New Cars - Mazda MX-5

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In an exercise which saw most journalists on the press launch reliving their youth, Mazda has launched on the unsuspecting public a good old fashioned style sports car labelled the MX-5 in which the nostalgia factor ranks high. It provides a good, wind in the hair, front engined, rear driven trip down memory lane courtesy of Mazda who have taken up the mantle so timorously dropped by British Leyland all those years ago.

With fun being the operative watchword, a short spell in Greece, which had been preceded by a chance to drive the car in England, showed just how clever Mazda has been. I was about to write ‘the Japanese’ but since this car was conceived and designed by Mazda’s Technical Research Centre in California, the credit would have been incorrect.

The car is a two-seater. It does not pretend to be anything else for not even a stunted baby could be lodged behind the seats. Since one of the design goals was that the car should be rigid but still remain a lightweight, open top sports car, it is a compendium of a number of materials. The body shell is of all steel welded unitary construction but with polycarbonate front and rear bumpers and an aluminium bonnet. The boot lid itself is made out of thin gauge steel sheet metal. Altogether the steel part of the car accounts for only 16% of the MX-5’s total weight.

The 1588cc engine develops 114 bhp at 6500 rpm and has a torque of 100 lb ft at 5500 rpm. While not overly powerful, it is beefy enough to propel the car up to a maximum speed of 121 mph and for it to accelerate to 100 kph from standstill in 8.75 seconds.

The car comes in a choice of four bold colours: bright red, brighter blue, svelte white and silver, and it was in this latter colour that the car really looked the part. Conversely the vivid blue did not do it any justice at all, although colour schemes are very much a personal taste.

The car in the specification it is coming to Britain is a slight paradox. On the one hand, one can tell that a great deal of thought has been put into it, but on the other, there has been a certain amount of cheeseparing to save on cost. Considering that the car will cost £14,249 inclusive of tax and VAT, it is strange that the door mirrors have to be hand-adjusted from the outside, that a clock is not included and that the aerial does not fold down but has to be unscrewed to remove it. The windows, though, are electrically operated. If the demand is so great that 1000 of the 2500 scheduled to be sold in the UK this year already have firm orders, then it seems strange that the price could not have been increased slightly to include these items.

These quibbles apart, the car itself is a charmer. The gearbox is superb, the engine responsive and the sheer joie de vivre of driving it exhilarating. It is true that on the Greek roads, the back end was very twitchy, but having experienced it on the wet roads around London and southern England, I knew that this was due more to the freak conditions locally than to any inherent defect in the chassis.

The operation of the hood is simplicity itself, the plastic rear screen needing to be unzipped first and folded flat on the panel behind the seats simply to preserve its shape, the two retaining clips undone and the hood simply allowed to drop back over one’s head. The erection is this procedure In reverse.

For those who would still like the option of a hard top for the cold winter months, TWR is known to be developing one, although two chrome studs to the fore of the boot lid are there for the purpose of the factory version.

All in all, this car is a lot of fun. Even though it will reach a claimed 120 mph, it is not really a fast car. You have to be a brave man to go faster than the ton, for the front end begins to feel a little light at that speed and the proximity to the ground is a reminder of just how close one is to one’s maker.

Mazda has a success on its hands, and for having the courage of producing this car, good luck to them. WPK

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