2014 Mazda MX-5 – Pure, unadulterated fun

Bulging front fenders and blacked out 17-in. alloy wheels is a good design evolution of the original, which was a decent copy of a 1960s Lotus Elan

Bulging front fenders and blacked out 17-in. alloy wheels is a good design evolution of the original, which was a decent copy of a 1960s Lotus Elan

2014 Mazda MX-5 looks good from every angle

2014 Mazda MX-5 looks good from every angle

Bottom Line:  Pure, unadulterated sports car fun in a simple, affordable package.  With its  front mid-engine design, the MX-5 is an eager, agile partner that begs to be driven  fast and furious .  The Scion FR-S comes close, but the MX-5 delivers top-down driving enjoyment on a warm summer day the FR-S coupe simply can not match.  When I am too old to ride a motorcycle, an MX-5 will take its place.

Fun, fun, fun!  Nothing describes the MX-5 better than that.  Its as eager as a puppy, urging the driver to get up and go!  With only 167 horsepower from the 1.8-litre 4-cylinder engine, you have to rev the roadster to make it run.  A meager 140 lbs-ft of torque kicks in at a high-ish 5,000 rpm, but this engine loves to rip.

The six-speed manual transmission could be better.  While the gates are precise (there is never a doubt what gear one is in), throws are long and the gearbox is notchy, very reminiscent of the 1988 Mazda RX-7 Turbo II we owned before we gave it a transmission oil transfusion with Redline synthetic gearbox oil.

Steering weight is perfect, feeling firm and giving lots of feedback.  On centre, there is no play and turn-in is whippet quick, just what one would expect in a sports car.  The MX-5 has zero slop in the drivetrain, making it difficult for the uninitiated to drive smoothly at slow speeds.  The clutch engages high and throttle tip-in is quick, making the slightest throttle movement to cause some jerkiness.

The stowable hard top is a gem.  Release the single safety catch above the mirror and press a button.  The top folds down into the trunk in about 13 seconds, and brilliantly, there is still a reasonable amount of trunk space.

I want one of these one day, I say to Ingrid as we are cruising this warm evening, with the top down.  Its almost as much fun as riding a motorcycle, I add.  Ingrid says nothing, but I know her eyes are rolling, and she is thinking, . . over my dead body.  (A few years ago, we rented a Miata in San Francisco and even our small duffel bag was too big to fit in the trunk.  We had to remove the spare tire from the trunk and stow it behind the passenger seat, forcing Ingrid to endure the vacation in an uncomfortable seating position.  Since then, she has hated Miatas and MX-5s.  Ingrid, apparently, still holds a grudge.

The suspension is calibrated sports car taut, and on our potholed city streets, the ride is firm, but entirely acceptable.  It feels more compliant than the 2014 Mazda CX-5 GT we tested last week.  But the suspension is not perfect.  On the highway, there is a distinct sense of floatiness.

The cabin is quite practical – more so than the Porsche Boxster S we tested a few months ago.  The Boxster had no storage space big enough to fit a  hard shell sunglass case except for the glovebox.  The MX-5 has mesh map holders and cupholders in the doors, cupholders in the console, and a nice cubby with a door big enough to hold a small SLR camera between the seat backs.

Our test unit was the mid-level MX-5 GS with 6-speed manual transmission and cloth interior, MSRP $36,045.  (The base GX has a 5-speed transmission, MSRP $29,250; the GT has 6-speed transmission and leather interior, $40,250.)

The Mazda MX-5 is just about the most fun a driver can have in a car.  The Scion FR-S and MINI Cooper S are very close competitors, but with the top down, the MX-5 is where I would put my money.

The Mazda MX-5 will certainly earn a spot on my Top Ten Drives of 2013 list.  Highly recommended.

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