Mazda MX-5 2.0-litre review

Does more power equal more fun in the new MX-5?

Mazda MX-5 2.0-litre

This one's for all the naysayers, those that dismiss the new 1.5-litre MX-5 as weak and gutless.

Neither of those things are true, as the ND MX-5 1.5 has proved that thanks to its lithe 1009kg kerb weight, the downsized engine offers more than enough grunt to have a good time.

Still, a little extra power never hurt and now we have just that with the release of the ND MX-5 2.0-litre. As the name suggests, the biggest change is under the bonnet, where a 118kW/200Nm 2.0-litre four replaces the 96kW/150Nm 1.5-litre unit.

Mazda -MX-5-2.0-litre -engineIt doesn't transform the MX-5's accelerative abilities - neither car is a rocketship in a straight line - but it's noticeably more flexible, able to pull from 50km/h in sixth with little hesitation. We'd bet on 0-100km/h taking around seven seconds, which we'll confirm soon.

Unfortunately, the engine doesn't sound great, more of a metallic buzz than a sporty growl, and the 1.5 feels a little more energetic, as well as revving to 7500rpm compared to the 2.0-litre's 6900rpm.

Still, no-one buys an MX-5 to go drag racing, it's bought for its handling, and it's here the two cars diverge somewhat. The 1.5-litre is incredibly soft, which makes it very adjustable and agile, though at the expense of a little precision.

Mazda -MX-5-2.0-litre -rearAt 1033kg, the weight penalty for the larger engine is small, however Mazda has fitted larger and firmer springs and dampers. The 2.0-litre largely removes the high-speed floatiness that can afflict the smaller-engined car, which lends it a feeling of greater control.

Even with 204/45 17s (as opposed to the 1.5's 195/50 16s) there's still not a whole lot of grip, especially in the wet, but it retains its sibling's brilliantly balanced handling. Enter a corner a little too hot and it'll understeer, but if you're aggressive with the throttle it can be made to oversteer slightly, or a lot if it's raining!

Larger brakes also appear, with 280mm rotors front and rear, and the pedal remains firm even under repeated punishment.

Mazda -MX-5-2.0-litre -drivingUnfortunately, this extra control comes at the expense of ride. Over larger bumps the MX-5 remains reasonably pliant, but it rarely stops fidgeting and transfers most of the road's bumps directly to the occupant's backsides.

It's not a deal breaker, but does perhaps swing the MX-5 pendulum back in favour of the 1.5.

Still, Mazda expects the 2.0-litre to take the majority share of sales (if only just) and it's not difficult to see why when it costs only $2500 extra in standard guise and $1500 for the GT.

Mazda -MX-5-2.0-litre -interiorThrow in the extra power, the larger wheels, tyres and brakes as well as standard sat-nav and the 2.0-litre makes a reasonably strong case for itself.

But based on this first drive we're not entirely sure which ND MX-5 is the better drive. The suspicion is that the 2.0-litre will prove more capable at the outer limit, however the 1.5 will offer more accessible thrills.

The only sure way to find out is book both and take them for a back-to-back test. Stay tuned.


Engine: 1998c inline-4, DOHC, 16v
Power: 118kW @ 6000rpm
Torque: 200Nm @ 4600rpm
Weight: 1033kg (man.)
0-100km/h: 7.0sec (estimated)
Price: $34,490 (man.); $36,490 (auto); $39,550 (GT man.); $41,550 (GT auto)


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