Mazda MX-5 1.5 Sport Nav10 | 08 | 2015Scotcars rating

    Mazda has gone back to its roots with its MkIV MX-5: we check it out in the Highlands

    IT'S NOT EXACTLY the message you want to hear seconds before you jump in the Mazda MX-5 for the most anticipated mainstream roadster launch: "If you’re doing 61mph in a 60mph zone, you'll be nicked."

    Scotland’s no-tolerance attitude to speeding — as is the case with driving under the influence of alcohol — is to be applauded. So just was well then the all-new MX-5 is the perfect carto enjoy bags of fun within the legal limits.

    And not only that, but much of the route was over the stunning newly-marketed 'North Coast 500': that stretch of stunning road which wraps round the north-west and north coast of Scotland, with its dramatic scenery and stunning roads.

    There are two engine derivatives — both with Mazda's innovative SkyActiv technology — in the new fourth-generation MX-5; the 159bhp 2.0-litre and the 129bhp 1.5-litre. It's the latter we test here in Sport Nav spec.

    Prices? The range starts at £18,495 for the 1.5 SE and rises to £23,295 for the range-topping 2.0 Sport Nav. The car we test here, the 1.5 Sport Nav, will set you back £22,445.

    Worth highlighting here that the 1.5 does without the 2.0's strut brace and limited-slip differential. The 2.0 Sport also gets Bilstein dampers and sports suspension: more of that later.

    Over two days, in mixed conditions — typical Scottish west coast summer weather, one minute torrential rain, the next sunshine — and 250 miles of cracking driving, I was able to assess which engine was the best for everyday driving.

    And that driving started from Inverness Airport and headed down the west shore of Loch Ness in slow-moving, frustrating holiday traffic. And yet, with the roof down in the 1.5 — and doing our best to dodge the intermittent 'summer' showers — the journey was a hoot.

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    With its light clutch and forty engine, allied to Mazda's renown short, tight gearshift and predictable throttle response, the opening spell behind the wheel was a delight. But it was about to get even better.

    Entering Invermoriston, we headed west on the A887/A87, heading for Applecross and ultimately Torridon for an overnight halt, and boy did the MX-5 come into its own. Its naturally aspirated engine delivers a linear, long-revving power delivery which relishes being wrung out to the 7000rpm redline.

    And don't go questioning the fact it's 'only' a 1.5: squirt the car into a sweeping corner, flick the car into second gear, and as you spent through you'll be beaming like a Cheshire cat and relishing in the fact Mazda has, once again, produced a proper sports car.

    Ok, when faced with a steep gradient you'll find yourself knocking the super-slick six-speed manual gearbox down a cog, or even two — something you don't need to do in the 2.0 — but otherwise, when you keep the smaller power unit purring in the high mid-range, there's nothing to touch it.

    Scorching pace? Nope, the 1.5 doesn't have that — at 8.3secs, it takes a full second longer to get to 62mph from standstill when compared to the 2.0 — but that's to completely miss the point. The joy of the 1.5 is you can enjoy using 100% of the performance in all sorts of situations. And do you need to break the speed limit to have fun? No.

    Of course, the key to a truly inspirational sports car is its handling, and here, once again, the new MX-5 shines: in fact, it dazzles.

    It's something of a cliche, but the steering feeds back exactly what's going on at that interface between rubber and road. And even on the damp, slippery and uneven single-track roads — especially the Bealach na Ba, the historic and dramatic Pass of the Cattle through which cattle was driven rom Applecross and surrounding settlements to other parts of the Highlands — there’s loads of grip. And that means you can really lean on the MX-5 through corners.

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    You may already have sensed this, but the new MX-5 is a sheer joy to drive: I defy anyone do drive it and not be smiling when they climb out of the cabin.

    And forget any thought of the dreaded scuttle-shake, that plague of unsatisfactory soft-tops. In the MX-5, with its manual, fabric roof which can be raised and lowered in seconds with one hand from the driver's seat, it's non-existent.

    Inside the MX-5's cabin, you'll find yourself capable of being able to hold a conversation without your hair in your mouth, even up at motorway speeds (don't fret: we encountered dual-carriageways coming back into Inverness on the second day).

    There's enough soft-touch plastics and convincing trim details on show in the right places to make you feel as though the designers have paid enough attention to the interior. Sure, it's snug, but that's part of the MX-5's fun character.

    While the entry-level is attractive from a price perspective, I'd recommend you consider anything from the SE-L trim and up. That means you get Mazda's brilliant infotainment system — which is easily controlled using an iDrive-style rotary dial between the front seats — as standard. And if you fancy satnav, you can upgrade on SE-L and Sport trims for an extra 600 quid.

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    Inside the cabin, the door tops are coloured to match the exterior paint, and below the dash there are three circular dials for the climate control. Around the driver, the instrument panel (with the tachometer front and centre) and air vents are designed to be perfectly symmetrical, and are aimed at creating a cockpit-style feel. And not that you'll notice it, but the driver's seat has been moved 15mm closer to the centerline of the car, which puts you closer to the car’s centre of gravity. 

    Unusually, the latest generation is actually smaller — and around 100kg lighter — than the outgoing model. Mazda's designers have created a car which is 10mm lower overall, has a 15mm shorter wheelbase and whose overhangs have been reduced by 45mm at each end. The result is a car which looks more squat and muscular.

    It also looks more aggressive by dint of its new slim LED headlights and a gaping front grille. And with roof up or down, the latest model retains the MX-5's classic silhouette.

    After a good night's kip, I took the 2.0 round the north-west section of the North Coast 500, a spectacularly dramatic and scenic route up round Gairloch, Poolewe, Aultbea, Gruinard Bay and back into Inverness.

    Sure it has more power, and some would argue it would be the better car to live with, but I have my doubts. Sure, in identical trim it's only an extra £850 over the 1.5, but I found the balance of the smaller car that bit more appealing.

    There's no denying the new MX-5 is an exquisite looking car — there are hints of the BMW Z4 in a number of its lines — and it's both beautifully proportioned and has simple, but effective curves.

    So, how would I sum up the new MX-5? Sure there are faster sports cars out there, and certainly more powerful ones. But therein lies the problem: most of those alternatives are more extreme, making them difficult to live with day-in, day-out.

    The Mazda is, without question, a sports car which can comfortably used every day: and it's sweet. To look at; to sit in; to drive … it's just plain sweet. And we love it.

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    Jim McGill


    Quick Stats
    Price OTR/As Tested £22,445 / £22,985
    Engine / Power: 4 cyls in line, 1496cc, petrol, 6sp manual gearbox / 129bhp
    How fast?: 0-62mph 8.3sec; / Max 127mph
    How big/heavy?: L3915mm W1735mm H1225mm / 1090kg
    How thirsty/CO2?: 47.1mpg combined / 139g/km CO2
    InsGP/Road tax: n/a / n/a
    Alternatives: Nothing really, but consider: Mini Cooper S Roadster, Audi TT Roadster, BMW Z4

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