Getting in the MX

Friday, January 11, 2019

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THE Mazda MX-5 has always been centred on one aim: maximum driving pleasure. And for 2018, it's added the single element consumers have been clamoring for, more power.

The fourth generation MX-5 is easily one of the best-looking versions. Originally designed in 1992 as homage to the compact British roadsters that came before it, the MX-5 has never strayed from the dimensions needed for its front-engine rear-wheel drive layout, a long bonnet with a cabin that puts the passengers as close to the driven wheels as possible. The current interpretation brings some modernity in the form of chiselled angular lines.

By its very nature, the MX-5 represents open-air motoring at its most accessible, but not everyone wants to deal with a fussy manual cloth roof. In steps the MX-5 RF. That's RF for Retractable Fastback, a power-operated hardtop roof mechanism that stows away the middle section of the roof leaving a set of sizeable haunches on either side. Thankfully, the whole system is well integrated keeping the attractive styling. In truth, the automated roof increases the masculinity factor of the MX-5 RF by tenfold and is an attention getter whenever activated to perform its robotic dance.

The MX-5 RF is a two-seater. Always has been, and continues to be, a fact that becomes even clearer when one drops into the narrow leather-wrapped seats. There is precious little space for anything inside the well-appointed cabin. Soft touch materials greet occupants at all the key interaction points and given the interior size the controls are logically laid out and easily within reach. Storage is minimal, but that's the aim of a MX-5 RF, one frees oneself from the trappings of the world to head out on an adventure facilitated in a manner only this roadster can.

Fire up the Mazda and refinement is good. In traffic, the six-speed automatic transmission deals with the stop and go nature of the corporate area slog, especially with fuel saving i-STOP technology that shuts the engine off when necessary at full stops. Its sporty suspension does remind the driver that the Mazda is meant for more than basic daily transportation. Head out to winding fun roads and the real traits of the MX-5 RF come to the forefront. The 7-inch infotainment screen and all the connectivity it offers mentally disappears into background as driver focus changes to the mid-mounted rpm gauge in the instrument binnacle.

The new engine is gem, even when paired to the automatic transmission. Slip the MX-5 RF into SPORT mode and things start to fly. 181bhp and 151lb/ft of torque from its two-litre might sound inadequate in this day and age, but the core ethos of lightweight offsets any concerns. Screaming to its 7500rpm redline, the motor easily pulls the flyweight chassis down any road. Power isn't enough to scare. The real delicacy comes when the straights becomes corners. Those narrow seats now hold occupants in perfect unison with the car as the accurate steering and throttle doles out plenty of pinpoint control with brakes that are more than up to the task. Drop the top and motoring nirvana can be found in full MX-5 flight.

The key for the MX-5 RF is to remember it's a two-seater sports car, one of the few around. While there are those who have a sporty feel, the MX-5 didn't make the Guinness Book of World Records as the best-selling two-seat sports car in history on a fluke. It provides a driving experience long relegated to history and few can match.

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