If Lotuses were made of tin, the Elan would be badged Mazda MX-5
It was always Colin Chapman’s intention to sell a close-coupled two-seater that was upmarket but affordable, considers Iain Robertson, which makes any Lotus references more than notional in the case of this new, limited edition Mazda MX-5.
When Mazda first contemplated the production of a cutesy two-seat sportscar, its inherent conservatism and love of classicism led it down a British road. The Elan model was soon adopted as the idyll worth pursuing. Renowned for its skinny 155-section tyres, separate chassis and glassfibre bodywork, the original front-engined (1558cc, twincam, twin-Weberised, 8-valve, four-cylinder based on a Ford 107M block), rear-driven, British two-seater was a teensy marvel. Amazingly, the Suzuki Cappuccino ‘kei-class’ two-seater was only just smaller.
The Lotus handled as if on rails, in complete defiance of its Dunlop SP68 tyres. It was the pluperfect example of Chapman’s ‘less is more’ philosophy. With the Ford cast iron block positioned as close to the front bulkhead as possible, to achieve as near to a near-perfect 50:50 balance, a mere 105bhp propelled a Series 2 model to a top speed of 120mph, having clocked the 0-60mph dash in a modest 7.7s. In its ultimate ‘big valve’, 126bhp form, it could factor in another 10mph and lop over a second from the benchmark acceleration time.
Mazda snaffled up as many clean, used examples as it could. Although the dimensions grew slightly, the original MX-5 was a practical alternative, reproduced in steel but retaining an ‘added lightness’ inspiration from Lotus. Even its cast aluminium wheels aped the optional Minilite magnesium style of the Lotus. Mazda recognised that it was onto a winner, even though it never dreamt that the MX-5 would become the world’s best-selling two-seater sportscar.
Now, I have an admission to make. Despite innumerable attempts to slip behind the steering wheel of the Mazda MX-5, I have never been able to do so in any safety. My two-metres height is the limiting factor. Much like the Lotus, removing my shoes and driving in socks was the only possible route, as a result, I can only confirm a limited knowledge of the MX-5’s capabilities and I remain reliant on the feedback of others. Yet, I am highly aware of the outstanding competence of the car.
The first-generation MX-5 was launched in 1989 and is the model in which I gained the most personal experience. Nine years later, the second-generation arrived, ditching the pop-up front headlamps (another link to the Elan), as a nod to safety regulations. By 2005, the third-generation MX-5, which I feel personally was the most attractive of them all, arrived to rapturous acclaim, lifting several major design awards. While retaining the ‘no wasted space’ ethos inferred by Mazda’s ‘Jinba ittae’ design inspiration, a more distinctive Japanese look was inferred upon the car that is the current Mark Four MX-5.
The present range features a 10-model line-up that consists of four Convertibles and six RFs (with the electric folding hardtop). The range starts with the 129bhp 1.5-litre Convertible that is offered in SE-L and Sport trim levels, while the 181bhp 2.0-litre Skyactiv-G engine is matched to both Sport Tech and the latest range-topping GT Sport Tech trims. An automatic gearbox is offered as an option with the punchier 2.0-litre motor.
The GT Sport Tech flagship variant is marked out by 17.0-inch diameter BBS alloy wheels and Burgundy Nappa hide covered seats, while Polymetal Grey Metallic paint is available with for the first time across the whole range. The updated versions of the MX-5 also benefit from additional ADAS standard equipment: from Sport models and above, they gain Front and Rear Smart City Brake Support, Lane Departure Warning System, Traffic Sign Recognition and Driver Attention Alerts. While a Blind Spot Monitoring System with Rear Cross Traffic Alert, Adaptive LED headlights and a reversing camera are standard on Sport Tech and GT Sport Tech models, which is pretty much the standard offering across many new cars today.
However, an intriguing Limited Edition R-Sport model is now debuting at Mazda dealerships. Restricted to just 150 examples, it is based on the MX-5 Convertible and features the Polymetal Grey metallic paint finish and a grey soft-top hood, while a set of attractive 16.0-inch diameter RAYS gunmetal alloy wheels add a flourish to the exterior of this special version. The R-Sport models also feature piano black wing mirrors, while the cockpits are finished with the lovely burgundy Nappa leather seats with silver stitching. The rest of the standard equipment tally includes satellite navigation, Apple CarPlay and Android Auto connectivity, cruise control, heated seats and climate control.
If you want one, I would advise strongly putting on your roller skates, as this limited run is unlikely to stick around for any length of time! Stickered-up at £27,700, Mazda’s MX-5 R-Sport is priced deftly and benefits from the company’s current and most attractive ‘an offer for our time’, 0% APR Personal Contract Purchase opportunity, with no minimum deposit requirement.
Naturally, Mazda is a keen exponent of the ‘limited edition’ series, which is known to add significant new value upfront but also to increase trade-in values subsequently. You can rest assured that the R-Sport variant will perform similarly. It is a clever move on Mazda’s part, as the nation emerges from Covid-19 lockdown, not least on the value-for-money front. In technical terms, the 1.5-litre engine will still turn-in a respectable 0-60mph time of 8.3s, with a top speed of around 124mph, pretty much identical to the original MX-5. Yet, it emits just 142g/km CO2 and can return up to 44.8mpg on the Official Combined fuel cycle.
It is great performance for a traditional, wind-in-the-hair two-seater and, to be frank, most drivers will not need any more punch, not in a droptop at least. As far as longevity is concerned, just look at how many early MX-5s still drive on our roads. Mazda’s engineering standards are first-class and MX-5’s potential as a ‘fun car’ acquired for the sheer guilty pleasure of driving cannot be overstated.
Conclusion: The consummate open-topped sportscar, the Mazda MX-5 is now available in a value-added entry-level variant. However, with only 150 available examples, you have to reckon that it will sell out very quickly.