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Well chosen mods remove the question marks over the MX-5’s handling, steering and ride

Our Verdict

Mazda MX-5

The Mazda MX-5 is still great fun, and more grown up in its third (NC) generation. For pure driving fun, little else gets close

Richard Bremner Autocar
13 February 2009

What is it?

This is the revised Mazda MX-5 2.0i Sport. Mazda has performed a tight, targeted facelift on its popular roadster, tackling customer criticism ranging from the linearity of its steering to over-intrusive bottle storage arrangements.

The Mazda MX-5’s update is signalled by a new nose and tail. The front bumper now houses Mazda’s signature five-node grille, consigning the Lotus Elan-style elliptical intake of the old car to history.

There’s always been a small but nagging question mark over the dynamics of the third-generation Mazda MX-5, which has been spoiled by the artificial feel of its electric power steering, a slight lack of consistency in the same, and a back end that could break away with the suddenness of a rugby winger.

Revised suspension geometry has brought about a significant lowering of the Mazda MX-5’s roll centre up front, the aim being more consistent steering response and feel, while further fine-tunings are claimed to improve its ride.

The Mazda MX-5 2.0i Sport’s rev range has been stretched by 500 revs to 7500rpm, its bottom end has been strengthened and there’s now a torque converter paddle-shift auto option.

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What’s it like?

The Mazda MX-5 2.0i Sport’s responses are indeed more regular, and the steering has been rid of the strangely glutinous resistance that spoiled earlier third-generation versions.

There could still be more of the enlivened sensations that you expect of a serious sports car, but the Mazda responds more consistently than it did before, breaks away at the back end more cleanly and responds tidily to corrections.

The 2.0i’s standard-fit dynamic stability control does allow some slither before intervening and, as you’d expect of a sports car, it can be switched off. On a twisting road the new Mazda MX-5 2.0i Sport is better behaved than before, and a greater entertainer.

And it's all the more so thanks to a more energetic-sounding 2.0-litre engine, which trumpets its achievements via a through-bulkhead tube that makes the MX-5 sound invigoratingly busy when stretched.

With this engine the Mazda MX-5 2.0i Sport feels more potent, although its outputs remain the same – and its consumption is reduced.

Should I buy one?

This is a noticeably better Mazda MX-5, and therefore very good indeed. It’s still a bit mute for a purist sports car – the aged MG TF shows more spirit – but it’s a very balanced car, in every sense of the word.

The new Mazda MX-5’s cleaner responses and improved in-cabin storage arrangements are good news, though tall passengers will fidget over the footwell’s lack of length and width.

The 2.0i Sport seems a little pricey, though you do get air-con, a limited-slip diff, a six-speed ’box, the bespoke Bilstein dampers and a cross-brace, heated seats, a Bose sound system and cruise control.

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13 February 2009

Good to see Mazda listening to what is a very wide customer base.

14 February 2009

[quote Autocar]There’s always been a small but nagging question mark over the dynamics of the third-generation Mazda MX-5, which has been spoiled by the artificial feel of its electric power steering[/quote]

You might want to check yourselves - the MX-5 NC never had an electric steering.

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