Has anyone tried to buy any outdoor equipment or sporting goods lately? Thinking about a big-ticket purchase like installing a pool or signing on the dotted line for that new boat? If you count yourself among those that have tried procuring such goods you know the frustration that sets in when you are told that the global supply chain is messed up and what you want is back-ordered indefinitely.
We feel your pain. After spending so much time cooped up at home, like everyone else, we’re ready to have fun again, even if the definition of fun has changed a bit. So that backyard trampoline or Sea-Doo you wanted to share with those in your bubble will have to wait until next spring, or maybe even longer. The automotive business is not immune to this phenomenon either, with used cars demanding soaring prices while dealerships clamor for inventory that has no definitive date of arriving on their lots.
With all you have had to endure over the last eighteen months, we say the time to spoil yourself is nigh. Sure, you’d love to have that Porsche Boxster GTS 4.0, but the waiting list is too long and you don’t want to take out another mortgage on your house. Don’t fret, however- there are plenty of choices in a variety of flavors that will help chase away the blues. As your trusted automotive advisors, may we recommend Mazda’s perennial funster, the MX-5? It has never failed to bring a smile to the faces of anyone who has ever driven it, which is over one million people as of this writing. You’ll probably want it in GS-P trim, too.
Since our own blues could use some chasing away, we asked Mazda for the keys to an example in that exact trim and supply chains be damned, they had a beautiful Polymetal Gray model on hand with a manual gearbox. Things were looking up.
We often found ourselves looking up at the beautiful blue sky quite often, because the MX-5’s softop was never raised except when we parked it. Our apologies that we cannot provide an analysis of what this car is like to drive with the roof up, but with such gorgeous weather over the week we spent with the little Mazda we wondered why anyone would drive it like that.
You hear of various marketing materials from other brands breathlessly trumpeting their power tops which can be lowered at speeds of up to 40km/h and that the job takes less than twenty seconds. The MX-5 has ‘em licked because not only does its top stow neatly away in about two seconds but it can also be done with one arm while sitting in the driver's seat. Even the sexy RF hardtop model can drop its top in a brisk 13 seconds. And yet, while the RF is a more handsome proposition and has that power actuated roof, give us the manual cloth top any day of the week and twice on Sunday. It’s cheaper, it’s free of any complex electronics that could go wrong, and it lowers the car’s centre of gravity while saving overall weight.
Building on that ‘lean and mean’ mandate is a sparsely furnished cockpit that is textbook sports car perfection. Even our tallest staffers were able to find an ideal driving position, and a precisely legible analogue gauge cluster stares back once you settle in. There are no extraneous doodads or flourishes to be found- you will not find touchscreens or flashy trim bits or even leather seats. What you do get are just the basics to stoke the fires of driving nirvana. You may miss some of the luxury features found on the GT model, but the GS-P’s upgraded Bilstein shocks, Brembo brakes, and the limited-slip diff will put any pangs of regret to rest. The most compelling feature of the MX-5 interior is that cool piece of plastic, metal, and leather that sprouts up from between the two front chairs. For the uninitiated, that is known as a gear lever.
The gear lever in question is attached to one of the best manual transmissions in existence. There is an automatic available, and we can tell you that it’s rather good as far as autos go although we cannot fathom why you would spec that option. This is a car that is founded on the principle of involvement and connection to the machine, so we think the manual is pretty much mandatory. It is an unbridled joy to use, and it doesn’t matter if you are banging down through the gears to set up for corner entry or slogging your way through cottage county traffic. The engine, too, is a sweetheart. It received a power bump in 2019 but honestly, it didn’t need it. We will never say no to more horsepower, so we welcome the extra urge and the 7,500 rpm redline that comes along with it. Even under our mercilessly heavy feet, the engine and transmission combo delivered a 7.2L/100km consumption figure which is kind of amazing.
We said earlier that the MX-5 is a car that makes everyone around it smile, and that smile only gets bigger when you are on a fun bit of tarmac on a beautiful summer afternoon. It darts from apex to apex like an overcaffeinated gnat, all giddy with responsiveness. You will likely notice a surprising amount of body roll, but don’t think those Bilstein’s are on the fritz- that feedback is built into the suspension to telegraph to the driver what the chassis is doing and how much grip remains available at each tire before the tail comes round. After driving so many sports cars with unforgiving ride quality, we are buying what the MX-5 is selling and so will you.
Although it is very much a contemporary car, the MX-5 is a gentle reminder of the good old days. There are no drive modes, no autonomous driving aids or other electronic frippery. It harkens back to the days of honest, wholesome motoring, and you feel things, hear things, smell things while driving it around al fresco that you simply don’t experience much these days, and we are including modern convertibles, what with their screens to reduce buffeting and carefully tuned aerodynamics so you don’t mess up that coif. The electric power steering is chatty and rife with high fidelity feedback, and it is some of the best you’ll find this side of a Porsche badge. Spending time behind that steering wheel in the MX-5 is a lot like hugging an old friend- you may not get to do it that often, but when you do you are instantly reminded of happier times.
Friendships, even those that are strongest, have difficulties and the MX-5 is not immune to that truth. And like all strong, enduring bonds, it can be hard to pinpoint things that annoy. We had to delve deep into some serious thinking of what bothered us about our roadster, and we could produce only two gripes. The first is that the MX-5 is an exceedingly small car. This is not a vehicle you get into but almost seem to wear, like a well-trimmed suit. There’s pretty much no room to put anything and the trunk is as accommodating as a mailbox. You had better be on good terms with your only passenger because the cockpit is fairly intimate. The other issue? Mazda’s HMI infotainment system. Once the class of the field, it is seriously starting to show its age both through its interface, slow response times and underwhelming graphics. These are by no means deal-breakers, and we often make the argument that they only serve to further the MX-5’s charm.
The next time your kids are climbing the walls and those walls in turn feel like they are closing in, reach for the keys to your MX-5 and head out for a drive. The destination is not important- just go. Hopefully, you live near some exciting roads that make for an excellent venue to exercise what this car is all about- having fun. There is a reason that this car is the best-selling roadster of all time, and not just because it is as dependable as the tides and won’t leave pools of oil and other vital fluids on your garage floor like you would expect from its European ancestors from days gone by. It is also because this car has no other real purpose than to exact joy for you, the driver. And after the last two years of pandemic life, we think you’ll agree that we could all use a little more joy in our lives.
2021 Mazda MX-5 GS-P- Specifications
- Price as tested: $43,650
- Body Type: 2-door, 2 passenger roadster
- Powertrain Layout: Front engine/rear wheel drive
- Engine: 2.0-litre inline four, DOHC, 16 valves
- Horsepower: 181 @ 7,000 rpm
- Torque (lb-ft.): 151 @ 4,000 rpm
- Transmission: 6-speed manual
- Curb weight: 1,065 kg (2,347 lbs)
- Observed Fuel consumption: 7.2L/100km (33 mpg)