2014 Mazda MX-5
2014 Mazda MX-5
2014 Mazda MX-5. Click image to enlarge

Article and photos by Justin Pritchard

Beneath the Mazda MX-5’s tiny body and great big smile is a level of sports-car expertise that spans more than to decades and closing in on a million units sold. It might be free of excessive horsepower and intimidating looks, and it can’t do a John Force style burnout down half a quarter-mile track – but Mazda’s simplistic roadster is a hell of a thing to drive on a racetrack for novices and experts alike.

Considering an entertaining commuter and vacation getaway machine that’ll do double duty as a weekend racer? The MX-5 should be on your “Must Test Drive” list for a number of reasons.
First, it gets great mileage. To and from the track, you’ll use about 7.5 L/100 km of fuel while driving the highway at a good clip. During my lapping session at the Driver Development Track (DDT) at Canadian Tire Motorsport Park, consumption landed around 18 L/100 km. Translation?  Most drivers will be able to tackle a day of lapping on a single tank. As track-ready cars go, this one’s cheap to run.

The light weight (under 1,200 kg, even fully loaded) that helps this little convertible turn in great mileage also helps its tires and brakes be more durable during hard driving. Excessive weight generates excessive heat in the vehicle’s braking system and excessive stress on the tires. Since the MX-5 is little and lightweight, drivers benefit from consistent braking performance with minimal wear, as well as extended tire life during sporty driving.

On many cars, a few hours of lapping can leave the tires looking rougher than Courtney Love on New Year’s morning. With the MX-5, the rubber shows negligible signs of use, even after countless hard laps. Ditto the brakes.

Another plus? The Electronic Stability Control (ESC), which works against skids and slides, is set up perfectly in the MX-5. It ignores all but the most serious slides and lets drivers feel everything the car is up to. Should a big loss of traction call the ESC into play, it does so very briefly with a split-second touch of selected brakes, rather than several seconds of frustrating throttle neutralization. You can leave the system switched on, and with half a clue what you’re doing, you’ll never feel it intervene.

2014 Mazda MX-52014 Mazda MX-52014 Mazda MX-5
2014 Mazda MX-5. Click image to enlarge

Roof-down driving is fun too—and it can also be a confidence-booster in a track setting. Lapping the MX-5 with the roof down feeds your peripheral vision heaps of information that helps place the car within its surroundings while relating it to the horizon. This is key for successful and confident reactions to slides and skids, should they occur. Since you need to keep your eyes up and far ahead for successful laps, your peripheral vision is key to placing the car into position on the pavement, while your main vision scans the corner ahead. So, top down, your peripheral vision works even better, since it’s not hindered by B pillars and the like.

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Manufacturer’s Website:
Mazda Canada

Photo Gallery:
Mazda MX-5 – Ideal Beginner’s Track Car

And, since the MX-5 only comes in a drop-top, nobody will poke fun at your decision to lap in a heavier and less-stiff version of a sports car with a fixed roof.

Said drop-top roof even stores away into its own special place between the trunk and passenger compartment—so it doesn’t use any trunk space when it’s folded down. That gives racers get plenty of room for a bag, a pair of helmets, and a small cooler full of track-day beverages. And of course, a bagful of the ultimate in track day sustenance, ham sandwiches.

All of that in a car with about the best six-speed shifter on the road, perfect balance, and a fun and forgiving chassis calibration that always flatters and encourages exploration of its limits. MX-5 grips hard, forgives all but the most clumsy screw-ups, and will prove a total hoot for beginners and veterans alike.

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