The polarizing 2016 Mazda MX-5

Published on 12/3/2015

Since the launch of the new ND this year, there’s been a lot of heated discussion about the car. It’s had such a polarizing effect, even between stout supporters of the previous models on the forums to such an extent that they had to aggressively moderate the thread for a while.

Even today, in almost every press article’s comments section you’ll find the debate still raging about the low power and it having no turbo. You’ll find fan-boys defending it saying the car has never been about power. You’ll find the hot hatchbacks saying every modern 2.0L now makes upwards of 150Kw (200bhp) and that 116Kw (155bhp) is pathetic. And then there’s the muscle and the tuners. The aftermarket also hasn’t rested on their laurels, already there are all sorts of options for every opinion out there. And so with everything that is subjective, and motoring is absolutely subjective, no-one will convince anyone else about their view.

When I first read about it after the launch, my first thoughts were that this new car is essentially a rebuild of the original car on a modern platform. It has a 1.5L engine for a start, a simple soft-top and it is in the same weight class as the original, compared to the porker the NC was. And this, in a nutshell, is exactly what I wanted out of the new car. I can stop there, since I think that already defines my subjective position on the matter. But of course, markets are different. That 1.5L is not coming to SA, instead we’re only getting the 2.0L full house model. Our market is small, and we have to live with limited options. So now the car I read about is not the car I can buy. This got me thinking a bit about what I actually do with my car, compared to what I expect from the car. And those two things are very different.

Let’s start with the expectation. The general consensus is that the MX-5 is an excellent handling sports car with a revvy engine. It’s also the most tracked and auto-crossed car in the US by a big margin*. It’s even got it’s own spec racing series over there. So, your expectation is that it will be a fast car, it will be something to carve up the road with. You expect that you’ll be able to drift it, take it on track days and work some racing mods into it over time. This then is what the 1.5L and 2.0L Sport and Club models in the US are all about. Yes it doesn’t have major power, but in every YouTube test available it beats the BRZ/FRS/GT86 around the track or drag strip by a couple of car lengths.

In the real world though? What is it that I actually do with my car, my old NA? I drive it to work and back every other day of the week. I go to the shops on a Saturday and stick a case of beer and enough gardening material into the car that it rides on its bump stops on the way back home. I strap our son in his baby seat into the passenger seat and take it over a mountain pass during his nap time on a Sunday. This is so far removed from my expectation, and I absolutely agree with Chris Harris that it’s not a sports car. Yes, we all want to think we are young and want to track our car every now and then, but it doesn’t happen. In the real world with real responsibilities, it’s only a handful of youths and toffs that prefer to spend their money on brake pads and tires. And this new car sits on 17’’ rims, so tires will be bloody expensive. Already there’s a lot of discussion on which brands’ 14s or 15s will fit over the calipers so that you can buy smaller, less expensive tires to track. See Fly’in Miata for some import options on wheels and brake kits.

So my ponderings about the new model led me here: I’m all for the ownership experience, and in that guise the 2.0L full house model we have in SA is actually perfect. It’s got all the same kit in it that I use every day in my CX-5. And when I do find myself on a mountain pass, alone on an empty road, I’ll be able to pull 90% of my expectation out of the hat and give it a go with the roof down.

Now the only question is, is it something to replace my NA with?

*Based on anecdotal forum posts