Mazda MX-5 (ND)


Debut: 2015
Maker: Mazda
Predecessor: MX-5 (NC)



 Published on 1 Jul 2015
All rights reserved. 

Does power equal to fun? To Mazda the answer is negative.

Our neverending pursuit of power has reached a staggering point. Take Ferrari’s V8 line for example, in the past 30 years its output increased from 270 hp, 300 hp, 380 hp, 400 hp, 490 hp, 570 hp to the latest 670 hp – that’s an exponential curve! The top Ferrari supercar has more than 1000 horsepower now, while Koenigsegg Regera lifts the bar to even 1500 hp. Cars become so powerful that only a small fraction of their potential could be accessed on public roads. Even race tracks struggle to exploit their performance fully. What’s the point of having more power? That takes us back to the old question: does power equal to fun? To Mazda the answer is negative.

Mazda MX-5 has been around for 26 years and I suppose it is no stranger to you. In the beginning, it was thought to be a copycat of Lotus Elan, just being more reliable and affordable, but it did not take long to establish its own reputation. It never had enough power to burn its rear tires, but its agile and interactive handling brought its drivers immense fun – and most important, that is accessible at any slow corners on public roads. After a quarter of a century, Mazda has built 950,000 copies of the MX-5 over 3 generations (NA, NB and NC) and cemented it as the most popular sports car ever made.

Nevertheless, the last NC lost a bit of the attraction of the original car. It got uglier, a bit larger and about 150 kg heavier. Focus shifted towards performance and handling prowess. There were still no other small roadsters more fun to drive, but it no longer felt that special. Moreover, drivers complaint that they sat too high in the cockpit to feel sporty. In addition to the soap-bar look, it was the least memorable among the 3 generations.


For the first time in the history of MX-5, it gets smaller and lighter than its predecessor.


Fortunately, the new ND is back to basics. For the first time in the history of MX-5, it gets smaller and lighter than its predecessor. It is 80 mm shorter and 10 mm lower. Width is increased by just 15 mm. Wheelbase is shortened by 20 mm to 2310 mm. Most important, it carries at least 100 kg less than the NC. With base 1.5-liter engine, its DIN kerb weight is even down to 975 kg, just 20 kilos more than the original MX-5 1.6. Time seems to wind back to 1989!

Very unfashionably, it has no adaptive dampers to complicate the driving experience. You want multiple driving modes? Sorry, it has only one mode, which is called Fun. Torque vectoring is controlled by your right foot. An inherently well-balanced car does not need these costly and weighty stuffs to feel agile.

The new MX-5 might not be Italian beauty, but it looks stylish enough. The Corvette-like rising flanks injects enough dynamic feel and a bit of retro flavors (very 1960s). The rather upright windscreen and rearward cabin look far from modern, but they show the car’s philosophy that puts engineering to top priority. To achieve 50:50 perfect balance, low center of gravity and polar moment of inertia, the longitudinal-mounted engine is now positioned 13 mm lower and 15 mm further back in the chassis. Likewise, the windscreen is moved back by 70 mm. Fears about reduced headroom is answered by mounting the seats 20 mm lower, which also answers the biggest criticism about the old car. The driver also sits slightly closer to the center line, so there is no pedal offset.


The new cabin is not in the same league of Audi TT, but may shame Toyota 86.

Visibility is excellent all round. The new cabin looks stylish and quite well built – not in the same league of Audi TT, of course, but may shame Toyota 86. The small steering wheel is handy, instrumentation is clear and infotainment system is intuitive. The cabin is snug, offering just enough room for most people except the tallest. As the windscreen is moved back, the fabric roof can be made smaller to cut weight. It remains to be manually operated, but the operation is simple, requiring only one hand and just a few seconds to open or close. Everything seems right – no more and no less.

To keep prices affordable the chassis is made of primarily steel, of course. However, some parts in the front and rear crash structure, the engine subframe, the bonnet, front fenders and boot lid are made of aluminum, as are the steering knuckles and double-wishbone front suspensions (the multi-link rear remain steel to benefit balance). Some chassis parts have holes drilled to cut weight, too.

