MODERN CLASSIC: Mazda is in its 25th year of assembling its MX-5 sports model – and there’s a new engine and revised styling cues coming our way for 2015. Image: Mazda
The Japanese use the same word for "learn" and "copy" and perhaps because of that have developed the most amazing ability to take a mediocre product and perfect it.
So I wasn’t surprised to discover the Guinness World Records Organisation continues to recognise the Mazda MX-5 as the world’s best-selling two-seater sports car.
Such a philosophy worked well in the early days of the Japanese car industry. In the 1930’s car giant Datsun got its hands on an Austin Seven, ripped it apart, fixed irritating problems such as the back axle failing and proceeded to sell the car in great numbers in the Japanese market.
EXPORT TO THE WEST
The company even took the trouble to run Herbert Austin’s original creation through its design studio and gave the essentially copied car some handsome flowing lines.
Meanwhile Mazda Motor Corporation, a relative newcomer that only started making cars in 1960, was one of the first Japanese automakers to realise that to survive it needed to export its products to the West – and in decent numbers.
In 1967 it took out patents on the rotary engine (mainly from German company NSU) and developed its own sports models - the RX85 and RX87.
So successful was the company with sports-car production that it was only a matter of time before something affordable but definitely very sporty appeared on the world stage. It was the Mazda MX-5, the year was 1989. I alluded earlier to the “learn and copy” philosophy; true to form, Mazda Motors took Colin Chapman Lotus Elan sports, pulled it apart… well, you get the picture.
GOOD MARKETING - OR PEDIGREE?
For 25 years now Mazda has uprated and improved its rather good MX-5 sports car. On a trip to the UK a little while ago I picked up newspaper and saw an ad offering the chance to drive a ‘Jasper Conran’ collector’s edition of the car over a long weekend.
I pitched up after lunch only to be told all 12 had been sold and there wasn’t one to drive anywhere in the area!
Just good marketing, I hear you say. Well, I reckon it’s more likely due to the MX-5’s pedigree and heritage so richly deserved down the years. Mazda recently divorced from its parent (Ford Motor Company) globally and is now a ‘standalone’ car company, including in South Africa, so a chance to drive a pal’s 12-month-old car this past weekend was eagerly accepted.
It again has unbeatable rear-wheel drive road-holding and is powered by a light two-litre engine capable of 118kW at 6700rpm and 188Nm. Mazda reckons on a 0-100km/h traffic-light sprint time of eight seconds with really snappy gear-changes from the stubby-levered, six-speed manual gearbox.
While the exterior still looks fresh it’s the cabin that’s had significant design changes that translate into more leg and headroom. Another improvement is tilt-steering adjustment for a taller driver:
about 35mm of vertical movement allowing one to get really comfortable
behind the wheel.
Stowage space has also been substantially improved. The car now has door pockets with bottle holders, a lockable glove box, lockable centre console and passenger back-panel storage boxes, a rear tray, net storage pocket and a passenger-seat back pocket.
Once again the MX-5 has a folding soft-top with a detachable hardtop an optional extra. Changes to the design of the soft-top include a single release mechanism (that works really well) rather than the more fussy double mechanism fitted to the previous model.
Safety, quite naturally in a sports car, can never be compromised: the car has two front and two side airbags, dynamic stability control and anti-lock brakes with electronic pressure distribution and emergency braking assistance.
Am I surprised that an unused MX-5 is to be found in the Smithsonian Institute of Fine Art in America?
No, not really . . .
• Prices for the new Mazda MX-5 line-up in SA will be revealed in the first quarter of 2015 year.