Sports Car, Cool Car, Girl’s Car.
At a time when mainstream British car manufacturers thought it impossible to go on making small convertible sports cars, Mazda from Japan came up with the M-X5. The little Mazda carried the torch first lit by classic English sports cars like the Austin-Healey Sprite, MGB, Triumph Spitfire ~ and in particular the brilliant Lotus Elan. The original Mazda M-X5 could almost have been copied from the Elan, what with its 1.6 litre twin-cam engine, pop-up headlights, and clever longitudinal truss, (Power Plant Frame), that mimics the Elan’s backbone chassis.
The MX-5 wasn’t designed in Japan either ~ it was planned in California by a team led by Englishman Bob Hall. An Englishman in California is just about the perfect combination when it comes to cars. Of course what the Mazda team didn’t copy from Colin Chapman’s Lotus was fragility, unreliability, and extreme lightness.
First launched at the 1989 Chicago Auto Show, the M-X5 was and is a fairly small front-engine, rear-wheel-drive roadster, with a twin-cam engine of between 1.6 and 2.0 litres. There’s a five-speed gearbox in the middle, double wishbone independent suspension at both ends, and disk brakes, (ventilated at the front). The original model weighed in at almost exactly ton, (which is a portly 600 pounds more than the diminutive Lotus). It even looked like a Lotus Elan ~ which was no bad thing.
As well as the looks and layout, what the original design team got right was balance. The unladen M-X5 has an ideal 50/50 weight distribution, which means that the handling ~ the feel of the car when you drive it ~ is just about perfect. This makes the little Mazda a ‘nice’ and ‘fun’ car to own and drive.
The M-X5 is by no means a fast car. The 1989 original came with just about the same power as a Lotus Elan, but it weighed a third more, so it was a tad sluggish. The traffic-light sprint 0-60 mph time was over 8 seconds and it would run out of steam at about 115 mph. But do you know what? With the top down, on country roads, with the brilliant handling and roadholding the design naturally produces, the original M-X5 was more than fast enough.
Among older English car enthusiasts the word to describe the way an M-X5 drives is ‘chuckable’. (It reacts easily, safely, and can be forced into doing things it really shouldn’t ~ it probably won’t kill you.)
The little Mazda is also a great car for a long road trip. It’s a nice place to sit for hours, rides fairly comfortably and quietly, there’s decent luggage space, it’s economical, and the top comes down. What’s not to like?
If you are mechanically minded with some practical skills, you could buy yourself an early M-X5 for a couple of thousand pounds / dollars. The thing is simple enough to allow a complete rebuild, in the same way that one could rebuild an MGB. But why would you bother? The Mazda M-X5 is a classic design, but it isn’t actually rare, (unless it’s a really early car in light blue mica or British Racing Green), and a newer car needing much less work is within the spending reach of just about everyone.
A new M-X5 will set you back around £20,000, (or $30,000), depending on the exact specification. For that you will get a very capable, very over-engineered, and very over-styled car that is so attractively modern-metrosexual it should only be bought by make-up artists, hairdressers, or real estate agents.
At the upper end of the scale a new M-X5, the fastback with a retractable steel roof will cost you about £28,000, (you can get one of these for $35,000 in California). That would also give you a 160 bhp two-litre engine and six-speed gearbox, all in an overstyled package that weighs in at 2,470 pounds ~ no thanks.
The new M-X5 is so far away from its Lotus Elan spiritual inspiration that it’s not even in the same millennium. I would not waste my money on a new M-X5. If I was really in the market for one of these little Japanese / English / Californian sports cars I would look for an early example, pop-up headlights and everything. In comparison to rebuilding a rotted MGB, working on a Mazda would be child’s play. The three critical areas for structural soundness are the Power Plant Frame and the front and rear subframes, and all three can be replaced.
Some cars are obvious Guy, some Girl, and a few go both ways. Why is the Mazda a Girl’s Car? If you have to ask then you’re either a girl, or a metrosexual male who doesn’t know one end of a torque-wrench from the other. You wouldn’t expect to spoil your manicure if you owned a new Mazda M-X5.
Would I buy one? Yes, so long as it does look like a Lotus Elan.