With less weight to haul, the base MX-5 may employ a smaller, 1.5-liter Skyactiv direct injection engine. It is developed from the unit of Mazda 2. Redline is raised to 7500 rpm, allowing the 14.0:1 compression engine to produce 131 horsepower at 7000 rpm. Its maximum torque is only 111 lbft, so you need to rev the engine quite hard to realize 0-60 mph in 7.8 seconds. However, that is also part of the joy of driving the MX-5, especially when it has the best 6-speed manual gearbox in the world, thanks to close ratios, short throws and slick gearchange. Dual-clutch? No, thanks. The small engine also allows the use of smaller (16-inch) wheels, narrower (195/50) tires and smaller brakes, which in turn save more weight. This engine makes a lot of sense on Japanese home soil.


The MX-5 is old-school. It corners with pronounced body roll, but then you will find the car has very good inherent balance despite the roll.


But it is not enough to American drivers, of course. To satisfy them, Mazda serves them with a 2.0 Skyactiv engine with 155 hp and 148 lbft of torque. The car gains 25 kg, but it comes with 17-inch wheels shod with 205 tires, Bilstein dampers and limited slip differential. The extra mid-range torque allows the driver to extract performance less hard, if not as effortlessly as modern turbocharged cars. 0-60 mph can be accomplished in just over 6 seconds, which is not exactly eye-popping these days but noticeably faster than the last generation. It does lose a bit of high-revving sensation though compared with the 1.5. What about European? They get the best of both worlds as both engines are available for choose. Sadly, neither motors produce very good sound.

You won’t buy an MX-5 for straight-line speed. Neither for cornering speed nor lap time. Modern sports cars and hot hatches are all tuned on race tracks, so they know how to go fast in corners, i.e. by using stiff suspensions, wide tires and powerful brakes. In contrast, the MX-5 is old-school. It corners with pronounced body roll. At first you might doubt if it is really a sports car. Hold on, and you will realize the roll actually gives you an idea how hard it is cornering and how close it gets to the limit, which is part of the information you need to engage with the car. Then you will find the car has very good inherent balance despite the roll. With little weight at the nose and a quick, 2.5-turn electric power steering, it turns effortlessly into corner. The electric helm might lack true feel, but it responds accurately and weighs up linearly once it has overcome the initial calmness deliberately programmed to enhance straight line stability. Moreover, because its tire grip doesn’t overwhelm engine power, you will be able to access oversteer on a back road at moderate speeds, all depends on how deep you plant your right foot. It is therefore immensely engaging and fun to drive in the real world.


It has no direct competitors on the sports car market.


The MX-5 is all about balance, not just chassis balance but also the balance between power and chassis. In the current generation of sports cars, only Toyota 86 / Subaru BRZ duo is worth comparison. The Toyobaru has tighter body control and a more progressive handling setup, thus it is the drift King. But the Mazda feels lighter and more nimble. It is slightly faster, too. Better still, the MX-5 is an all-round package. It has a more supple ride, a better gearbox, a classier cabin and an open roof yet it costs less than the Toyobaru to buy and to run. In fact, it has no direct competitors on the sports car market.

It is clear that the MX-5 is not for everyone – those pursuing outright speed or lap time will never appreciate its tuning approach, which has its sweet zone lowered to sensible road speeds at the price of ultimate performance. Those used to rock-steady body control or flat turbocharged torque curve may dislike it, too. Perhaps it is time for us to rethink what makes a good sports car. Mazda is brave to tell us that the whole car industry is running on the wrong path. The world needs more back-to-basics affordable sports car desperately, certainly not more 1000 horsepower supercars.
Verdict: 
 Published on 18 Jan 2016
All rights reserved. 
MX-5 RF

As in the cases of BMW Z3 and Z4 M Coupe, sometimes I find an odd proportion could be attractive.


You should remember the last generation Mazda MX-5 RC (Roadster Coupe). Its retractable metal roof added little weight but brought better noise insulation and a visual sensation when being opened or closed. It sold well, usually outstripping the roadster. No wonder the same concept returns to the ND.

