Another case of wheels within Wheels.
First published in the April 2016 issue of Wheels magazine, Australia’s most experienced and most trusted car magazine since 1953.
IT STARTED at the pub. “Damo, do you want to drive my new long-termer?” Wheels skipper Butler offered. “It has two seats,” he says, swilling another mouthful of beer with a cheeky grin. Surely this is a stitch-up: Why is the boss giving away a sports car? It better not be a Hyundai iLoad...
There was no catch. A stunning Sunset Red Mazda MX-5, sultry lines and all, was mine for a few weeks. And it could easily be yours because this $31,990 base car – the 90kW 1.5-litre, six-speed manual – has no options beyond the deep rich paintwork (an extra $250). Utterly affordable.
Within metres of having collected the COTY champ from Mazda, I thought, “What a fool; who gives up a car this good?”, as the lightness, tactility of the steering and instant response of the Mazda MX-5 became immediately apparent. “Surely Butler has some kind of hyper-ship, maybe an aircraft carrier or a spy plane, because it doesn’t get much better than this,” I pondered as I drove away.
As soon as the roof was lowered on that bright summer morning, the MX-5 immersed me in my surroundings like no other car. A Porsche Boxster? It’s a brilliant machine, but not as small and connected to the environment around you. That’s a big call, but looking down the glossy bonnet with its flicked-up edges, enjoying the smell of the ocean as I wafted along the beachside past Luna Park, there was no place I’d rather have been. This car makes you feel grateful to be alive – seriously – and what’s more it’s not an uber-priced pose-pouch.
Our lovely new MX-5 prepares to get back on the road with its long-awaited replacement Yokohama.
Then it was suddenly all over. Early on Boxing Day, the MX-5 and I had our first tiff. The tyre-pressure warning light popped on, like a thief in the night, and it stole summer. How? Well, there’s no spare wheel. Not even a space-saver. Just a can of goo. And, being only a few kays from home, I was reluctant to use the sticky stuff. Bad call.
Turns out that a 16-inch 195/50 Yokohama is a rare thing, especially over the New Year break. The right-rear was completely flat by daylight, the car undriveable. Luckily I had my trusty Ford Focus long-termer, whose spacesaver spare was placed under the MX-5’s sill as I used the scissor jack to take the wheel off.
The tyre shop deemed it unrepairable. Mazda roadside assistance offered to carry the car to a holding yard (umm, no) as they “don’t do tyre repairs”. The local dealer only had tyres for the previous model. Gulp. So there it was; all that Kodo design, all that garb about horse and man as one, stranded. Sure, a spare adds weight, but when your sports car is sitting, paralysed, you don’t care about the Jinba Ittai philosophy and the extra mass diluting your experience, because right there and then I wasn’t experiencing the MX-5 at all.
The perfect storm of a puncture, public holidays and a unicorn of a tyre conspired against the car. If I owned it, and it was my only car, it would have ruined my holiday.
Weeks later, with the MX-5 back on its feet, it was only seconds before I once again succumbed to its charms. Like Homer Simpson hugging the TV, I thought, “How can I stay mad at you?” It delivers so much driving pleasure, I found myself deliberately driving to suburbs I’d never been to for groceries, just to have another chance to duck through traffic, tackle a few more corners and breathe in the summer air. Finally, the MX-5 and I became one.
Then, at the pub, Butler asked for it back.
Pay your money, take your choice
There was huge debate at COTY 2016 as to which MX-5 is better, the 90kW 1.5-litre or the 118kW 2.0-litre. The 2.0-litre models start at $34,490 and come with 17-inch Bridgestone-shod alloys compared to the Yokohama Unicorn 16-inch boots on the base car. Then there are the GT models, offered with both engines, starting at $37,990 for the 1.5 and $39,990 for the 2.0. They add leather, climate control and 7.0-inch MZR centre-screen with sat-nav. So far, none of those features have been missed; this entry-level car wants for nothing, and feels in no way like a cut-price stripper model. And, because it’s a manual, it gets a limited-slip diff as standard while the auto doesn’t.
Mazda MX-5 1.5 Roadster
Price as tested: $32,240
Part 1: 1032km @ 5.9L/100km
Overall: 1032km @ 5.9L/100km
Date acquired: December 2015