeeding!

The 3.3km Mine circuit comprised of several mid-range handling roads, the kind where the MX-5 feels right at home. There’s discernible but minimal dive when carrying speed into corners, yet the 195/50 R16 series Yokohama rubbers stuck to the tarmac like Jay Z on Beyoncé. Or is it the other way round? Moving on. One major difference between the MX-5 and its present day foe, the 86, is that the Mazda tends to give way to lateral forces more easily than the Toyota. Body roll gets increasingly pronounced when we become all boy-racey, although we couldn’t quite get the MX-5 to lose its composure, even under all that squealing rubbers. Grip level is simply phenomenal, and that’s saying something.

Mazda’s philosophy in fun-driving characteristics has always been centred around the words Jinba-Ittai, a Japanese phrase that translates to “Oneness between horse and rider”. You’ve probably heard or seen it in some their newer marketing campaigns, for the same philosophy extends across the entire Zoom-Zoom range. We’ve sampled all of the Skyactiv models (except the CX-3, but that surely won’t disappoint) and found the same strand of DNA materialising in the form of exemplary handling and agility, regardless of their segment. Such is the guarantee of Jinba-Ittai. But if we were to sum the whole thing up, the MX-5 is unquestionably the most potent and holistic translation of Jinba-Ittai.

IS THIS CAR FOR YOU?

If you’re curious as to why we likened driving the MX-5 to having an affair with Scarlett Johansson, it’s because the MX-5 is very simply an object for all your gratuitous guilty pleasures. It’s the one car that won’t break your wallet regardless of how many late nights you spend in secret with. It’s a car that doesn’t need to try hard to make driving an enjoyable experience.Mazda-MX-5-1.5L-Japan-22

Sure, the 1.5-litre variant may appear to fall short on power, but its torque curve is so flat, power becomes readily accessible anywhere from 3,500 rpm upwards. Again, that’s where all the magic happens, plus the fact that the engine breathes freely and all the way up to 7,500 rpm. The 2.0-litre variant on the other hand, revs only till 6,500 rpm before running short of breath.

Unfortunately, the 1.5-litre isn’t and will not be offered in Malaysia because tax structures wouldn’t bring the price down to a decent level. Then there are also intransigences associating large displacement engines with outright performance while happily dismissing all key performing areas but one – the 0 to 100 km/h sprint time. Trust us, if that’s exactly what you’re after, then the MX-5 is not for you. Spend the money on a Golf.

The MX-5 is for those who want an uncomplicated car that’s as good as the driver gets, because to the roadster, the horse is only as good as the rider gets. The better you are at driving it, the better the MX-5 gets for you. Along the way, you’ll form an intrinsic bond with the car, thus becoming one with it. That’s the Jinba-Ittai promise.Mazda-MX-5-1.5L-Official-Pic-27

COMPARISONS

In retrospect, there’s only less than a handful of rivals facing off against the MX-5. Honda was once right up its nose with the S2000, but years has passed since we’ve last heard of a successor. Breeds like the MX-5 are considerably niche, perhaps that’s why other manufacturers aren’t so convinced in spending millions in R&D to have a slice of its cake.

We picked three of the MX-5’s closest rivals in Malaysia for comparison’s sake, and they are the Toyota GT86, BMW 220i Coupe Sport and Lotus Elise S. Their configurations are all the same – FR (front engined, rear wheel drive) – except for the MR (mid-mounted engine, rear wheel drive) Elise S.

Mazda MX-5 2.0L Skyactiv Toyota GT86 BMW 220i Coupe Sport Lotus Elise S
ENGINE
Type inline 4-cylinder petrol boxer 4-cylinder petrol inline 4-cylinder petrol inline 4-cylinder petrol
Displacement cc 1,998 1,998 1,997 1,798
Max Power hp/rpm 158/6,000 197/7,000 184/5,000 217/6,800
Max Torque Nm/rpm 200/4,000 205/6,400 270/1,250 250/4,600
STEERING
Type Dual Pinion Electric Power Steering Electric Power Steering Electric Power Steering Rack and Pinion
DRIVETRAIN
Transmission 6-speed auto 6-speed manual 8-speed auto 6-speed manual
SUSPENSION
Type Front / Rear Double Wishbones / Multi-link MacPherson Strut / Double Wishbones MacPherson Strut / Multi-link Double Wishbones / Double Wishbones
BRAKES
Front Ventilated disc Ventilated disc Ventilated disc Ventilated, Perforated 2-pot AP Racing disc
Rear Solid disc Ventilated disc Ventilated disc Ventilated, Perforated Brembo disc
TYRE & WHEELS
Tyres 205/45 R17 215/45 R17 225/45 R17 175/55 R16 & 225/45 R17
Wheels Alloy Alloy Alloy Alloy
DIMENSIONS & WEIGHT
Overall Length mm 3,915 4,240 4,432 3,824
Overall Width mm 1,735 1,775 1,774 1,719
Overall Height mm 1,230 1,285 1,418 1,117
Wheelbase mm 2,310 2,570 2,690 2,300
Max Kerb weight kg 1,080 1,275 1,440 896
Luggage Capacity (VDA) L 130 243 390
FUEL
Tank Capacity 45 litres 50 litres 52 litres 40 litres
Consumption 7.8L/100 km 7.1L/100 km 6.0L/100 km 7.5L/100 km
PERFORMANCE
Max Speed km/h 222 226 230 234
0 – 100km/h sec 7.3 7.6 7.0 4.6
PRICE (without insurance) RM 219,998.80 236,586.80 277,800.00 286,127.19

Right off the bat, the MX-5 and the Elise S are the only models to feature a soft top, but the MX-5 edges out by way of convenience. Both the Toyota and BMW on the other hand, come with a solid top, so that may be the way to go for first time sports car buyers who want a bit more sense of security.

Although the supercharged Elise is the most capable of the lot, mastering the art of driving a mid-mounted engine, rear wheel drive vehicle takes some serious skills and getting used to. The bare interior of the Lotus is no match for the Mazda, and will appeal only to the more seasoned of drivers. What does the BMW offer, then? Besides the badge, the car is admittedly fun to drive, but you’ve got to be truly committed to buy one because you can get a pre-registered 328i M Sport for the same price!Mazda-MX-5-1.5L-Japan-8

WILL I BUY IT?

In. A. Heartbeat. With the manual gearbox, of course. It’s unbelievable how few dislikes, if any, we have for the car. For an independent company with a global marketshare of just 2 percent, Mazda certainly has a knack for effectively tugging the heartstrings of motoring enthusiasts the world over. And they’ve just outdone themselves with the ND. I would have gone with the 1.5-litre if given the choice, only because it’s as rewarding as it is fun to drive. A hell lot of fun to drive, I might add. But like our colleague Dominic always says, beggars can’t be choosers, right?

And oh, I’ll have mine in Scarlett Soul Red, please.


IMAGE GALLERY

Mazda MX-5 1.5L Skyactiv Official Photos


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Matthew H. Tong
A straightforward, fun-loving guy who appreciates the superficiality of a car's appeal, but his admiration for anything on four wheels gives him no reason to neglect the makings of a car. He still believes that fun comes with three pedals and a stick.