Though the concept is similar, the implementation is different. Since the new MX-5 has a shorter trunk, it cannot accommodate a full retractable metal roof anymore, so it has to switch to a Targa-style roof. This means, when the roof is stored, a pair of flying buttresses is left behind the seats. As the car looks like a fastback from the side, Mazda calls it RF or Retractable Fastback. It is not a real fastback though, as the rear glass window is vertically mounted right behind the cockpit. It recalls my memory of many mid-engined Ferraris in my childhood, Jaguar XJS as well as the 1992 Honda CRX Del Sol. The Mazda's long-hood, short-deck proportion fails to repeat the aesthetic of Ferraris or Jaguar, of course. However, as in the cases of BMW Z3 and Z4 M Coupe, sometimes I find an odd proportion could be attractive.

The roof mechanism operates like Porsche 911 Targa: at a press of a button, the flying buttresses rise high up in the air, revealing a large opening. The aluminum roof panel splits in 2 pieces, one stack above another and stow into the boot accompanied with the small rear window. Then the flying buttresses return to the original position. It is an elegant mechanism, taking little space – boot volume loses only 3 liters compared with the soft-top – and only 13 seconds to complete the process. It adds only 45 kg to the kerb weight yet that already includes some extra sound deadening materials exclusive to the RF. As a result, performance is barely influenced. The 2.0-liter car takes just a tenth longer to go from rest to 60 mph, while 1.5-liter car suffers an extra 0.3 seconds. On the road, you will be hard pressed to tell the difference.



While the Targa design keeps wind buffeting in the cockpit low, it does not manage turbulence as well as the roadster.


Because of the roof, the RF has a higher center of gravity. To compensate, Mazda stiffened its suspension slightly and retuned its steering. When driving back to back with the roadster, you should find it marginally less sharp to steer, but it retains the open-top’s balance, sensitivity to throttle and feedback, part of the latter comes from its pronounced body roll. Fans of the open car will continue to love it, while critics will continue to criticize its soft suspension and low cornering limit.

As before, its biggest selling point should be refinement. With the roof up, the cockpit is quieter than the case of soft top. When the roof is down, the story is not as good. While the Targa design keeps wind buffeting in the cockpit low, it does not manage turbulence as well as the roadster or the old RC. At highway speed, the wind noise is so loud that not only conversation becomes impossible, but the roar is so fierce that you can’t help stopping the car and closing the roof. This problem robs the MX-5 RF the chance as a highway cruiser. Therefore, the roadster is still the better car – marginally faster and sharper, no less livable, and 10 percent cheaper.
Verdict:
Specifications





Year
Layout
Chassis
Body
Length / width / height
Wheelbase
Engine
Capacity
Valve gears
Induction
Other engine features
Max power

Max torque
Transmission
Suspension layout

Suspension features
Tires
Kerb weight
Top speed
0-60 mph (sec)
0-100 mph (sec)
Mazda MX-5 1.5
2015
Front-engined, RWD
Steel monocoque
Steel + aluminum
3915 / 1735 / 1235 mm
2310 mm
Inline-4
1496 cc
DOHC 16 valves, DVVT
-
DI
131 hp / 7000 rpm (DIN/JIS)

111 lbft / 4800 rpm (DIN/JIS)
6-speed manual
F: double-wishbones
R: multi-link
-
195/50VR16
975 kg (DIN) / 990 kg (JP)
127 mph (c)
7.8 (c) / 8.4****
24.8****
Mazda MX-5 2.0
2015
Front-engined, RWD
Steel monocoque
Steel + aluminum
3915 / 1735 / 1235 mm
2310 mm
Inline-4
1998 cc
DOHC 16 valves, DVVT
-
DI
160 hp / 6000 rpm (DIN)
155 hp / 6000 rpm (SAE)
148 lbft / 4600 rpm (DIN/SAE)
6-speed manual
F: double-wishbones
R: multi-link
-
205/45VR17
1000 kg (DIN)
133 mph (c)
6.9 (c) / 5.9* / 5.8** / 6.1***
16.2* / 16.7** / 17.2***
Mazda MX-5 RF 2.0
2016
Front-engined, RWD
Steel monocoque
Steel + aluminum
3915 / 1735 / 1230 mm
2310 mm
Inline-4
1998 cc
DOHC 16 valves, DVVT
-
DI
160 hp / 6000 rpm (DIN)

148 lbft / 4600 rpm (DIN)
6-speed manual
F: double-wishbones
R: multi-link
-
205/45VR17
1045 kg (DIN)
133 mph (c)
7.0 (c)
-




Performance tested by: *C&D, **MT, ***R&T, ****Autocar





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