2011 Mazda MX-5 GS Review

2011 Mazda MX-5 GS2011 Mazda MX-5 GS

A lot has been written about the latest-generation Mazda MX-5. It’s one of the few pure sports cars that remain affordable today, one that’s not based on any other car and one that's been designed as a sports car from scratch.

The 2011 Mazda MX-5 is lightweight, nimble and a blast to drive. Oh, its engine may not boast hundreds of cubic inches, a turbocharger or direct injection, but it makes enough power to keep the car (formerly known as the Miata) amusing.

Besides a facelift for the 2009 model year, the MX-5 has been virtually unchanged since it was redesigned in the fall of 2005. It should normally be renewed within the next two years, and there are so many rumours surrounding the next version of the car that it’s worrisome. Losing more than 700 pounds and receiving a 1.4-litre engine are part of the latest speculations.

Go-kart handling

Due to its 2,525lb (1,145kg) curb weight, you can easily fling the MX-5 into a curve and exit it without drama, but with a smile on your face. The direct, communicative steering and tidy proportions allow the car to go precisely where the driver points it. Few sports cars can gel with the person behind the wheel as well as this Mazda roadster.

The modest power level means you can enjoy the car’s limits without going over your head. Even with the stability control system switched off, which you shouldn’t do anyhow, the car’s tail can break loose at wide-open throttle, but is easily manageable.

The 2.0-litre inline-4 develops 167 horsepower and 140 lb.-ft of torque when combined with a manual transmission (automatic-equipped MX-5s get 158 horses). A 5-speed gearbox is standard in the base GX, but if you want to fully exploit the car, upgrade to the GS and obtain a 6-speed, which benefits from a shorter 1st gear and a taller 6th.

2011 Mazda MX-5 GS Interior

Drop the hammer in the MX-5, and 100km/h is yours in 7.6 seconds – not blazingly fast, but not bad either. Reaching that speed quickly is part of the fun, but rowing through gears with the light clutch pedal and short-throw shifter is the other part. This car is all about driver involvement.

On the highway, though, the cockpit can get quite noisy. At a steady 100km/h, the engine is spinning at 2,800 rpm. It should be worse with the base GX’s 5-speed, better with the optional 6-speed automatic. Now, we’re not saying you should spoil a car like this with an automatic transmission, we’re just saying the option exists.

Our fuel economy average during the course of the week is 9.6L/100km: not bad considering we drove the car like it should be driven.

Get a cloth top

Keep it simple. Yes, we like a power-folding hardtop for its four-season practicality, but it seems out of step with the car’s philosophy. In addition, the power top adds 80lbs. Instead, get the manual, fold-it-yourself top. Keep in mind that you might want to choose the GS trim for its sturdier cloth top; the GX only gets vinyl.

Not all human shapes and sizes will fit in the cockpit of the MX-5. The door panels are close to your elbow, there isn’t much in the way of seat adjustments, and the steering column tilts but doesn’t telescope. And despite the GT model offering uplevel features such as leather, an intelligent key system and 7-speaker Bose stereo, this isn’t a luxury car, nor should it ever be considered one.

Trunk space is rated at 150 litres. I don’t have the patience and time to golf (maybe I should), but according to Mazda, a golf bag will fit.

Pardon? How much did you say?

Since the Mazda MX-5 is a pure sports car, it doesn’t share much with other North American Mazda products, including the rear-drive platform. If you read between the lines, it basically means the car isn’t cheap by today’s standards.

2011 Mazda MX-5 GS

A base MX-5 GX lists for $28,995, but our GS tester (the trim we’d recommend the most) sells for $33,495. For that extra sum, you get the aforementioned 6-speed gearbox and cloth top, a limited-slip diff, traction and stability control systems, a sportier suspension, 17” alloys, climate control, a driver’s seat height adjuster, and other minor trimmings. It’s worth it, especially if you’re planning on driving the car year-round.

The Mazda MX-5 doesn’t really have any competitors. Its closest rival is the MINI Cooper Convertible, and to a certain extent the Ford Mustang Convertible. The fact that there is nothing like it is what makes us consider the car affordable.

If you’re looking for a weekend warrior, a car to enjoy blasting down deserted country roads on sunny days with, or even as a track car to do some lapping in, the Mazda MX-5 will induce many smiles. One mustn’t forget, however, that this is and should remain a lightweight and lightly equipped two-passenger car with very limited versatility.

With a small clientele and few changes year after year, the MX-5 is due for a few even though it doesn’t feel old. We’re concerned about what the next-generation MX-5 will be like – frankly, it kind of worries us. On the other hand, if the rumours are true, this little Mazda should remain poised to see the same success it has over the past 20 years and counting.