Mazda, Road Test Reviews, Vehicles

2011 Mazda MX-5 GT – Road Test

In 1989 Mazda introduced the MX-5 to the world (or Miata as it was known in North America) and in one fell swoop gave us something we didn’t know was possible – an affordable, reliable and fun-to-drive roadster. Sure, we’ve had fun little, sporty, and even sometimes affordable roadsters in the past… but only in the traditional British and Italian sense… with continual break downs to the extent that the owner also had to learn to be a mechanic!

Over the years the MX-5 has changed visually, but never has it altered its original purpose – no wonder it’s still so popular with people of all ages and still stands out in a crowd – in fact I was quite surprised by how many people did a double-take when they saw it. Now in its third generation (as of the 2006 model year), has it become like so many other vehicles – overweight and a distant cousin of the original? According to Mazda, the MX-5 has earned the title of the best-selling roadster in the world – a bold statement indeed!

Unlike many convertibles, the MX-5 is a purpose-built sports car – engineered from the ground up to be a pure sports car with a traditional front-engine, rear-wheel-drive layout and a lightweight yet extremely rigid body. Features such as a perfect 50:50 weight distribution, nimble handling, a sport-tuned 4-wheel independent suspension and limited-slip differential give the MX-5 serious driving credentials along with its lively 2.0-litre engine and very quick rack and pinion steering. Combining all these ingredients should be a recipe for grin-inducing fun.

First Impressions
Slipping behind the wheel, I immediately remember how small the MX-5 is… this must be a difficult car for very tall people because the seat doesn’t move very far back before it hits the back of the snug cabin. The adjustment of the seatback angle is somewhat limited even for we vertically challenged people – but it sits perfectly for me. There isn’t a whole lot of adjustments to the seat – up, down and a couple of centimetres fore and aft – that’s about it. Lumbar adjustment? Nope. The steering tilts, but isn’t adjustable for rake – with the confined cabin it is safe to assume that it would just be an unnecessary item.

2010 Mazda MX-5 GT,, Iain Shankland

Getting in and out is not as difficult as you might think. You sit very low in the MX-5- you actually have to look up to a five-year-old… you’re about knee level with a super-model. The interior design of the Mazda MX-5 is modern with controls easily accessible and logically placed – I don’t think they’ve changed at all since the last time I drove one back in 2006. The leather-wrapped steering wheel and shift knob are perfectly placed, and the light clutch makes the MX-5 a very comfortable car to drive. Even with the minimalist adjustments of the seat I’d have to be honest and say that it’s just right for this car, providing a snug but not overly constrictive fit, and the heated leather seats work very well.

The big difference since the last time I drove an MX-5 is that Mazda have switched the cloth top for a hard one. The cloth top is still available, but in the lower end model – not in the GT. I do remember how noisy the interior was the last time I drove one, and unfortunately, I think Mazda forgot to put any sort of insulation into the hard top either! It’s better – but not by much. Thankfully you can crank up the stereo, but having a conversation with your passenger requires raising your voice when driving at any speeds above 100 km/h.

2010 Mazda MX-5 GT,, Iain Shankland

According to Mazda, while they were developing the power retractable hardtop, the engineers paid close attention to the inevitable weight gain and how it affects driving performance and dynamics. As a result the hardtop adds only 37 kg to the curb weight of the soft-top model. To accommodate the 3-piece retractable hardtop and incorporate a hard tonneau cover, Mazda re-designed the rear quarter panels and trunk lid, giving the hardtop models a distinctive rear end.

One improvement is the 5-speed manual that has been replaced by a very slick 6-speed manual with very short throws, so shifting through the gears is brisk – it’s probably one of the smoothest clutch/ gearbox combinations I’ve driven. When I was doing the 0-100 km/h test, I didn’t have to abandon or abort any of the attempts – that’s a first.

2010 Mazda MX-5 GT,, Iain Shankland

Another improvement is that the 2010 MX-5 GT now comes with performance-oriented Bilstein shocks and a limited-slip differential as standard equipment – along with front and rear stabilizer bars, a strut tower bar to reduce flex, an independent front strut/rear multi-link suspension and performance-rated tires. The shocks have specific calibrations to work in conjunction with Dynamic Stability Control for a more thrilling, sporty and ‘flingable’ driving experience – something that just comes naturally when you’re behind the wheel of this little roadster.

