We drove the Mazda MX-5 1.5 SKYACTIV-G SkyCruise: the purest joy of roadster driving.

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Never mind the season: this MX-5 teaches you what car driving is all about, and it is the ultimate four wheeled pleasure, whatever the weather, whatever the road. Many people have seen the light, and have bought an MX-5, and therefore it is the most sold open two seater sportscar in the world, actually more than a million of it have already hit the road. About seeing the light, did you know that Mazda is an ancient Iranian god of light?

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The fourth generation of the MX-5, called the ND series, was presented for the European market on the Paris Motor Show in September 2014. The RF (Retractable Fastback) version came late 2016.  A lot of detailed and clever engineering has gone into the car to improve it even more. We drove the roadster for this test over French wintery roads, and are totally smitten. It is surprisingly comfortable, yet has lost nothing of its agility and handling, together with a masterfully willing engine and delightful manual 6 speed gearbox. Pure joy remains built in. Just read on…

Hans Knol ten Bensel

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The latest generation of the MX-5 looks the part, and both the roadster as the removable hardtop version truly look good from any angle. As we said, we drove the roadster in deep winter, and the soft top is superb when it comes to keeping out the wet and the cold. We actually prefer it over the RF version, because the soft top flicks open and back in seconds, and you enjoy a more open view towards the rear, where the buttresses of the RF version, which remain in place, limit somewhat the visibility.

When we say that the latest version has lost nothing of its agility and nimbleness, then you will believe us when we say that the fourth generation MX-5 is 10 centimeters shorter and not less than 100 kg lighter than its predecessor. A lot of effort has gone into further improving the chassis, suspension and handling. Wishbones have been redesigned and lightened, electric power steering has been added, with the motor sitting close to the rack and pinion assembly and not on the steering column, to enhance responsiveness and road feel for the driver. Last but not least, it has close to neutral 50/50 weight distribution, and weighs barely 1.000 kg.

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If you want a true sports car for your money…

Many car testers all over the world have already said and written it: when it comes to buying sports car offering lots of driving pleasure for your money, there is nothing, but then nothing better than the MX-5.

The handling, the nimbleness, the responsiveness, the way it steers into corners, the way it will drift gently and controllably with the rear wheels under power if you want it, this Mazda just drives, steers and corners like the proverbial dream.

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Skyactiv G technology adds state of the art power and economy…

But the fun does not stop with the chassis. There is also the power and the fury of a beautiful dual overhead cam direct injection petrol engine. This is the well known and proven Skyactiv G I4 engine also found for example in the Mazda3.

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In Europe, the MX-5 comes with the 1,5 liter version, in 131hp tune. This Enough to let this roadster zoom to 100 km/h in 8,3 seconds. It delivers this maximum power at 7000 rpm, and yes, this engine just loves to rev. You have to keep the engine “on song” to deliver power, as maximum torque of 150 Nm comes in at 4800 rpm. Top speed is a healthy 204 km/h, but it is on curvy roads that you will discover the true talent of the MX-5.

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The charm also lies in the way this MX-5 does all this: a beautiful soundtrack of a high revving thoroughbred, whilst you are flicking through the gears with a gearbox which has the shortest throws ever. As we said, this is it!

But besides sheer power, there is also the Skyactiv G cleverness. It has a high compression ratio, but knock is prevented by reducing the residual gas by using 4-2-1 engine exhaust systems, implementing a piston cavity and optimizing fuel injection. The duration of the combustion is shortened by intensifying air flow, increasing injection pressure and using multi-hole injectors. So clever! The result is a smooth engine, with astonishing constant speed consumption figures.

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We cruised on lengthy stretches of autoroutes with the cruise control set at 110 km/h, and consumption figures in the region of 5 liters/100 km were the result! The manufacturer quotes 6 liters/100 km as combined consumption.

Gran Turismo pleasure

Now we come to another strong point of the MX-5: its comfort and excellent drivability on short and long distances. Forget the old wisdom that little roadsters are bone hard. The suspension is supple and soft.

Then comes the excellent seating position, the contours of the seats give fine support for hours on end. On top of that we have this “ideal” cabin space, with good ergonomics built in.

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Indeed, the steering wheel, handles and controls as well as infotainment are also found in the Mazda3. The instrumentation, and the centrally placed big rev counter is a beauty.

All the useful controls, like cruise control, are conveniently found back on the branches of the steering wheel. Noise suppression is also very good.

When cruising, there is no wind roar from the soft top, no tire roar, the engine just giving its melodious hum, never ever being obtrusive. Listening to France Musique classical music and conversations from France Culture at 130 km/h cruising speeds? Of course you can!

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So nothing will prevent you from making Gran Turismo trips with this car. You just have to be clever and inventive to limit the amount of luggage. An exercise which you and your (female) companion will surprisingly enjoy… travelling light is so beautiful, just try it!

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Yes, even the roadster version has airco of course…

The boot will accept a large soft luggage bag, and is pleasantly deep. It will also do you the grocery shopping, but with 130 liters of total capacity, you have to limit yourself a bit…

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Conclusion

A formidable companion to light up your motoring life. Chances are you will never really want to part of it, and keep it as long as you can, as a second car, or whatever. It will lighten up your holidays, your weekend trips, taking along just the things you need for a romantic weekend, just the two of you. You can share it with your son, daughter, and let them also have a great time with it. We can only congratulate Mazda for keeping up the good tradition. They build it in their plant in Hiroshima, and the Italian sister car, the Fiat 124 spider, is running off the same production line there. It so happens I am already the happy owner of a BMW Z3, so you can imagine I am so fond of this type of car, and love it, love it love it…

Hans Knol ten Bensel