Joyride: 2015 Mazda MX-5 Grand Touring

The MX-5 has been around for a quarter century, but, instead of showing its age, the 2015 edition is one of the most fun cars that can be had for under $100,000.

The Mazda MX-5 has been around for a quarter century, and during that time it has gone from revelation to cliché. However, like most clichés, it got that way for a reason.

For the 2015 model year, it is still one of the most fun cars that money can buy. And with its all-new replacement waiting in the wings, it is worth another look; it may be the last example of a lightweight, simple, and focused driver’s car left on earth.

Without peer

I have to admit it; until I actually sat down in the MX-5’s tight little cabin, I didn’t get it. I thought that the MX-5 was a cute little drop top that got by on its looks and personality. With my hands wrapped around the leather wheel and the perfectly positioned short-throw shifter, I knew I had been wrong.

However, it was taking the MX-5 through its first corner that showed me the depths of my misunderstanding. The little Mazda is something special. Taking a familiar hairpin I downshifted and turned in, and I as I clipped the apex and hammered out the MX-5 simply danced.

The MX-5’s excellence is partly down to obvious features: precise, hydraulic steering, rear-wheel drive, very low weight, an excellent, snickity six-speed, and an all time great platform. What really makes the MX-5 more the most exciting car on the poor side of $100,000, however, is its soft suspension and low horsepower.

“Low horsepower … is a good thing?” Bear with me.

The Mazda MX-5 may be the last example of a lightweight, simple, and focused driver’s car left on earth.

Barreling through swooping corners, the MX-5’s squishy springs make the car lean and duck light a featherweight prizefighter. Thanks to the excellent chassis, this doesn’t slow the car down. Instead, it adds verve and drama. It also gives the driver incredibly precise understanding of just how close the car is to its limit and how well they are driving. It also means that the MX-5 doesn’t need to be going that fast to be fun.

That’s good because on paper the MX-5 looks a bit underpowered. Its 2.0-liter double overhead cam four-cylinder produces just 167 horsepower and 140 pound-feet of torque. But, given that the MX-5 weighs just 2,500 pounds, this is actually plenty.

The MX-5 can manage the sprint to 60 in 6.9 seconds, which is slower than a Honda Accord. However, the low power encourages the driver to get the most out of the suspension and platform. And thanks to a solid torque curve and clever gearing, there is always some power to be found.

I’ve recounted all this excellence and I haven’t even mentioned the simple joys of driving a beautiful little car with the top down. I expect, though, that goes without saying.

Practical … well, almost

Even if the amazing handling and driving experience make the MX-5 great, it is other qualities that have allowed Mazda to sell more than one million examples of the car in 25 years. Unlike the small British and Italian roadsters that Mazda shamelessly copied, the MX-5 is actually a sports car that won’t break hearts or banks.

2015 Mazda MX 5 back angle

Not only does it have a reputation for reliability, it is also shockingly comfortable. The same soft suspension that adds fun in the corners saves spines on rough roads. In fact, I would argue that the ride in the MX-5 is more forgiving than those on many BMWs. There is even space for relatively tall people in the car, my six-foot-three-inch frame fit comfortably into the cabin … even if I didn’t have a lot of spare room.

The current MX-5 remains a comfortable, if very basic, car.

For extra money, buyers can even spec a slick, metal folding roof. Unfortunately, putting it up kind of spoils things. The car is still fun to drive, but with sky obscured, the little cabin is a bit claustrophobic. The sense of claustrophobia isn’t helped by the massive blind spots created by the roof’s thick pillars and small windows.

With the roof down the MX-5 is loud. Then again, it is a convertible; that is kind of the point. Unfortunately, it is still nearly as loud with the roof up. Wind and road noise quickly become intrusive and then quickly turn to tiring at highway speeds.

Now, I am not blaming Mazda. The MX-5 was never meant to be an Mercedes SL. To keep the car both light and cheap, there have to be sacrifices. The result of the sacrifices is very apparent as, the fully loaded MX-5 press demonstrator I drove cost just $33,000. For comparison, a stripped MX-5 can be had for as little as $24,000. So while the MX-5 may not quite do everything, for the price it really doesn’t need to.

Conclusion

After my first day with the MX-5, I was ready to either abscond with the press demonstrator or just go buy one for myself. However, after spending some time with the top up, I had to be a bit more practical. I still love the car, but I am not sure it could be an everyday driver during the long Pacific Northwest rainy season.

Even so, that may be part of the car’s charm. The current MX-5 remains a comfortable, if very basic, car. Its sole focus is to be the most fun driving machine possible, and at this it succeeds grandly.

As I said at the beginning, I am worried that we may not see another mainstream car like this ever again. The next MX-5 is likely going to be a great car, but I worry that it will set its sights higher and lose a bit of the magic that makes the current – and past MX-5s and Miatas – some of the finest drivers cars of a generation.

Highs

  • Amazing handling
  • Excellent short throw six-speed manual
  • Comfortable ride
  • Affordable price

Lows

  • Excessive road noise
  • Limited visibility with the roof up
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