Mazda MX-5 auto

First Fang New. Fast. Driven.

by DYLAN CAMPBELL

An automatic sports car? Donít dismiss it so quickly

ENGINE 1496cc inline-4, DOHC, 16v / POWER 96kW @ 7000rpm / TORQUE 150Nm @ 4800rpm / WEIGHT 1032KG / 0-100KM/H 9.0sec (estimate) / PRICE $33,990

LOOK, WEíRE not going to try to talk you out of getting the manual version of the new 1.5-litre MX-5 anytime soon. But fact is, if you canít avoid the olí P-R-N-D youíll be glad to hear the six-speed auto version is more or less on the money as well.

But if there is a choice in the matter, donít go telling everyone, particularly us, because weíve got a long list why the manual is still the one to get.

For a start, the auto is $2000 more on both Roadster and GT versions. But even more pressingly, itís significantly slower than the manual. Mazda makes no 0-100km/h claim for the auto 1.5-litre MX-5, but it might add, we estimate, as much as half a second to the manualís 8.5sec claim.

When weíre talking 96kW and 150Nm (which, in fairness, isnít as modest as it sounds in a car weighing just over a tonne) straight-line speed is not something you want to give away easily.

The auto also sips 0.3L more than the manualís 6.4L/100km, although we admit thatís no biggie. Neither is the fact the auto MX-5 is 23kg heavier, but we suppose itís of note in a car where the sun visors are wafer thin to cut back the grams.

Perhaps the most convincing reason of all to go the manual is itís truly a sweet gearbox Ė light, buttery and satisfying to use. Combined with the rorty, revvy and enthusiastic engine, it goes a long way to keeping the grin intact despite the fact the MX-5 is, in 1.5-litre guise, hardly explosive in a straight line. But if the reality is auto MX-5 or nothing, itís hardly the end of the world, either.

The tiny torque converter moves smoothly from a stop without the jolt of a twin-clutch, so itís quite nice in traffic. But slot it into Sport mode and, under full throttle, a pluck of the plasticky steering wheel paddle reveals a surprisingly swift shift.

Hammer the brakes and the auto MX-5 will blip swiftly enough as you grab lower gears, too.

Of course itís not as crisp or alert as a twin-clutch and thereís nary a crack or a fart on upshift, and no crackling on the overrun. There are no special acoustics here.

Interestingly, the MX-5 auto and Toyota 86 auto share the exact ratios, but we werenít able to confirm if in fact they're the same transmission.

Like the 86ís the MX-5ís auto is also obedient to the point where weirdos can bounce off the 7500rpm limiter all day if they so wish.

But mostly, rather than obstructing the MX-5 driving experience, the auto tries hard to get in the mood. You can still belt along a twisty road able to soak up the ND MX-5ís engaging and fun, softly-sprung, low-grip chassis, without the gearbox screwing it all up.

The manual is still far better, of course, but for one-legged readers, the auto is at least a half-decent proposition. M

STAR RATING

3.5

Like

Rorty engine; talented, engaging chassis; auto gets in the mood

Dislike

Manual is better; 1.5 lacks a little shove; the auto is even slower