Mazda MX-5 2.0i Sport
Limited Edition review
by David Finlay (26 May 2006)
Among other obvious divisions, MX-5s seem to me to have come in two distinct types over the years. On the one hand there are the basic models, in which no element is outstanding but the whole package is wonderfully satisfying. These cars have never been especially quick, but they have always been a delight - intended, perhaps, for the enthusiast driver rather than the sporting driver.
On the other hand there are the higher-performance versions, built from more serious stuff. The car tested here is one of those. It's actually quite special - number 1350 of the 3500 3rd Generation Limited Edition cars fitted with various trinkets which add £1095 to the price of a 2.0i Sport. Technically, though, it is a 2.0i Sport; that means it has 45 profile tyres on 17" wheels, a sports suspension package, a six-speed gearbox and a limited slip differential, none of which are available on lesser models.
David Morgan has already written a review of the regular Sport, so this article is effectively an extended Second Opinion. I have to say that Morgan and I are of two minds here. He thinks the car is great. I quite like it, but I think the extra equipment mentioned above does it a disservice.
You may side with Morgan on this one, and that's fine by me. I'm well aware that it all depends on what you think an MX-5 should be, and as I've already said I reckon it should be kept simple.
I don't object to the six-speed gearbox, though I don't think it's necessary. The effect of the other equipment gives me more of a problem. One of the major requirements of an MX-5 is that it should be fun to drive, and the Sport is certainly that - but the faster you go, the more fun it is.
That, to me, is not really what the car is about. I'd like it to be fun at very low speeds, as cheaper MX-5s have been in the past but as this one is not. In town, for example, I've found myself wanting to be out on the open road as soon as possible so that I can enjoy the car. I would rather enjoy the car whether I'm in town, or nipping through country lanes, or cruising along a motorway, and never feel myself wishing I were elsewhere.
Speaking of motorways, I have gained quite a lot of experience of those in the last few days. A large part of this test involved travelling long distances across the land with two people and their luggage on board. Now there's something that seemed like a good idea at the time.
Actually, it wasn't that bad. With careful forward planning you can pack quite a lot into an MX-5. Although 150 litres of boot volume isn't lavish, there is also a lot of space in the cockpit (including four cupholders in a car with two seats!) for stowing away smaller items.
The parcel shelf behind the seats is particularly useful in this respect. It's deep, so you can get a lot in there. The reason it's deep is that that's where the roof goes when it's folded down - a manual operation but an easy and rapid one - so if you want the open-top experience you have to limit your ambitions as regards taking any luggage with you.
Several days of this kind of thing convinced me that, at 6'3", I'm a bit too tall for the MX-5 experience. My head kept bashing into one of the roof crossbars (a particularly painful occurrence if you arrive at a road-calming measure too quickly), and although the driving position is basically very good I did have to apply some self-massage to my lower limbs at the end of each day.
For all that, I did look forward to climbing aboard once more at the start of each day. The exterior design doesn't yet strike me as being quite as iconic as that of the previous models (something I cravenly refrained from mentioning to Moray Callum, the man responsible for it, when I happened to meet him while the car was in my care), but maybe that will change, and in any case it's attractive enough to make me smile when I encounter it after breakfast.
Similarly, I liked climbing aboard and finding everything in more or less the right place, even if I really need an extra inch or two of seat travel. I liked the mild but distinctive bark of the engine as I turned it on, and within yards of setting off I always liked the way the steering is direct and precise without being overly sharp.
But I still don't think this is quite the right MX-5. Call me freaky (there's no need to shout), but to me what this car needs is less power, less grip and a less sophisticated transmission, all of which you can have for the privilege of spending less money on it. The lower reaches of the MX-5 range are where the true magic lies.