Mazda MX-5 RC 2.0 Sport Tech

Roadster top-seller delivers endless driving thrills

THE Mazda MX-5 has been a familiar part of our automotive landscape for more than 20 years. Spanning three model generations, the little roadster has consistently blended great handling, low running costs, eye-catching design and a desirable image, and is one of the best all-rounders available.

The latest MX-5 is also available with a folding hard-top, as tested here, making it more practical than ever. But our focus isn’t about rational considerations such as boot space or seating capacity. To have the X Factor, these carsmust look good and attract attention wherever they go.

Thankfully, despite the extra bulk of its clever roof, the Mazda still has a striking and balanced design. The latest model gets a wide grille and deep-set foglamps, giving an aggressive face. And while the pop-up headlamps of the original no longer feature, the more conventional integrated units still look good. Large alloys and twin exhausts combine with a squat stance to remind you that this car has been built with one thing in mind – driving pleasure.

As with the exterior, it’s clear to see from where the interior designers took their inspiration, with a layout that borrows heavily from previous MX-5s. Although it can’t match the material quality of the Peugeot or dramatic retro cabin of the Fiat, it does offer the best driving position here. But the steering wheel would benefit from reach adjustment.

The low-slung seats, shallow screen and high transmission tunnel combine to reinforce the sense of occasion associated with driving a real sports car. If only Mazda had used some more lively materials to brighten things up –with the roof up, the cabin can be a little dull and claustrophobic.

One thing which doesn’t disappoint is the MX-5’s driving experience. Engineers followed the approach that every gram counts, so the roadster weighs 1,098kg – that’s only 63kg more than the much smaller Abarth.

Add the slick-shifting six-speed manual box, rear-wheel-drive transmission and perfect weight distribution, and you get the most involving driver’s car. Throttle response is crisp, the brakes inspire confidence and the steering is full of weight and feel.

Motorway refinement is also good, thanks to the folding hard-top and quiet powerplant. The latter doesn’t shout about its performance, but most drivers will be happy with 0-60mph in less than eight seconds and a top speed of more than 130mph.

Dropping the roof requires one latch to be manually released from above the windscreen, before the rest of the process is completed electrically. It all happens quickly and efficiently, while a dedicated storage space for the panels means the boot is the same size with the roof up or down. Annoyingly, though, you need to be at a standstill for the top to work. For £1,500 less you can opt for a fabric hood which opens and closes manually.

As our only roadster, the MX-5 is virtually guaranteed to have the X Factor. The RCZ looks the part, but it will do well to eclipse the Mazda’s talents on the road.

Details

Chart position: 2WHY: With a retractable hard-top, hugely entertaining rear-wheel-drive handling and an attractive new look, the MX-5 RC is a modern legend.

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