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Motoring: The 2016 Mazda MX-5 with a twist

Credit: NAUMAN FAROOQ

There's a reason Mazda MX-5 are a crowd favourite and with the option available to get this car as an automatic, there are few reasons to look in any other direction.


Nauman Farooq | Interrobang | Sports | September 12th, 2016




Hello, and welcome to another school year at Fanshawe. Trust me, you’ll have a great time, and will learn a lot from what is one of the finest institutes in all of Canada.

If you want all the latest news on what’s happening in and around campus, the Interrobang is the perfect source to keep you in the loop. It is also the place where you’ll find reviews on cars every week.

I’ll kick-off the semester with a look at what is one of the most loved sports cars of the modern era, the Mazda MX-5. The one I tested recently came with a bit of a twist, it was an automatic.

Many auto enthusiasts think that a sports car with an automatic gearbox is just wrong. However, there can be a number of reasons why someone would buy such a car with a self-shifting transmission.

Reasons could be that the car has to be used daily, hence dealing with traffic jams is a little less tiring in an automatic. Maybe your other half (or yourself) cannot drive a stick shift, so auto is the only way to go. Or, maybe you’ve gotten too old to care about making the perfect shift.

However, are sports cars still fun with an automatic gearbox? To find out, I spent a week with one of the enthusiast’s favourite, the Mazda MX-5.

Mazda has always offered the MX-5 with an automatic gearbox option and in some markets it sells just as well as the manual.

I first drove an MX-5 with an automatic option a number of years ago, with its third-generation (NC) model, and found it to be quite good.

In the years following that, Mazda Canada didn’t offer an MX-5 with an auto-box on the press fleet. With the new 2016 model, coming out late last year, I bugged Mazda to let me try an auto with the fourth-generation (ND) MX-5. After some initial hesitance to put one on the press fleet, they eventually relented, and I got my stint with one.

The manufacturer should have had nothing to worry about, as the new MX-5 is even better than the previous-generation MX-5 with an automatic.

The simple reason is it has a smooth, quick, six-speed auto-box that is a delight to use. If you leave it in full automatic mode, the car shifts quite nicely. In fact, the car seems quicker with an automatic than the manual, its low-end grunt really comes to life with a torque-converting transmission.

Plus, the automatic also offers you steering wheel mounted pedal-shifters, so you can still have fun by choosing your own ratios, and not worry about operating a clutch pedal. Ideally, the MX-5 should have been offered with a dual-clutch gearbox to make the car quicker still, but this auto is among the best in the business.

Under its sculpted hood, the auto MX-5 has the same engine as the manual version, which means you get a 2.0-litre, four-cylinder motor that produces 155 horsepower and 148 pounds per foot of torque.

Since the automatic equipped car (1,078 kilograms) is only 20 kilograms heavier than the manual, the performance numbers are going to be very similar (0 to 100 kilometres per hour in 6.5 seconds), and the auto actually feels quicker; on most days, it will be.

This car has a delightful motor that just loves to rev, so you’re likely to be going much faster in this car than in most cars. Plus, due to its size and weight, the speed feels amplified; so 100 kilometres per hour feels like you’re doing at least 150 kilometres per hour.

You can fling this from corner to corner, and it just grips and goes. If you do get the tail out, it is easy to catch, as long as you’re not hopelessly untalented behind the steering wheel.

The only thing I’d ask for are mightier brakes; they are fine for normal use, but lack the punch I desire for performance driving.

Despite my spirited driving, I still averaged 7.1 litres per 100 kilometres with the auto MX-5, the exact number I achieved last year with the manual version.

As with any new MX-5, you get a stunningly styled two-seat roadster, with an interior that offers more space than it looks and a usable trunk. The fully manual roof is easy to operate, and can be raised or lowered from the driver’s seat.

Interested? Thought you might be, which now leads us to the price. The 2016 MX-5 starts at $33,825. The automatic is a no cost option, but you do end up losing a limited slips differential, Bilstein shock absorbers, a strut tower brace and an induction sound enhancer, all things I can personally live without.

Just because you have to pick an automatic over a manual gearbox, doesn’t mean the MX-5 is less fun. In fact, since you can comfortably use it even more, it might just be the better choice.
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