It's hard not to like the fourth generation Mazda MX-5 roadster, especially now that it's faster, safer and more efficient.
As before, this fourth generation MX-5 is offered with either a 1.5-litre unit or a 2.0-litre engine but both these normally aspirated petrol powerplants have been significantly worked upon. The 1.5 still puts out 132PS, but the 2.0-litre powerplant's original 160PS output has been now raised to 184PS at a heady 7,000rpm (up from 6,800rpm). You always did have to rev MX-5 engines hard to get the best from them.. Torque has risen slightly with the 2.0-litre, from 200 to 205Nm. Mazda says that this 'SKYACTIV-G' 2.0 unit is now higher-revving and acoustically-tuned. The rest to 62mph sprint time is now 0.8s faster at 6.5s.
This improved fourth generation design continues to conform to five key criteria that Mazda claim define the MX-5 - rear drive with a front-mid engine layout, 50/50 weight distribution and an eagerness to change direction, plus a low kerb weight and an affordable price. All models get six-speed manual gearboxes.
The MX-5 isn't about straight line pace, it's about agility and tactility. Because the engines are so small, they can be tucked down and back in the car. Mazda reckons the bonnet and overhang used here are the lowest and shortest of any production model. Weight has been pared back by using aluminium for the bonnet, boot and front wings, while the soft top hood is also very light, improving the centre of gravity. Much of the front suspension is aluminium, as is the gearbox casing, the differential casing and the bracing that runs down the car's backbone. The virtuous circle of weight saving means that the smaller wheels only need four bolts as opposed to five. Lower rotational masses mean that the brake assemblies can also be made smaller, simpler and lighter.
The shape of the MX-5 hasn't changed radically from generation to generation. This one's no exception, but there's a bit more aggression about the detailing, the car looking like a shrunken Jaguar F-Type roadster from the rear three-quarter. Some have thought there's something a bit fishy-looking about the front end but it'll probably grow on you. See one in the metal and you'll be amazed at just how tiny it is. It's fully 105mm shorter in overall length than the previous generation version, despite the wheelbase only being 15mm less. It also stands 20mm lower and 10mm wider. Lower and wider is always good for a roadster's stance.
In another clever touch, the seat cushions are supported on netting instead of the usual metal springs, allowing Mazda to reduce weight and seat the driver's hip point closer to the road. A lower driver then means the windscreen header rail can shift backwards, in this case by 70mm, which in turn means the hood is shorter and lighter, and also easier to package when folded. See what we mean about that virtuous circle?
Weight is the enemy. Excess weight in a car dulls its responses, makes it harder to turn, stop and accelerate, ensures that it drinks more fuel and puts greater stresses on virtually every moving part, parts which then have to be beefed up and made heavier to cope. The Mazda MX-5 reverses that cycle, stripping weight off which in turn allows it to pare more weight back with other simple lightweight componentry. It's a brilliant piece of engineering.
It also goes to show that you can probably have more fun with 1.5 litres worth of MX-5 than you can with some supercars. No, that's not hyperbole. Try it and you'll see. If you measure your cars in terms of smiles per mile, the MX-5 has to be right near the top of your shortlist.Click here to find out more about our Mazda MX-5 range