The MX-5 Is Without Compromise

2023 Mazda MX-5 GS-P Sport Package

Price: $42,750 CAD

Colour: Soul Red Crystal Metallic

In 1989 Mazda debuted the MX-5. It was a tiny two-seater roadster the likes of which we hadn’t seen for some time. The British created the entire roadster segment decades earlier. While their cars were often beautiful, the engineering and build quality could often be an issue. As was the Japanese way at the time, they took inspiration from what had come before and added quality resulting in something truly magical. The MX-5 was built to a very specific purpose – to be a driver’s car. 33 years later the auto market is dominated by homogenized designs heavily influenced by a compulsive need to compromise and appeal to as broad an audience as possible. The MX-5 (mercifully no longer called the “Miata” in Canada), is one of the few true exceptions. It continues to fight the good fight and is winning the battle to remain the lean, mean street fighting machine it’s always been.

I haven’t been in an MX-5 for some time and while it has remained small and compact, I haven’t. It immediately became a game to see if I could enter and exit the vehicle without humiliating myself in the grocery store parking lot while pulling muscles in parts of my body I can’t even reach. Once I successfully fell into the driver’s seat, I realized that the optional Recaro seats in my press demonstrator were not made for a posterior of my proportions. While 80% of my rear sat in the seat just fine, my left thigh rested on the bolster and had nowhere else to go. This was my first refresher on just how successful Mazda has been in keeping the MX-5 small. My inability to find a comfortable seating position is of course no fault of the car but rather my lack of impulse control when passing the myriad drive-thru’s I encounter on a daily basis. It immediately made me yearn for 20-year-old me who would have slid in and out of the MX-5 like we were both coated in Teflon. To be young.

Power is an X-factor when it comes to the MX-5. It’s always been a somewhat underpowered vehicle. Top speed and 0-60 times aren’t the focus of this car. The first generation 1.6L engine delivered a blistering 116hp. This of course led to an almost immediate aftermarket that became obsessed with stuffing massive engines, turbos and whatever else they could come up with into their MX-5’s to make it go faster. While this is deeply entertaining and I highly encourage you to go down the YouTube rabbit hole in exploring this subject, I’ve always felt this completely misses the point of a car like the MX-5. Roadsters are designed for those perfect days where the sun is shining, temperatures are warm but still mild and you have nothing to do with your day but drive (we get three of those a year in my part of Canada). This means you don’t need lots of power. What you do want is a car that handles. You want to find a twisty back road and throttle the vehicle to make it sing. I call, it answers. This makes for a fun drive but keeps it safe due to the limited power. This is a formula Mazda has stuck to for every generation of the MX-5. While it got heavier from one generation to the next, they augmented this with small increases in power. The current generation (introduced in 2015) has a 2.0L naturally aspirated 4-cylinder engine. It delivers 181hp and 151 lb/ft of torque. This keeps the car as underpowered as ever but it’s not slow and is still a lot of fun to drive. Of the three trim levels you can get in Canada (GS, GS-P & GT), the GS-P is the way to go. You get upgraded suspension and a limited slip differential (with the manual) which completes the driving package. This press car comes with the optional $4,000 sport package. You can skip it as you get stuck with the painful Recaro seats and little else for your money. The GS-P trim as standard is the perfect MX-5.

I prattle on regularly about the impending death of the manual car. It’s coming fast and no matter how many journalists or enthusiasts lament it’s passing nothing will stop it. The MX-5 is not only one of the only small front engine/rear wheel drive roadsters you can buy, but you can get it with a 6-speed manual transmission. While this press car shook like it’s battling Parkinsons it took nothing away from what it was like to drive. The stock short throw shifter is a joy to slam through gears. It’s a stiff shifting car too so you need to put in a little work to get the job done. I’m not a sporty, heal & toe driver by any means but this car makes me want to be one so I can squeeze every bit of fun out of this thing. Perhaps there’s a YouTube video I can watch.

I am often ashamed of how I have allowed myself to become a sad swollen mess of a man. It impacts my life in many ways and none of them are good. My time in the Mazda MX-5 is just the latest arrow from the quiver of my discontent. I fantasize that in a year or two I’ll borrow another MX-5 and my shape will match the slim and beautiful composition of this car. Perhaps that will happen, perhaps not. What I have absolute faith in is that regardless of what happens to me, the MX-5 will endure as a monument to the focus, vision and commitment of those who have been entrusted with its design and construction for decades. They must continue to hold the line against putting anything more into this car than exactly what it needs to fulfill its purpose.

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