Mazda MX5 Review

mazda mx5 review

The new Mazda MX5 is the sports car I always wanted. It's a small, sexy, sure-footed thrill machine that easily and completely outwits all those huge, over-embellished, slow-witted American muscle cars. The only problem is, I wanted the MX5 way back in '75. Things have moved on since then. There's a wide range of well-balanced sports cars vying for the enthusiast's attention. Some of them are even American. And none of them are as dangerous as Mazda's diminutive roadster.

Endless reviews praise the MX5's purity of form, clarity of purpose and banquet of sensations. None mention the pint-sized roadster's lack of "compatibility". In other words, when the MX5 collides with something, the something's driver gets out and says "Dang!" whereas the MX5 driver… doesn't get out. No wonder the website's safety section begins with "Beyond the safety benefits of having a car that allows you to react quickly to avoid hazardous situations…" and touts "systems that help make it easier to avoid accidents in the first place."

Of course, Mazda's right: the best way to survive an accident is not to have one. There's no question that [what my two-year-old called] "the baby car" is supernaturally maneuverable– as you'd expect from a balanced two-seater that weighs less than half a Lincoln Navigator. Although there was nothing wrong with the way the last MX5 danced the light fantastic, the new rag top offers sharpened everything: chassis, brakes, engine, steering, suspension, gearbox, the lot. You can nip, dart, cut, thrust, hang a Louie and generally thrash the car some 25% faster than you could previously.

If you can't drive this puppy fast, you can't drive. But I challenge any enthusiast worth his Sparco shoes to drive it slow. For one thing, the MX5's 2.0-liter four-pot buzzes all the way from the basement to the penthouse, with genuine shove lingering at the top of the rev range. Why wouldn't you cane it? For another, the steering is ponderous at the straight ahead. When you fling the MX5 into a corner, the helm springs to life, providing handful after handful of delicious feedback. Why wouldn't you dice? The brakes are game for a laugh: strong, fade, free and progressive. Why wouldn't you slip into grin mode at every opportunity?

Why not indeed? My time with the MX5 gave me a profound respect for its owners. Where I once saw MX5 drivers as lifestyle victims in search of cutesy-tootsie street cred, I now see them as irredeemable throttle jockeys risking life and limb for the sheer joy of clipping an apex or avoiding an SUV making a left turn from the right hand lane. In this, the MX5 is an ideal partner: ready, willing and able to squirt through the tightest of spaces into the mystical hidden lane. In fact, the highway is the only place where the roadster doesn't shine, but buying a Mazda MX5 for long-distance cruising is like buying a Honda Odyssey for track work.

Mazda has wandered into borderline OCD in their attempts to eliminate any other reason NOT to buy an MX5. Visually, the artist formerly known as Miata has traded suppository chic for a more sophisticated and aggressive appearance. The MX5's flared wheel arches and post-modern power dome are perfectly judged addenda to the basic bathtub shape. The MX5 has such a well-judged form it creates an optical illusion; you think you're still ten yards away when you bump into it. And apologize. While the car's slightly more generous but still teeny weeny proportions maintain its position as an automotive gay icon, it's now more like the Village People's construction worker than, um, the leather one.

Inside, Mazda has opted for the Audi funeral parlor look, minus the high quality plastics. The fake piano wood running across the dash would jar on a Fischer Price keyboard, and the faux aluminum steering wheel surrounds and rollover hoops are less convincing than Fritz Saukel's Nuremberg defense. But the overall effect is dignified and refined: an exponential improvement over the previous car's cabin in both look and feel. The MX5's audio system is the only major letdown; it makes FM radio sound like AM. The aural assault is an unforgivable technological lapse for a vehicle in which fun is Job One.

Aside from the tinny radio, the 16-year-old MX5 challenges the 911 as the world's most highly evolved automobile. That said, unlike potential Porsche ownership, it's best to approach MX5 possession by asking yourself the question Henry V asked his troops: "Do you want to live forever?" The truth is, if someone had handed me the keys to an MX5 when I was a teenager, I couldn't have written this review.

Join the conversation
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  • FreedMike Back in the '70s, the one thing keeping consumers from buying more Datsuns was styling - these guys were bringing over some of the ugliest product imaginable. Remember the F10? As hard as I try to blot that rolling aberration from my memory, it comes back. So the name change to Nissan made sense, and happened right as they started bringing over good-looking product (like the Maxima that will be featured in this series). They made a pretty clean break.
  • Flowerplough Liability - Autonomous vehicles must be programmed to make life-ending decisions, and who wants to risk that? Hit the moose or dive into the steep grassy ditch? Ram the sudden pile up that is occurring mere feet in front of the bumper or scan the oncoming lane and swing left? Ram the rogue machine that suddenly swung into my lane, head on, or hop up onto the sidewalk and maybe bump a pedestrian? With no driver involved, Ford/Volkswagen or GM or whomever will bear full responsibility and, in America, be ambulance-chaser sued into bankruptcy and extinction in well under a decade. Or maybe the yuge corporations will get special, good-faith, immunity laws, nation-wide? Yeah, that's the ticket.
  • FreedMike It's not that consumers wouldn't want this tech in theory - I think they would. Honestly, the idea of a car that can take over the truly tedious driving stuff that drives me bonkers - like sitting in traffic - appeals to me. But there's no way I'd put my property and my life in the hands of tech that's clearly not ready for prime time, and neither would the majority of other drivers. If they want this tech to sell, they need to get it right.
  • TitaniumZ Of course they are starting to "sour" on the idea. That's what happens when cars start to drive better than people. Humanpilots mostly suck and make bad decisions.