Tackling the tarmac in our long-term Mazda MX-5 GT while the rest of the world sleeps.
First published in the September 2016 issue of Wheels magazine, Australia’s most experienced and most trusted car magazine since 1953.
MY FIRST thought as I shake off the fog of sleep is to slap the alarm and stay in bed. What kind of idiot rises voluntarily at 5.30 on a wintry Sunday morning? Instead, I swing quickly out of bed, knowing that to pause is to fail. Don some clothes, slam down an espresso, grab the Mazda key and go. Six minutes since the alarm; a new personal record. Out the door and into…
It’s blacker than black. Darker than 5.36am on a winter morning should be. The Mazda MX-5 is the barest hint of a silhouette in my driveway. The night is still and there’s a fog so thick that the lone street lamp outside my house struggles to penetrate. Also, it’s wet. Am I mad? If it’s foggy and wet at sea level, what are the Dandenongs going to be like? At least it’s not raining. Anyway, I’m here now.
Slide in, then lean out to close the door. I can’t reach the handle without my head hitting the roof rail, so the window’s leading edge is my regular ‘door-pull’. Is this a design flaw in the car? Didn’t think my arms were abnormally short.
Key placed in the rubber-lined cubby ahead of the gearshift – not exactly secure, but effective – engine thumbed to life. The two-litre doesn’t have a great singing voice. Not at idle, not at revs, not ever. But it moves the MX-5 with vigour, and the almost deserted streets quickly take us to Healesville.
Somewhere along the way, and for reasons best known to meteorologists, the fog leaves off. Perhaps it prefers leafy bayside suburbs to rolling hills. The wet road shines in headlights that make mossy patches look like super-smooth hotmix. Treachery by deception?
Weirdly, the conditions make the drive. The grip is tenuous and the MX-5’s speed is far from electrifying, but the combination has my eyes on stalks, my nerves on high alert. I sense-feel every little shimmy and slip, and respond before each becomes a problem.
It’s an intense collaboration. It feels like I’m hardwired into the tyre tread, front row at each combustion cycle, hand-holding the brakes, feeding the steering rack. It’s a slow-speed, low-grip, sensory immersion in a world that ceases at the edge of the headlight beam.
It becomes a challenge. How long can I keep the MX-5 just over the edge of adhesion and yet still below the ESC threshold? It’s a game drivers play on racetracks around the world every weekend, often without ESC ready to assist. The fastest lap is when a car is straddling the limit all the time. On this drive, the speed limit is never in danger, and the MX-5 auto’s missing LSD tempers the pendulum somewhat. But that, and the slower pace, give my mortal reactions a chance, and it’s still an addictive game of degrees and centimetres.
Another lap, then another. On our third trip round the mountain, the sun crests the horizon and shatters the dream like my alarm had two hours earlier. Time to return home. Another hour later, I’m at a café, still energised, smiling quietly, watching the rest of the world in bleary-eyed pursuit of bacon and eggs.
Sundays are like that. But some Sundays are better than others, if you can just get up a little earlier.
Sales soar, then time flies
The life of a test car is never pretty. This MX-5 has spent more than its fair share of time in the Tullamarine long-term car park as its ‘owner’ ventured beyond borders and over waters. It’s most recent sojourn on Level 3, Section G was while I was in Japan for an Infiniti conference. I was surprised how few MX-5s I saw on Tokyo’s roads, though Mazda claims 826 of these COTY-winning roadsters are sold there each month. Australia’s running rate is about 120 a month, though it falls away as the car ages.
Mazda MX-5 2.0 Roadster GT
Price as tested: $41,710
Part 5: 1004km @ 7.6L/100km
Overall: 2120km @ 7.9L/100km
Date acquired: May 2016