LITTLE was broken with the previous Mazda MX-5, and the latest update has tweaked rather than overhauled the popular drop-top.
That's the way fans of this cult offering like it. And there's plenty who do … the MX-5 is the biggest selling open two-seater sports car in history.
This is expected to be the final update on this platform before an all-new offering, developed in co-operation with Alfa Romeo, comes in 2014.
Prices have risen by $80 on each of the four retractable hard-top Mazda MX-5 models - the soft-top quietly exited the scene early this year and won't be making a comeback. Mazda has not bowed to pricing pressure, despite the Toyota 86, Subaru BRZ and Hyundai Veloster Turbo entering the coupe market this year. But the MX-5 has a major trump card over the rest - open top driving.
The MX-5 has stood the test of time since it was first launched in 1989, and while the global financial crisis has seen the popularity of convertibles plummet, the fun-to-drive Mazda keeps kicking goals for the brand that is on track to sell more than 100,000 units Down Under this year.
The third generation MX-5 is beginning to show its age inside. A range of silver finishes have been replaced by darker grey tones, while the gauges hood has shrunk.
Other than that things are status quo, with the two occupants sitting low in the supportive leather-trimmed pews. Things are surprisingly comfortable once you climb inside. The driver has five main gauges, and nothing is too technical with a simplistic layout.
Opening and closing the roof takes about 15 seconds courtesy of a button on the dash - you do have to unhook and re-latch manually.
With the roof off there is little wind intrusion and occupants can comfortably move along at highway speeds without feeling like they are in a wind tunnel.
On the road
Maintaining its 50-50 weight distribution, the Mazda MX-5 continues its "fun to drive" ethos.
At this week's launch on the Gold Coast there was no doubting the MX-5 has lost none of its willingness to turn into corners, and with the revs maintained above 4000rpm it willingly pushes out of a bend in search of the next.
The 2.0-litre four-cylinder engine still loves to rev, and you can work it right up to the 7000rpm redline, but Mazda's engineers have worked to make the acceleration response more linear.
A brake booster improves the transition from braking to acceleration, disengaging the anchors quicker.
What do you get?
While some of the layout is beginning to look dated, the MX-5 remains well featured although you have to visit the extras list to get Bluetooth phone connection and audio streaming. There is also no USB port.
Safety features remain strong, with the likes of stability control, traction control and anti-lock brakes all standard. Also on the complimentary list are 17-inch alloys, air-con, cruise control, bucket sports seats and a CD stereo with Bose amplifier and speakers. Step up into the Sports model and you get BBS alloys and Recaro seats.
There's no doubting this is the most affordable convertible in the market. Those who don't want to flip their lid could also consider the Toyota 86 GTS ($35,490), Subaru BRZ ($37,150), Hyundai Veloster+ ($30,990) or even the Mini Cooper ($31,650). In the convertible realm, there is really on the Nissan 370Z Roadster ($75,790) and the Mini Cooper S Roadster ($45,500).
This is driving for two, and the boot is only good enough for one suitcase. That boot space remains the same even with the lid off.
Average fuel consumption is just over eight litres for every 100km, which is reasonable for a sports car. Insurance and servicing should not be prohibitive.
You can spot the latest MX-5 iterations via the new front grille which is 47mm deeper and has a more aggressive look to bring it in line with other Mazda offerings. The front bumpers flare out further compared to its predecessors. That front bumper has also lost some pork courtesy of reduced thickness and Mazda's dedication to weight reduction - down from 3.8kg to 2.8. It's still a head-turning package.
The writer was Mazda's guest at the Gold Coast.
There is good reason why these little sports cars have been embraced the world over. This is affordable drop-top driving at its best. Brilliant 50-50 weight distribution provides a rewarding experience which leaves the driver hankering to tackle the bends.
Some of the latest mod-cons might be missing, but the MX-5 has always been about letting your hair down and having some fun. Nothing has changed, and the tweaks have made a good car better.
WHAT MATTERS MOST
The good stuff: Still great fun to drive, affordable, better exhaust note.
What we'd like to see: Improved interior look and Bluetooth/USB port as standard.
Warranty: Like all Mazda passenger vehicles, the MX-5 comes with three-year, unlimited kilometre coverage.
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