What is it?
The Mk4 Mazda MX-5 has only been with us for three years but already it’s cemented itself as a legend of the family.We love it for its attainable thrills and back-to-basics character, and apparently so does almost everyone else, as is evident by the two-seater’s growing number of sales, which totalled a not unimpressive 39,773 in Europe last year alone. But while it’s successfully serving as the plucky halo car for Mazda by appealing to the mainstream, for some keen drivers, it is yet to really reach its full potential.
The reason relates to its powertrains. With just two engines available from launch, a 1.5-litre offering 129bhp or a 2.0-litre with 156bhp, the car’s never been able to garner the attention of those after something serious, something offering performance in a sports car package to rival the mainstream hot hatches of this world.The car has looked underpowered next to mainstay models like the 197bhp Ford Fiesta ST, and Mazda knows this. In fact, it’s always known this, because executives now admit they put the car to market in 2015 with the intention of further developing the 2.0-litre for more power.
Now, the time has nearly come for these planned enhancements to be introduced to the road as part of a wave of updates.From the 1st of September, the MX-5 will now come with a telescopic steering rack offering 30mm of welcome reach adjustment and optional Apple CarPlay, enhanicing the car’s appeal. The entry 1.5 model will also get a few small mechanical improvements to offer 1bhp more with 131bhp – although that’s not exactly something to shout about.
The 2.0, on the other hand, grabs headlines with a longer list of upgrades to offer a much more substantial 23bhp, with peak output now a rather healthy 181bhp. The changes to realise this new performance include lighter pistons and conrods, a wider throttle body and enlarged port area, as well as a bigger bore exhaust valve too.There’s also a lightened flywheel to enhance the motor’s responsiveness and it contributes to an increased hunger for revs, with that peak bhp arriving at 7000rpm and the limiter now set at 7500rpm – respective numbers that are 1000rpm and 700rpm higher than before.
What is it like?
Where better to test the effects of said upgrades than the twisting, winding and highly technical string of tarmac that slithers around the Carpathian Mountains of Romania, the Transfăgărășan Highway? This 100-mile route offers a mix of silky smooth surfaces and rough, cambered bends, with the latter providing a surprisingly accurate simulation of the good ol’ British B-road.
On such surfaces, the high-spec Mazda MX-5 we test, which is in a European specification that’s close to the UK’s Sport Nav+, deals with the challenging surfaces well – no surprise given that there are no chassis changes to the updated car. This top model uses Bilstein dampers and gets a standard-fit strut brace, helping to give the MX-5 its sharpest, most alert responses. It glides over the crests and dips of the Transfăgărășan, but the dampers ensure the body remains in check and leaves us wondering if anything firmer would be able to keep up with this unstoppable momentum.
Finally, this chassis has an engine to keep up because the 181bhp 2.0-litre feels considerably better matched to the package than its predecessor. The motor is zingy, offering a slightly better mid-range punch but significantly more enthusiastic top end – so much so that it feels unnatural to stay in the same gear for so long without bouncing into a rev limiter.
Once familiarised, you quickly realise the engine likes to re
main spinning above 5500rpm to offer its best, so working the tight six-speed manual becomes an even more rewarding joy. But its improved elasticity allows us to cover great distances of technical sections in second gear, with the driver able to help the revs rise more quickly by encouraging the limited slip differential (standard on 2.0-litre cars) to send more torque to the inside wheel and enable manageable slides on corner exits.
Should I buy one?
Ok, so there’s still not enough storage space, cabin room remains tight and motorway journeys will feature plenty of wind noise (even with the roof up). But, the MX-5 is affordable, honest and, as a driver’s car, now a truly tempting package thanks to its new 2.0-litre engine, adding newfound vigour to its rear wheel drive purity.
We loved it before and we love it even more now, so if you’re in the market for a sub-£30k roadster, the MX-5 2.0 really needs to be on your shopping list. Because this is where the fun’s at.
Mazda MX-5 Skyactiv-G 2.0 specification
Where Romania Price £22,595 On sale September Engine 4 cyls, 1998cc, petrol Power181bhp at 7000rpm Torque 151lb ft at 4000rpm Gearbox 6-spd manual Kerb weight1105kg Top speed 136mph 0-62mph 6.5sec Fuel economy 40.9mpg CO2 156g/kmRivalsToyota GT86, Subaru BRZ, Abarth 124