All those items really do improve the dynamics of the MX-5 – something I didn’t really appreciate until I was forced to take a different route on day. The usual road was closed for construction and the alternative was out of my way, so I took a section of road that I don’t usually take, but I’m going to have to for the next month or two. It was just amazing how much of a difference the tight twisty road made to the grin and fun factor behind the wheel of the MX-5!! It’s not a high-speed road – in most cases you can’t even keep up with the speed limit (that’s extremely rare with the diabolically slow Ontario limits). I’d taken the Dodge Challenger on the same road several weeks ago, but the difference is like night and day in the MX-5. Where the Challenger was big and lumbering, the little Mazda was nimble and hugged the road – power was not the important thing – so the lesson here is … if you live in a fun-filled twisty road heaven – get the MX-5, but if you live in an area that has roads arrow-straight and boring – get the Challenger.

2010 Mazda MX-5 GT,, Iain Shankland

The audio system is provided by Bose® with 7-speakers and a 6 disc in-dash CD/MP3/WMA player with an auxiliary audio input. It wasn’t bad – way better than the “premium” version in the RX-8, but still not up to expectations in a vehicle in this price category. There’s an auxiliary jack on the dash besides a power outlet, but a USB jack is sorely lacking in this day and age. Tisk tisk – that means no iPod and I can’t use my MP3or jump drives.

One issue we did come across was accessing the trunk – oddly enough it’s exactly the same issue we had with the RX-8, but not with other Mazda’s. I had to pull over to the side of the road and get something out of the trunk, so I jump out, go to the back, push the button… nothing. I press the key fob button… nothing. My wife had to switch the car off before the button would operate!!!! What moron in Japan thinks this is a good idea?! How many times have you jumped out of the car to quickly retrieve something in the trunk?

2010 Mazda MX-5 GT,, Iain Shankland

Standard Features
For 2010, the GT trim includes: Power retractable hard top; 17-inch alloy wheels, a 6-speed manual transmission with limited-slip differential, sport suspension with Bilstein® shock absorbers, leather seats with adjustable heating, steering wheel-mounted cruise and audio controls, Xenon (HID) headlights, automatic climate control, auto-dimming rear-view mirror with HomeLink®, Bluetooth® with Audio Profile, Bose® audio system with 7-speakers and 6 disc in-dash CD/MP3/WMA player, trip computer, Intelligent Key System (keyless entry and start) and useless SIRIUS satellite radio. MX-5 GT comes with only one option – a 6-speed Sport mode automatic transmission with paddle shifters @ $1,200.

The Mazda MX-5 is built with an extremely rigid architecture that is engineered for maximum occupant protection. Incorporating a comprehensive array of active and passive safety features such as ABS with Electronic Brake Force Distribution (EBFD); Dynamic Stability Control (DSC); Xenon (HID) headlights; Engine immobilizer/ theft-deterrent system; Dual side-impact airbags; and  Dual front airbags.

The Conclusion
I enjoyed the MX-5 when I got to take it down the twisty back roads. Unfortunately, around my part of the world, there aren’t too many of those. For a car that’s down on horsepower and torque compared to just about every other car on the road, the MX-5 never feels slow (don’t get me wrong – more power is always better). I found I was quite happy to drive along at the speed limit instead of way over it -so that’s a good thing for my driver’s license. It’s a great little car, but it isn’t cheap and it’s definitely going to have to be a second or third car just because it’s somewhat impractical.  One thing can be said however, it’s way more reliable than two-seat roadsters of the past … and that’s a good thing!

Terrific fuel economy
Fun to drive – in the right environment

Takes Premium fuel – why?
Can’t get into the trunk unless you switch off the car!

Immediate Competition:
MINI Cooper Cabrio, Smart ForTwo

By The Numbers…
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Powertrain:               2.0L DOHC 16-valve I4 engine with Variable valve timing (VVT); 6-speed manual; RWD
Horsepower:               167  @ 7,000 rpm
Torque lb-ft):            140  @ 5,000 rpm
0-100 kph:                7.4 seconds
Cargo Capacity:           150 L (5.3 cu.ft)
Curb Weight:              1,145 kg (2,519 lbs)
Towing capacity:          Never tow with it

Fuel Consumption:  (Premium Unleaded – 91 Octane)
City:  9.7 L/100 kms  //  Highway: 7.1  L/100 kms
I averaged 7.6 L/100 kms during city/town driving and motorway driving and oddly enough, 10.6 L/100 kms mostly motorway.

Pricing for the 2011 Mazda MX-5 GT ($ Cdn)
GT – Base Price / As Tested:  $39,995
GX – Base Price: $28,995
Destination & Delivery: $1,595

The 2011 Mazda MX-5 is covered by a 3-year or 80,000 km vehicle warranty that covers every part of the vehicle except those subject to normal wear. Additional warranties cover powertrain and safety restraint components for a period of 5 years or 100,000 kms. It also comes with a 3-year roadside assistance program.

2010 Mazda MX-5 GT,, Iain Shankland

Copyright © 2011 by Iain Shankland. All rights reserved.
Text / Images: Iain Shankland

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