I still remember when the original Mazda MX-5 first made its debut in the Chicago Auto Show in Feburary 1989. Back then I was merely but a young lad who was reading about it in a copy of Car and Driver magazine at the public library.
Back in 1989, my co-tester for the 25th anniversary edition Mazda MX-5 was merely a thought in his father’s mind. That being said, Scott Hargrove’s youth and mere 19 years of existence on this planet have not precluded him from being a big fan of Mazda vehicles or of the MX-5.
For those of you who don’t know Scott, he is a resident of Surrey, British Columbia. But more importantly, he is an up-and-coming Canadian race car driver who most recently won the 2014 Porsche GT3 Canada Cup Championship while racing in an OpenRoad Auto Group race-prepped 991 GT3.
He also placed second in last year’s Pro Mazda open wheel racing championship series.
I figured, who better to help me evaluate the MX-5’s handling pedigree than a successful race car driver like Scott?
Performance and Handling
Although our 25th anniversary special edition 2015 Mazda MX-5 test car is down quite a bit on horsepower compared to Scott’s highly-tuned 400+ horsepower 1993 Mazda RX-7, the MX-5 is still sticks true to its original design philosophy.
That philosophy, of course, was to create a small and lightweight roadster of minimal mechanical complexity limited only by global legal and safety requirements.
The MX-5 is conceptually an evolution of the small British and Italian roadsters from the 1960s, but technological modern and thoroughly reliable (as expected of a Japanese car).
Unsurprisingly, the MX-5’s formula for success proved to be very popular. Today, it continues to be the best selling two-seater convertible sports car in history with over 947,000 units produced as of September 2014.
Scott says, “I like that there are no fancy electronics here. Sure, there is traction and stability control, but there is also just a ton of grip from natural traction. You can really feel how balanced the car is with its 50:50 weight distribution”.
Despite being 25 years in the making, this special edition MX-5 still subscribes to the “Jinba ittai” design credo that Mazda has used across all three generations of the MX-5’s development.
Loosely translated, this phrase means “rider (jin) horse (ba) as one body (ittai), used to describe a horse and rider moving together as one single being.
Limited to only 1,000 units worldwide, the MX-5 25th Anniversary model was designed to celebrate a quarter-century of production. Revealed at the Goodwood Festival of Speed, 750 of the 1,000 were allocated to the UK market, with only 250 of the remaining models spread out across North America. These models will clearly be an instant collector’s item for Miata fans.
The basis for this special edition is the top-of-the-line MX-5 hard top convertible roadster. However, there are many special bits and bobs that make it truly the best of the best as far as this NC-chassis 3rd generation Miata is concerned.
The most obvious of the numerous styling tweaks include the unique Soul Red Metallic paint accompanied by Brilliant Black A-pillars, mirror covers, and roof.
17” dark gunmetal alloy wheels have also been fitted, along with a rear diffuser, chrome exhaust tips, and numbered Limited Edition badging both inside and outside the car.
There are no changes mechanically and the car is still powered a 2.0-litre 4 cylinder engine with 167 hp at 7,000 rpms and 140 ft-lbs of torque at 5,000 rpms.
However, the pistons, connecting rods, and flywheels have been individually selected and matched for exacting balance. Mazda wasn’t kidding when they meant “best of the very best”, built according to Mazda’s Takumi (master craftsman) concept.
Paired to this sweet sounding mill of an engine is a delightful short throw six-speed manual transmission. The clutch, however, has a bit of a vague biting point and can be tricky to drive smoothly.
Granted, you won’t be outrunning anyone in the MX-5, but the naturally aspirated engine delivers its power progressively,and is engine is eager to rev to the redline. While you don’t get the low-down urgency and in-gear flexibility offered by a turbocharged engine, there is enough grunt on hand to prevent repetitive strain injury of one’s gearshift hand.
As Scott piloted the car along the ribbons of tarmac on our test route, he said, “This is what it is all about! A raw simple driver in a raw simple car that you can push close to the edge in everyday driving and not feel like it’s going to outdrive you”.
And that has really been one of the appeals of the MX-5 right from its very conception. Engine power was deliberately limited because more power meant bigger brakes, a stiffer body, and according to Mazda’s engineers, “a heavier and duller car”.
Our test car’s control weights were masterfully judged, and there is plenty of feel transmitted through the standard Bilstein shocks to the seat base and to your backside. The ride is slightly firm but never harsh.
“The car feels predictable. You can easily feel what all four tires are doing and when the grip levels are close to their limit”, explains Scott. “The steering is well-weighted and quick enough, although sharp bumps can make it squirm a bit”.
Inside the 25th anniversary edition MX-5, you’ll find a few special bits and pieces as well. The heated seats are covered in Light Stone leather and feature embossed 25th anniversary logos in the headrests.
Red contrast stitching is on the leather seats, centre console lid, gearshift boot, parking brake handle, steering wheel, and door arm rests.
Mazda also made sure to give some special attention to that the areas that the driver is going to be looking at the most. The gauges have been outlined by satin rings, and the dash panel has also been individually hand-painted to reflect subtle gradations of light.
While practicality is quite a way down on the priority list in the MX-5, two adults will be comfortable enough in the cosy cabin. The seats offer enough support and adjustment for most drivers provided they’re not too tall.
But the steering could also use more tilt-adjustment for taller drivers so that they don’t feel like they’re going to be punched in their belly buttons by the airbag.
Pack lightly as the trunk is sufficient for a couple of small duffle bags for overnight trips and not much more.
If you enjoy driving and have been hankering for a two-seater roadster that isn’t going to break the bank, the MX-5 has bags of cheeky appeal.
This special edition model essentially features the MX-5 in the twilight of its life. The very best of the best. But with such a limited allocation left, be sure to sprint and not walk to your nearest Mazda dealer.