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Prize MX-5 head-to-head

You can win this Auto Express Edition of Mazda’s MX-5 on Page 47... but first we test it against the RC!

Mazda MX-5

Anyone who’s ever ordered a brand new car will tell you how much fun it is to choose its exact specification – so you can imagine how excited we were when we got the opportunity to dream up our perfect Mazda MX-5.

The tiny two-seater is an established Auto Express favourite, and with spring just around the corner, what finer way to banish the winter blues? We decided to put our one-off roadster up against its Roadster Coupé stablemate to find out.

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Video: watch CarBuyer's video review of the Mazda MX-5

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Why did we choose the soft-top as the basis for our creation? Well, the MX-5 celebrates its 20th birthday this month, and ever since its debut at the Chicago Motor Show in February 1989, it has been the ultimate affordable roadster. We don’t think you can beat a fabric hood for simplicity or ease of use, so it got the nod.

When it came to selecting optional extras to set our special model apart, we started on the outside. Although there’s not much wrong with the standard MX-5, we’ve always felt that the regular alloys disappear inside its huge wheelarches, leaving an uncomfortably big gap between metal and rubber.

Our solution was twofold. First, we fitted a set of smart new 17-inch alloys. Then, we specified lowered suspension.

The results speak for themselves, as the rims fill the arches of our MX-5 much more effectively than the 16-inch wheels included as standard on our RC test car. They provide a more aggressive look, without the need to resort to a full bodykit or excessively large spoiler.

Inside, our special edition is just as subtle. Obvious additions include the Auto Express logos visible on the floor mats and head restraints, but there’s more to the cabin than a few reminders of your favourite weekly car magazine!

The seats feature perforated Alcantara inserts, which are grippier than the optional leather items. Also setting our car apart is the brushed aluminium-effect
dashboard – another box we ticked on the extras list.

In addition, we specified air-conditioning (which comes as standard on the RC), as well as the upgraded Bose stereo. So, our car’s sound system features a six-disc CD changer and a seven-speaker output. Plus, its clever amplifier detects when the roof is folded, and changes the equalisation to suit! As a result, the AE Edition trumps the RC for music fans.

Under the bonnet, we opted for the more powerful 2.0-litre engine. This has an undoubted edge over this RC’s 1.8-litre unit, and propels the two-seater from 0-62mph 1.5 seconds faster, with a time of 7.9 seconds.

However, the MX-5 isn’t all about straight-line speed – what sets it apart from its rivals is its nimble and beautifully balanced handling. The Auto Express Edition builds on those attributes, because its bigger wheels generate more grip and the lower suspension helps eliminate body roll, so it’s more agile through bends.

We left most of the car untouched – because Mazda got it right in the first place. The rifle bolt gearchange is the same as before, while the direct, communicative steering hasn’t been affected by the suspension changes. Similarly, the driving position in the Auto Express Edition is just as good as in the RC – and the grin on the owner’s face will be even bigger!

THE CHALLENGERS

* Mazda MX-5 2.0 AE
* Price: N/A
* Engine: 2.0-litre 4cyl, 158bhp
* 0-62mph: 7.9 seconds
* Economy: 34.5mpg
* Euro NCAP rating: Four stars
* Why? This one-off model is a competition prize (see Page 47), and we chose the car’s precise spec. Did we get it right?

* Mazda MX-5 1.8 RC
* Price: £18,209
* Engine: 1.8-litre 4cyl, 124bhp
* 0-60mph: 9.4 seconds
* Economy: 38.7mpg
* Euro NCAP rating: Four stars
* Why? We’re big fans of the folding hard-top MX-5 RC. Can roof-up refinement help it to outshine our car?

Verdict

The Mazda MX-5 is the ultimate choice for top-down thrills, and the unique Auto Express Edition is the best version yet. All the goodies we specified make our one-off the most attractive model in the line-up, as well as the most entertaining to drive. And remember, if you fancy one just like it, you can find most of the extras in Mazda’s official options and accessory lists.

Better still, you could get them all for nothing if you enter our exclusive competition. A free MX-5? Fun motoring doesn’t get any cheaper!

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