May 26, 2014
2014 Mazda MX-5 GT. Click image to enlarge
Review and photos by Jacob Black
There seem to be two types of responses to the Mazda MX-5: the first is that it’s a bit girly or a hair-dresser’s car; the second, by those in the know, who say it’s the best handling, best value and most fun sports cars going around.
While I am uncomfortable with the notion that femininity is somehow an unwanted trait in any context, I’ll admit to being in the first crowd for a very long time. I long held the belief that convertibles of any stripe were only suitable for attractive women to be seen in. But true classics, be they art, literature, film or motor vehicle have a knack for shattering stereotypes, for challenging bigotry and prejudice so completely that they become seminal and transformative.
And my attitude about tiny engines and droptops was in for a battering.
Sure, I know that the MX-5 is raced the world over in everything from autocross to production-car championships and one-make national series.
Sure I know that it has an almost perfect front-rear balance, is manual, rear-wheel drive and that it has the soul of a British or Italian roadster minus the “character”. Sure I know that they are apparently bulletproof even under the most brutal treatment – but still I didn’t get it.
I didn’t even get it when I first sat in it, though I did get the low ride height and go-kart driving position. I certainly didn’t get it when I pinched my finger on the roof latch trying to figure out how to open it. And when I realized this one, as tested, was north of $40,000 but was missing navigation, Bluetooth streaming music, power seats and USB connection – I really didn’t get it.
And I didn’t get it on the highway, where passing meant rowing through gears and pushing the throttle through the firewall just to access the 167 hp and 140 lb-ft of torque produced by the 2.0L engine.
But then, just then, as if by magic, it was time to leave the highway. The clouds of traffic parted – as if this cherry-red roadster was Moses himself – leaving a series of uncluttered off-ramps ahead of me.
“Time to see what these people are on about,” I said aloud to myself. I’d like to think the car chuckled at that point.
And as I turned into the 270-degree right hander I immediately, and overwhelmingly, got it.
2014 Mazda MX-5 GT. Click image to enlarge
Like an Evangelist emerging from a dirty pond I was suddenly and completely transformed – and I wanted more. Another three off-ramps quickly in succession, the road gods blessing me with clear access despite the heavy traffic, and I was chortling. The steering feel is precise, the car flat and planted no matter how I pushed it. When I thought I was pushing hard through a corner the “girly” (oh, how I laugh now!) MX-5 performed so effortlessly it took on an air of derision. Ever thought you were really sending one into the bleachers only to be told, “Is that all you got?!” That’s the MX-5.
So what of that tiny engine? Turns out I was missing the point. Can you do big lurid burnouts? Well, not easily, no. Though if you turn the traction control all the way off you can get the thing steering on the throttle. But that 167 hp is only hauling 1,182 kg and that 1,182 kg is distributed just about 50:50 front:rear riding on fully independent suspension at all four corners with aluminum-arm, double wishbones up front and a multi-link setup at the rear. Both ends get stabilizer bars and those keep this little car pristinely flat in corners. This tester had upgraded Bilstein shock absorbers and sport-tuned suspension and was shod with 205/45R17 tires wrapped around 17-inch alloys. Big engines, it seems are there for acceleration – but who needs acceleration when you don’t have to slow down for corners? Besides, I don’t think I’ve ever hear anyone say “I need more power” at an autocross event but I have heard them say “I need a Miata”.
2014 Mazda MX-5 GT steering wheel & gauges. Click image to enlarge
On that subject, thank you to Mazda for dropping that ridiculous name in North America. MX-5 is way better.
The original name is only slightly more silly than the location for the fuel filler door though. A certain Senior Editor had to telephone me to ask how to open it – And he’s driven it before, a bunch of times. [Hey, it was a long time ago, okay? –Ed.] I was lucky I knew the answer, but only because I’d Googled it in a panic two days earlier. It’s in the little box between the seats, behind the armrest. You have to pull the ring inside the box to open the fuel door. In a car with such a clever folding roof, that lack of engineering is surprising.