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First Impression: Mazda MX-5 – Jinba Ittai!

POSTED BY Vishal Bhaskaran ON 02 September 2015

By Vishal Bhaskaran

Mazda’s latest MX-5 returns to its roots of pure driver enjoyment

Mazda’s Mine Proving Grounds in Nagao, Japan is a highly confidential facility. Not in the super villain lair sense, but in that they would rather not have any photographic evidence of some of the cars sitting around or track shots that show the buildings and paddocks within. Before driving in, our bus driver even covered up his dashcam with masking tape.

This was serious business.

Out of the six cars on test that day, four were manuals and two were automatic. The first round of laps were assigned, after which you were allowed to jump into any car that had an empty seat.

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So we did what any group of petrolheads would do, taking the manual many, many times around the track and then an automatic just once, for comparison’s sake.

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Mazda had but one instruction: don’t go above 120km/h. Well how on earth are you supposed to experience anything at such low speeds?

As it turned out, we needn’t have worried. The MX-5 feels as fun at 100km/h as many heavier and more powerful cars feel at at least 160km/h, with the top down the sensation of speed and the wind rushing by is absolutely addictive.

With our only gripe about finding the perfect driving position the lack of telescopic adjustment of the wheel, we set off down the pitlane and took to the track.

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“I know you want to go but hold your horses.”

In Japan the only available engine option is a 1.5-litre SkyActiv-G — back home we will only get the 2.0-litre — and what a sweet little mill it was. Rev happy and smooth, at no point did it feel underpowered and Mazda claims it responds quicker and much more predictably than small-capacity turbo engines, and does not ‘overshoot’ the power requirement when you step on the accelerator.

Steering is, as expected, sharp and precise; the yaw effect has been tuned to increase through the turn rather than hit all at once at the very beginning, allowing for more confident driving and fewer corrections to be made through a corner.

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The man in the driver’s seat here is Daniel Wong. Daniel Wong has a first generation MX-5 and now he wants this one too.

The important numbers are as you might be wondering, 129bhp and 150Nm of torque. The 2.0-litre we get over here might have a slightly better power-to-weight — with about 160bhp and 200Nm — but bear in mind that the 50kg weight penalty might upset the balance, and for a car like the MX-5 balance is pretty much everything.

Over 100kg has been shaved from the previous generation NC MX-5 for this ND MX-5 to dip just below the one tonne mark, the weight loss telling in the way it handles. As far as the manual goes, it fits the nature of the MX-5 perfectly with a nice short throw and just the right amount of space between gears.

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The gearbox in the automatic variant is a carry-over from the NC MX-5, albeit with better control logic and auto blipping and obviously the smarter choice for Malaysian traffic. This car, however, is not about making the smart choice.

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Munenori Yamaguchi

A term that Mazda officials at the track with us kept repeating was Jinba Ittai. That isn’t what we were about to have for lunch, but rather the principle with which Mazda builds its cars, especially something as iconic as the MX-5.

Munenori Yamaguchi, project manager for the MX-5, described Jinba Ittai as “the oneness between horse and rider.”

“This relationship should also be reflected between a car and its driver, where driver intent is delivered accurately in the car’s response.”

We couldn’t agree more.

Yamaguchi also went on to defend the use of natural aspiration in the MX-5, saying that high power and torque figures do not fit the nature of the MX-5. “The MX-5 is about usable power and natural response to give you the perfect driving sensation.”

For those who have never driven an MX-5, like this writer, or any other lightweight two-seater roadster for that matter, it takes more than just a few laps to understand what the MX-5 is all about.

At least ten laps and an untouched lunch later, it made sense. Here are the ingredients for a pure driving experience: a manual gearbox, as little weight as possible, and a front-engined rear wheel drive layout. In some instances, mid-engined is acceptable too but that’s a story for another day.

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Despite the manual MX-5 making its way here in a couple of months according to Bermaz CEO Datuk Seri Ben Yeoh, the bulk of sales will no doubt come from the automatic. If the slush box is the one you have your eyes on, wait a while and try out the manual before signing on the dotted line, it might just sway you. Trust us, the MX-5 experience is incomplete if you aren’t rowing your own gears.

Mazda’s goal with every new Kodomobile is to brighten the life of people who drive their cars, and for those few short hours at Mine, they achieved just that.

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