Every time I drive a new electric car I’m more convinced of their superiority compared to an equivalent gas-powered vehicle. Even the most modern and efficient gasoline or diesel engine will get outperformed in every measurable way by a toaster-sized electric motor that contains about 2 moving parts.
For the task of getting people from point A to point B an electric vehicle is hard to beat but there’s more to life than just getting stuff done. And even the most expensive and most capable EVs leave a lot on the table when it comes to driver engagement.
If you just want to drive with no destination in mind, to get that clichéd “wind in your hair” feel, to experience freedom that only the open road can bring as you become one with your machine, you need something basic. Something old school. Something timeless.
And it doesn’t come much more timeless than an MX-5, Mazda’s lightweight roadster that has kept its formula intact for over three decades.
Like a well-worn pair of jeans, or a classic sport jacket an MX-5 would be hurt more by radical change than helped. Its creators got it right the first time around: 50/50 weight distribution, an eager to rev motor that sends power only to the rear wheels, telepathic steering, and a crisp-shifting manual gearbox. With a simple-to-use soft top and a cozy cabin for two with a pleasing lack of gimmicks, an MX-5 doesn’t take long to win over anyone who sits in its driver seat.
The 2021 model year sees the addition of a few new colour options and more importantly, wireless Apple Car Play, which is great but having to plunk down the cash for a top-end MX-5 GT just to have Carplay connect without a cable is less great.
You can even one-up the GT this year with the 100th Anniversary edition MX-5 that comes exclusively in Snowflake white pearl with a red Nappa leather interior, 100th anniversary badging, and a soft top is finished in dark cherry red. It’s an attractive combination and available in limited quantities.
A manual transmission equipped GS-P, which my tester was, lands in the middle of the MX-5 trim lineup, and brings with it Bilstein dampers, a limited-slip differential, and a front strut brace. Heated seats and mirrors, and a 9-speaker Bose audio system are also included. Both the Bose and the base audio have headrest-mounted speakers so you can hear your music at speed with the top down. A nice touch.
You can further option a $4400 sport package that includes forged 17-inch BBS wheels, leather and Alcantara trimmed Recaro sport seats, and Brembo front brakes with red calipers.
Paying extra for the GS-P trim or sport package is a personal choice, but even a base MX-5 is a wonderful car to drive out of the box. With the stiffer suspension on the GS-P you lose a bit of the famous ride quality the MX-5 has always been praised for but it’s still far from uncomfortable.
After settling into the supportive sport seat and gripping the perfectly sized steering wheel, the first order of business is to reach above the rearview mirror, unlatch the soft-top, and then fold it behind you with a light push.
An MX-5 absolutely needs to be driven with top down, and it needs to have a manual. Even if you’ve never operated a manual before, an MX-5 is the perfect car to learn on. And for those who do know how to “drive stick” it will make you a better driver.
In the MX-5 rowing your own gears takes on new meaning. The short throws of the gearbox are positive and mechanical, and the clutch action is near perfect. You can feel so much of what’s taking place under the carpet, it’s like the difference between writing a letter in pen versus typing it out on a laptop.
It’s like that with everything on the MX-5. Every input has consequence. Every tap of the brake pedal, blip of the throttle, or tug at steering wheel gives an instant response. The MX-5 answers all questions with an emphatic “YES!”
One of the reasons for this is the lack of weight. Compared with almost anything else an MX-5 is a feather, barely any heavier than it was when the first-generation debuted in 1989. That alone is an astonishing achievement considering all the modern safety standards a new car needs to pass muster today. It speaks to the focus and singular thought process of the team behind the creation of this car and that of every MX-5 before this and it’s fully evident when you drive it.
The weight of the steering wheel in a corner, the measured body roll, and the inherent balance that makes the car feel like it rotates around your hips is an experience typically found in something that costs much, much more but the Miata democratizes this feeling.
Even the engine, displacing just 2 litres, is a happy and eager naturally aspirated unit that makes power all the way to its 7500 rpm redline. With 181 horsepower on tap, the MX-5 is quick, but not what you would call fast. If you want to roast the rear tires, this isn’t the car, but the amount of power feels in harmony with everything else. It’s also a remarkably efficient thing, returning just over 7 litres per 100km combined after a week of enthusiastic driving, once again thanks to a curb weight of just 1066 kg.
A Mazda MX-5 isn’t right for everyone. It’s small and cramped and doesn’t hold a lot of cargo, and the shift knob on mine kept twisting out of place, which was slightly annoying.
But pound for pound, an MX-5 is the most fun you can have with a modest new car budget. It’s thoroughly engaging, and in it you are the star of the show. It takes you back to the fundamentals of driving an automobile at a time when all of that is going away. The MX-5 is a new car with an old soul and it remains just as relevant today as it was 30 years ago, and I hope it never changes.
The vehicle was provided to the writer by the automaker. Content and vehicle evaluations were not subject to approval.