The new model certainly fits that brief and retains the unmistakable MX-5 styling but there are subtle differences. It is now larger than before – 20mm longer and 40mm wider – which means there is noticeably more elbow room inside, although it can feel cramped with two people onboard and the roof up.
It also features larger wheels, side airbags, increased standard equipment and a reinforced bodyshell but, despite all these additions, it only weighs 10kg more than its predecessor.
This is down to a ‘gram strategy’ employed by the car’s designers who painstakingly assessed every single component on the car and looked at ways of reducing weight, if only by a few grams.
In the UK there will be a choice of two engines – a 1.8-litre and a 2.0-litre. The new 126bhp 1.8-litre engine is 16bhp up on the previous 1.6-litre, but gains 2.5mpg in fuel efficiency on the combined cycle. It also has lower carbon dioxide emissions (17g/km less).
The 158bhp 2.0-litre offers a similar power hike of 16bhp compared to the outgoing 1.8-litre engine. Fuel economy is improved by 4.2mpg while emissions are also down by 30g/km. A five-speed gearbox is standard, while a six-speed is an option with the 2.0-litre. There are four trims – Standard, Option Pack, Sport and Launch Edition.
Mazda expects to sell 8,500 MX-5s in the UK in 2006, of which 2,800 are predicted to be fleet sales with the Sport trim likely to be the most popular model. The Japanese manufacturer believes that the more masculine styling and improved performance will also help to broaden its user-chooser appeal.
Adam Pumfrey, Mazda’s fleet and remarketing director, said: ‘The new model has improved performance and sportiness and this, we believe, will widen its appeal to company car drivers who have historically always loved the MX-5.’
Awareness of the Mazda brand in the corporate sector has grown dramatically on the strength of the Mazda6 upper-medium challenger and the marque is predicting that the new MX-5 will help to drive its market share in this sector.
Pumfrey added: ‘Our cars have been characterised by a combination of competitive list prices, strong residual values, low service costs and industry-leading reliability.
The all-new MX-5 brings all of these features to the marketplace.’ Initial indications from CAP and EurotaxGlass’s predict that the new model will gain at least 2% points on the outgoing model, which will mean a retained value of around 43% after three years/ 60,000 miles.
Behind the wheel
The main ingredient of the MX-5 recipe has always been fun. It’s never been the quickest of sports cars and the third generation continues this trend, but it has always been guaranteed to raise a smile once behind the wheel.
However, despite all Mazda’s talk of ‘preserving the aura of a nimble and lightweight sports car’ the new model doesn’t seem to have the sparkle of its predecessors.
The entry-level 1.8-litre engine needs to be worked quite hard and it’s easy to have it hitting the rev limiter before you realise. Consequently, the 2.0-litre is noticeably quicker, although there does seem to be a slight lack of torque with both units, which can make overtaking an often arduous affair. Given the more aggressive styling and increased proportions of the car, it’s a shame that the improved engines don’t quite reflect the persona. That said, it still handles superbly with great turn-in and seemingly endless grip. It has a willingness to be pushed harder into each bend as you drive along. However, it can feel a little heavy-footed at times and the 10kg weight increase over the old model often feels a lot more. The steering is precise and there is plenty of feedback, while the car always feels planted to the road, thanks to its wider track at both the front and rear wheels. It’s also longer than its predecessor by 65mm. The five-speed gearbox is an improved version of the same unit used in the second generation model and it certainly seems slicker and more precise, particularly when shifting down at high revs. The six-speed unit is all new and has been designed with a shorter shift but doesn’t feel that different to the standard transmission.
The MX-5 is more about cruising than barrelling around twisting roads and in this respect it excels. The ride is firm, without being crashy and with the roof up, road and wind noise volume is impressively low. With the roof down you can appreciate the great exhaust note – it’s just a shame that the engines don’t live up to the expectation.
|Model:||1.8||2.0 (5-sp)||2.0 (6-sp)|
|Max power (bhp/rpm):||126/6,500||158/6,700||158/6,700|
|Max torque (lb-ft/rpm):||123/4,500||139/5,000||139/5,000|
|Max speed (mph):||122||130||130|
|Fuel consumption (mpg):||38.7||36.7||34.5|
|CO2 emissions (g/km):||174||183||193|
|On sale:||Now||Prices (OTR):||£15,600-£19,995|