2010 Mazda MX-5 Grand TouringPosted on September 9th, 2010
Two-seat roadster makes sport of the daily commute
By Nina Russin
Webster’s dictionary defines a sports car as “a small, high-powered automobile with long, low lines, usually seating two persons.” The dictionary is wrong. A car’s design and the size of its engine don’t necessarily qualify it as a sports car.
I mean no offense here to Noah Webster. But to be honest, Webster lived in the mid-1800s, when there were very few automobiles: none of which could be construed as sports cars.
Very simply, a sports car makes a sport of driving. While the Mazda MX-5 may not be the most expensive or most powerful sports car on the market, it is as pure an embodiment of the breed as anything on the road today. For over twenty years, Mazda has celebrated the pure joy of getting behind the wheel with a two-seat roadster that offers exceptional handling for an affordable price.
Last year, designers introduced a new-generation MX-5 Miata with fresh styling and enhanced performance. Power comes from a two-liter four-cylinder engine, mated to a five or six-speed manual transmission. A composite intake manifold is tuned to produce sound akin to classic British roadsters: the original inspiration for the car.
Base price for the Grand Touring model is $28,400, not including the $750 delivery charge. A premium package on the test car adds keyless entry and start, Bluetooth interface, xenon headlamps, electronic stability control and satellite radio ($1650). A limited-slip differential costs $500, bringing the price as tested to $31,300.
Engineered for both road and track
The engine is positioned front mid-ship to enhance steering response. The aluminum block revs high, so engineers added sturdy components where necessary: a chain drive in lieu of a belt, forged steel crankshaft and stiff valve springs.
The close-ratio six-speed gearbox is designed for the track, but has enough range within the gears to function well in traffic. The engine develops peak torque at 5000 rpm: well below its 7200 rpm redline.
The car’s light curb weight, 2511 pounds for the manual transmission model, translates to a positive power-to-weight ratio. The engine develops excellent power at 3000 rpm.
The light chassis enhances fuel economy. The MX-5 average 28 miles-per-gallon on the highway, according to EPA estimates.
The roadster’s relatively wide track, combined with seventeen-inch wheels and low-profile tires make it extremely stable at speed. The short wheelbase gives it exceptional maneuverability. A 30.8-foot turning radius comes in handy parallel parking on the street.
Engineers made extensive use of aluminum on the four-wheel independent suspension and wheels, to minimize unsprung weight. The effect is similar to wearing racing flats. Reductions in unsprung weight, however minimal, equate to much larger weight reductions in other parts of the body. Front and rear stabilizer bars and a shock tower brace enhance torsional rigidty to make the MX-5 corner flatter.
Large ventilated disc brakes in front and solid rotors in the back can stop the car hard, and resist fading during a long day at the track.
Test drive east of Phoenix
Anybody who reads my road tests with regularity knows that I like to do test drives in the Superstition Mountains east of Phoenix. The roads are winding, hilly and sparsely travelled.
While many cars handle these roads with aplomb, few, if any in the sub $30,000 price range do a better job than the Mazda MX-5.
The smiling grille says it all. The car seems as happy to be driven as I am to be the driver. Blind corners are no problem. Pitchy, off-camber hills simply increase the fun factor. Downshifting through one of the sharp S-turns, the MX-5 hums happily, encouraging me to keep the engine in its 5000 rpm sweet spot. The sound of the exhaust is so nice that the satellite radio seems extraneous.
I am pleasantly surprised by how good the visibility is with the hardtop in place. A power retractable hardtop is available on the two upscale grades as an alternative to the standard soft top. The rear window is tall and wide enough to afford a good view.
Over-the-shoulder visibility is surprisingly good to both sides, making it easy to weave through traffic. The side mirrors do a good job of compensating for blind spots to the rear. Xenon headlamps on the test car produce longer, brighter beams than halogen to enhance nighttime visibility.
The Miata’s downside, if there is one, is that it holds two passengers and not much else. The trunk is miniscule. Not only won’t it hold a bicycle; a roller-board suitcase is a challenge. Since I’m a runner, fitting what I need into the MX-5 isn’t a problem. But cyclists and triathletes would be frustrated.
The leather sports seats on the test car have bolsters large enough to keep the driver and front passenger in place without impairing access or egress. Manual seat adjustments are easy to use. Seat heaters on the test car keep passengers comfortable in temperature extremes.
The small-diameter steering wheel contains redundant audio, Bluetooth and cruise control functions, logically arranged. The short-throw shift lever makes it easy to transition between gears quickly and crisply.
Temperature and audio controls in the center stack are uncluttered and easy to reach from either seat. A digital display shows audio settings. The power top operation buttons are at the top of the center stack, next to the hazard light. A 12-volt power point at the base of the center stack recharges electronic devices, while an auxiliary port interfaces with MP3 players.
Both the gauge cluster and center console displays are easy to read in a variety of lighting conditions. The gauge cluster has four analog gauges: tachometer, speedometer, oil pressure and temperature. For those who plan to take their cars racing, the analog coolant and oil pressure gauges are more accurate than trouble lights.
Two cupholders in the center console are large enough for 20-ounce water bottles. There are also bottle holders in the doors. A locking glovebox and storage bin in between the seats provide secure storage inside the car.
All models come with front and side airbags, antilock brakes and a tire pressure monitoring system. Mazda’s 36 month, 36,000 mile warranty includes 24-hour roadside assistance. Mazda builds the MX-5 at its Hiroshima, Japan assembly plant.
Likes: A true sports car, affordably priced that is equally at home on the road or track.
Dislike: Electronic stability control and Bluetooth interface are not standard equipment.
Model: MX-5 Grand Touring
Base price: $28,400
As tested: $31,300
Horsepower: 167 Hp @ 7000 rpm
Torque: 140 lbs.-ft. @ 5000 rpm
Antilock brakes: Standard
Side curtain airbags: N/A
First aid kit: N/A
Bicycle friendly: No
Fuel economy: 21/28 mpg city/highway
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