A couple of months ago, I was able to drive Mazda's gorgeous white MX-5. From the moment I squeezed all 6 foot 2 of me inside its tiny cabin, I immediately knew that it was going to be a great car - and I was right. From the moment I pushed the start button, a beautiful baritone noise was spat out by the exhaust pipes. It was a noise I wasn't expecting especially after reading that it only had 160 horses under the hood.
Now that figure would've been fine if it were 1996, but it's two decades later. I wouldn't be surprised if a taxi was pushing 200. I was a bit skeptical about how this was going to be. My skepticism was right as my left foot seemed to depress the floor, only to find out that there was no clutch at all. Oh dear, I had 160 horses mated to an automatic gearbox. I must be better off in a dreadful compact sedan, my thoughts told me.
See, the benchmark for the affordable modern day sports car is the Toyota 86. It arrived with a 200 horsepower boxer motor that drove its power to a set of slim rear tires, which meant that you could go sideways in a little bit of downsized fun. At the time of its release, you could get one of those Hyundai Genesis Coupes with more than 300 horses driven to the rear wheels - but you wouldn't.
You'd take the Toyota 86 because driving it was an absolute joy, and whereas the Genesis Coupe would leave it for dead on a straight line, it really wouldn't matter because he'd keep a smug face, and you'd be smiling and laughing the entire way home. So if there's anything I should have learned from this, it would've been that horsepower and straight line debauchery isn't everything. The Toyota 86 never thrilled on a straight line. In fact, it felt a lot slower than it really should. It would be totally humiliated by a Toyota Camry V6.
"When you have a million miles of headroom, a beautifully precise manual gearbox, and an exhaust note that screams old school roadster, all is forgiven."
So where does this leave the MX-5? Well, if you were able to catch the previous article, I said that the MX-5 was a revelation, and I stand by it. My only gripe was that I wished it had this thing we call a clutch and a gear lever I can move around to swap cogs. And finally, here it is.
It usually takes me about 5 hours to fall in love with a car, and the MX-5 took all of 5 minutes.
As you can already imagine, I very much love the MX-5. I almost love it more than anything else in the world, but I can't really say that lest I opt to be homeless after my mother reads this piece. I like the MX-5 because it's focused. It never asks me how soft I want the ride to be or how much horsepower I'll be needing today. It's only Dr. Jekyll and never Mr. Hyde. You get a strong sense of purpose as soon as you enter the cabin.
I still need to squeeze myself inside and wait for my senses to adjust to the rather tiny space. While the size of the cabin is like flying coach, the rest of the interior isn't. It's still business class all the way. You've got Mazda's brilliant infotainment system, some steering wheel buttons, and the same magical folding soft top that you can hide away quicker than an F12berlinetta can hit the century mark from standstill.
"I've said it before and I'll say it again, it's really like an Aston Martin slept with a Jaguar and produced this little child."
In this model, you get a clutch pedal and a gear lever, which I am happy to say makes you forget all that's been removed, like some leather seats and the wonderful Bose stereo system. You need to be double-jointed to access any of the infotainment controls. Only Talia, my 10-year old hooligan niece, could access the controls without much pain. I, on the other hand, had to hyperextend my arm to fix the radio settings only to realize that I did it for absolutely nothing.
At north of 100 km/h, wind noise was an issue. You can't hear anything else apart from air trying to rip off the roof. So you decide to end the misery and put the roof down, and then you encounter another problem. Unless you're bald, your hair is going to whip back to your eyes and blind you, and then you'll spin out and wash away to join the beautiful scenery and become part of it - ultimately turning yourself into a Crazy Miata Maki Roll. #imhungry
However, none of that really matters. When you have a million miles of headroom, a beautifully precise manual gearbox, and an exhaust note that screams old school roadster, all is forgiven. The pedals are also mounted perfectly, so you can execute those heel-and-toe shifts to perfection. While I would have preferred a bit more weight in the steering and the clutch, it makes driving around the city a complete breeze.
It's a compromise I'm more than willing to accept, and you would too. In case you haven't seen, it's so damn beautiful. I've said it before and I'll say it again, it's really like an Aston Martin slept with a Jaguar and produced this little child. It's gorgeous.
"It feels just as special when you're cruising down the highway as it does when you're driving it completely flat out on a race track."
The 2-liter engine seems to be happy across the entire rev band. Nevermind that the engine is down 40 horses from a Toyota 86, because it is also 200 kilograms lighter. That's like removing two of me from the 86. The character of the car isn't dead at low revs, which means that you don't need to drive it flat out to remind yourself that you're in a stunning roadster. Unlike its rivals, it feels just as special when you're cruising down the highway as it does when you're driving it completely flat out on a race track.
In my opinion, that's what separates the two great sports cars. You can never drive the MX-5 without smiling or bursting into laughter. If you suffer from any form of addiction, forget rehab and get yourself one of these. After a long drive in an 86 I'd just walk away. In the MX-5, I'd always look back to give it a second glance. They say a little flirting is supposed to be good for the human body. After all, a sports car should make your heart thump even when you're no longer driving it - a feat that the MX-5 does romantically so.
So there you have it. You have a good car, you have a great car, and then you have the Mazda MX-5.