Car review: 07 reg Mazda MX-5 Roadster-Coupé

I haven’t written about a car for a while, but since I have just ceased to drive my MX-5 it seems a very good time to review it: I am not going to learn anything more about it at this point.  To be specific, I am reviewing the 1.8 litre version – I didn’t want the 2.0 sport as it came with traction- and stability-control.

I first drove an MX-5 in February 2007 as a test drive at a local dealer’s and couldn’t stop grinning – the gear change was perfect, the engine note was perfect, the handling was excellent, the power delivery was spot-on and the interior was very pleasant. It was a cold day, but I was comfortable in shirt sleeves with the roof down.

I bought mine through a car scheme (sadly now discontinued) provided by my employer.  It was a rather odd set-up: if you went to their website the deals on offer were worse than you could get at your local dealer, but if you called them to ask for a quote you got a price no-one was willing to get near.  The personal-contract-purchase payments I was offered on the MX-5 were £75 a month lower than my local dealer could manage.  They also managed to get my car delivered by mid-March when the local dealers were saying July.  You see why I was disappointed to see it withdrawn for “lack of interest”.  But I digress.

I remember the day I got it: it was delivered to my parents house (I was selling my Ka to a friend who lived near there) and I drove around all my favourite twisty back roads in 3rd (with the roof down to hear the engine) for the satisfaction of stringing corners together.  I was some distance from home when it started to rain, so I pulled over to put the roof up.  The 12-second button-push to put the roof up or down is pretty quick, and I still find the mechanism impressive to watch.  With the roof up, I decided to go the short way home for tea.

It turns out that I drive mostly by sound – which can mean you end up going a little bit faster than you intended if you change gear and accelerate in an MX-5 when you’re used to a Ka: the sound insulation of an MX-5 with the roof up is much better than that in a Ka.  I think this is because the rear wheel sound goes into the boot cavity and the front wheel sound into the engine cavity, while the passenger area is isolated from both of these.  In the Ka, of course, the rear wheel arches intrude into the passenger cabin and there is no isolation between the boot and the passenger space anyway.

The MX-5 is surprisingly practical.  I have fit a complete set of golf clubs, a trolley, a brolly, golf shoes and a change of clothes in the boot.  In contrast to practically everything else you might look at (Mercedes SLK, etc) you could still put the roof down at that point.  For the non-golfists among you, Cerys and I have twice been on holiday for a week taking only what we could fit into the boot without sacrificing anything: if you want to do this it helps to have the MX-5 luggage (Roadsterbag size 24B).  Basically its cargo capacity is generally enough given adequate planning.  Another good roof feature, the envy of my elise-driving colleagues, is that you can get good use of the roof in the middle of winter: the engine is in the front so there is plenty of heat for the climate control to dispense through the vents.

One thing which will surprise you if you’ve driven cars with “sport” written anywhere near them is the MX-5′s suspension.  Compared to a Mazda3 Sport I test-drove recently, or a BMW 3-series M Sport, the suspension is more informative and less harsh in the MX-5.  In an MX-5 you know, well before you get there, exactly where the edge of grip is in the corners; and you can go over speed bumps and bad road surfaces without pain.  It’s really quite incredible compared to everything else I’ve tried.

So where doesn’t it work?  Long motorway journeys.  You don’t want the roof down on the motorway, and there are no corners where the handling can reward you.  A second issue on extremely long journeys is that you sit with your legs out straight in front of you so the back of your heel is taking the weight: I found that somewhat tiring after 4 hours driving in a day.  But driving that kind of distance is generally best avoided anyway.  It’s also a little tedious in heavy traffic, but not more so than any other manual.  Unfortunately these two classes of driving are pretty-much all I’ve been doing recently.

I’m replacing it with a 55-plate Lexus IS 250SE Automatic, which is considerably more comfortable for long motorway jaunts and considerably easier to use in heavy traffic.  It isn’t quite as rewarding through the bends, but I think it’s a better fit for my needs if my journeys over the next year are like they are now.

I was expecting to be able to sell the MX-5 to a dealer or trade it in.  I need to get £10551.57 to pay off the finance I have left, or of course I can hand it back at nominal cost.  Unfortunately, the price dealers will offer is £10k flat: although they expect to be able to sell it for around £12.5k they don’t expect to do so until March at the earliest, and they are understandably not keen to have it on their books for 4 months as that precludes having another car in that space (or spending that £10k on a more sellable vehicle).  I’ve asked all my friends if they want to buy it at the finance cost – if they wanted an MX-5 it would effectively be a £2k discount on the forecourt price, but strangely none of them are interested.  It looks like I shall be handing it back to the finance people to auction it.  I shall be sad to see it go however it goes: I’m sure I’ll buy one again when I convince myself I need to own 2 cars.

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