|Photos by Ulysses Ang and Mazda Press|
But Mazda didn’t just want to improve on its most immediate predecessor. They wanted to go back to where it began: the original ‘NA’ model. It was a less powerful machine. Yet, the engineers collectively call it the “most right”—the most true to the idea of what the MX-5 ought to be. So even before showing off the 2016 model in the flesh, Mazda gave the ultimate Throwback Thursday experience: drive the original NA from downtown Barcelona to the staging point. In that brief time in the driver’s seat, it felt light, responsive, and perfectly balanced. Even after 25 years, it still is the embodiment of a perfectly harmonious driving experience.
Atop the driveway of Restaurant Mas Corts in San Fost, Campsentelles stood a trio of 2016 MX-5s. At first it isn’t obvious, but park the 1989 original next to the 2016 reveals the unmistakable truth: the all-new MX-5 is almost the same size as the original. It’s a remarkable achievement given this day and age of expanding waistlines and toughening safety regulations. More than just its compact dimensions, it’s also just as light: 1,100 kilograms for this Japanese-spec model. And because it’s all about the details, the shed weight enables a lower center of gravity while keeping the distribution at perfect 50/50.
Style-wise, it’s gained the new Mazda KODO – Soul of Motion design and for that, it’s filled with swoopy and interplaying lines. It looks great. The details though tell a much deeper story. It’s a story where form and function come together to create a car that’s focused in delivering an intimate driving experience. As with sports cars of late, the front fenders bulge up, marking the front corners. Designers have gone further by designing the hood to be as low as possible first before fitting the projector-type headlamps, which necessitated the use of LEDs in the processes. Eschewing fancy mechanisms for the roof, the MX-5 goes back to a manual cloth number and it’s all for the better. It’s very easy to operate: unlatch and throw it behind you. This feeling of unrestricted, wind-in-your-hair driving was always part of the MX-5 magic formula and the new model carries that tradition.
With that, it’s time to drive the route with the roof down even if the mercury registered a chilly eight degrees Celsius. Roaring through the countryside surrounding Barcelona, the MX-5’s engine has an audible but muffled exhaust note. It’s throaty and refined, like a sport bike at low revs. When it arrives in Manila some time end of the year, it’ll be equipped with a 2.0-liter Skyactiv-G engine. Number-wise, it’s down on power than the predecessor, but it’s a guarantee you won’t miss those horses.
On the occasion of this global sneak peek, Mazda brought in the 1.5-liter Skyactiv-G version with 129 horsepower. And it feels totally fine. It’s a bit sluggish accelerating in top gear, but a quick downshift always rectified that. It has a feeling of balance; a sense of purity and linearity in its power delivery that’s unmatched. The hilly back roads, allowed the roadster to be pushed hard. Toss it around a bend and it rewards by bringing a smile on your face. This is another part of the MX-5 experience: it allows you to have fun at legal speeds. It’ll rev its heart out as you blow through curves, offering a rewarding experience that won’t send you to jail.
Dynamically, it’s a godsend; a gift from the handling gods that banishes the demons of understeer. It allows you to load it through each corner as if it’s an extension of your body. It also allows for quick rotation through tight bends with a simple flick of the steering wheel. The rear end playfully slides out if you command it to, but it’s easily correctible. The forward/backward pitch and dive is purposely built into the suspension tuning for the sake of driver involvement.
Even the gearbox is made integral in the MX-5 experience. Although offered in both manual and automatic, the three-pedal set-up will probably give the most direct feel. It’s a superb piece of work with a clutch pedal that’s easy to modulate; matched with a gear lever that’s short and stubby. It offers a reassuring click into each gear as your row quickly through the box.
If you’ve ever driven an MX-5, nothing about the 2016 experience will shock or alarm you. When it comes down to it, everything’s been done for the sake of driver involvement above all. No excuses, no compromises. That’s what makes the MX-5 a MX-5. By and large, every generation of the roadster has built up on the foundation of the original model and this fourth chapter, not only continues the tradition, but has regained the original’s essence. As Mazda likes to say, there’s a little bit of the MX-5 in every model it makes and it has inspired the brand’s entire direction. The MX-5 is the car for the car guys and the 2016 model is proof of that. It’s more than a great car. It’s more than a great Mazda. It’s a great MX-5, and that’s all you need to know.