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Driven: Mazda MX-5 attracts younger crowd

High 5: The higher-performance 2.0-litre variant has completed the MX-5 range, introducing a reasonably priced rival for the popular Toyota 86 and Subaru BRZ coupe.

2.0-litre MX-5 set to continue drawing more youthful Mazda audience


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1 Dec 2015

MAZDA’S strategy to encourage a younger buyer back to the brand with its new MX-5 sportscar is working, with the initial 1.5-litre version already turning the tide and the sportier 2.0-litre version set to continue the trend, according to the company’s local chief.

Since the introduction of the entry level 1.5-litre variant in August, the MX-5 has been appealing to a larger proportion of 20 to 25 year-olds and fewer buyers 45-and above, taking the fight to Toyota’s landslide 86 sportscar.

But now it is joined by a higher-performance 2.0-litre version priced from $34,490 before on-road costs, adding another element to the sportscar range, and Mazda says its sharp price and pure driving experience will continue to draw the attention of younger consumers.

Speaking at the launch of the 2.0-litre MX-5, Mazda Australia managing director Martin Benders said the ND MX-5 was attracting dramatically different attention to its NC predecessor.

“In the old model we were doing 80 per cent aged 45 and above, but with our new model we are doing 10 per cent below 25 years old,” he said. “Forty per cent is already under 45 years old.

“Some young people are saying ‘do I need a car’ and they are living in high-rise apartments using public transport, so this sort of car could fit their lifestyle because it’s a weekend car to go and enjoy driving, but you don't need it during the week.

“People below 30 are still sussing out what a car means for them. This car looks good, drives nicely and is an indulgence. The market is quite different from before.”

With a hearty asking price of near $50,000, the previous-generation MX-5 attracted no buyers under 25 and a predominant customer base above 45 years-old, and Mazda Australia marketing director Alastair Doak explained the dramatic reduction in price and a return to first principles would retain loyal fans as well as securing a new generation of buyers.

“We had the opportunity with the 1.5 to bring the price down quite substantially and I think that has automatically put us on more shopping lists,” he said.

“Our research shows some younger buyers weren’t even aware of MX-5. We had enthusiasts who knew about it but couldn't afford it but now they can, and we have people who are being introduced to it and now have it as an option at an affordable price.

“We have targeted our marketing message at a younger audience.”

While the new model is having a marked effect within the sportscar segment, Mr Benders said a sporty model has an overall halo effect on the rest of the range and more sports models would be welcomed.

“It definitely has that impact because it is seen as something a bit sexy, aspirational and desirable. That always helps with the brand if you’ve got something like that in your portfolio. I’d like to have that and the RX Vision from Tokyo.”

While Mr Benders believes the new version has the potential to outsell its predecessor, he explained that going after volumes with a sportscar was an unwise strategy, but the company would be focussing on its rivals with renewed aggression.

“We can get whatever we want but the last thing you want to do with a car like that is oversupply the market, so we go in fairly conservatively and if the dealers pull them through, we will supply them. We give it every chance.

“The people who buy in that segment buy a discretionary car or a selfish car so I put Mini in that segment, cabrios, (Toyota) 86. You can go up to (Audi) TTs and (Volkswagen) Eos as well.”

Like the 1.5-litre version, the freshly arrived 2.0-litre is available in two levels of specification, with a standard Roadster grade kicking off the options from $34,490 when paired with the six-speed manual gearbox, or $39,550 for the more generously specced Roadster GT.

Fuel economy is rated at 6.9 litres per 100km, but buyers can add a six-speed automatic transmission to either version for an additional $2000, which takes consumption up to 7.1L/100km.

With an extra 22kW and 50Nm over its 1.5-litre sibling, the 2.0-litre is the performance pick of the pair, but Mazda is not talking about 0-100km/h acceleration times or top speeds for either car.

Aesthetically, little differs between the two key variants with only a larger 17-inch wheel-set fitted to the 2.0-litre to set them apart, in place of the 16-inch rims worn by the less potent variant. GT wheels are sprayed bright silver, while the Roadster rims are Gunmetal and an optional black version is also offered.

Underneath the Kodo styled skin, the similarities continue with a chassis and suspension system that is consistent across the MX-5 range and tailored for “maximising the dynamic performance expected of a true sports car”.

At the front end, a double wishbone layout continues the family tradition, but adopts a negative kingpin offset and a degree less caster angle for sharpened steering feel and reduced understeer.

The rear end is looked after by a multilink system – also a carryover from previous generations, for a compact solution that promotes mid-corner control and stability.

The steering system has graduated from a hydraulic system of the previous generation, to a fuel-saving electric solution, and has a 4.3 per cent reduced ratio for quicker reaction with better feel.

A “gram strategy” weight-reduction focus was a guiding principle of the new MX-5 and, while the bantam 1.5-litre version manages to chop the greatest mass, the 2.0-litre has also slimmed down for the fourth generation.

Seven kilograms were saved from its SkyActiv engine, 12kg from the suspension and overall weight has been shaved by 20 per cent thanks to the greater use of aluminium in chassis and body construction.

With a slightly larger engine, the 2.0-litre weighs-in over the one-tonne mark at 1033kg but that is still 77kg fewer than the outgoing NC MX-5.

Mazda describes the MX-5 interior as “human-centric” placing a priority on the correct sportscar driving position. Occupants sit 20mm closer to the road compared with the previous version and, despite reduced overall exterior dimensions, the design has allowed more space inside.

Length is reduced 105mm, width is 10mm wider and height has dropped 10mm, but cabin length is up 65mm, cabin width has grown 10mm, as has cabin height.

It is the same story at the rear of the car, where the boot has enlarged by 35mm in length and 36mm in depth. Overall volume luggage space has reduced from 150-litres to 130-litres, but Mazda says the revised shape is more accommodating and can swallow two airline carry-on size bags.

More affordable Roadster versions have a six speaker stereo with speakers in the headrests, cloth seats with rake, slide and tilt adjustment, air-conditioning, cruise control, leather steering wheel with matching gear knob and handbrake lever.

Roadster GT versions add to the specification with leather seats, climate control, auto dimming rear-view mirror, rain-sensing wipers, heated door mirrors, keyless entry and an upgraded Bose sound system with nine speakers and 203 watts of power.

Customers with a little extra cash to splash can opt for a tan leather interior. Paint options range from Mazda’s trademark Soul Red, through Ceramic, Crystal White Pearl, Jet Black, Meteor Grey to Blue Reflex.

Like some other Mazda models, the MX-5 is also offered with a Kuroi body embellishment kit, which adds subtle front splitter, side skirts and a boot spoiler for $2600.

Mazda’s MZD Connect information and entertainment system allows the connection of multiple devices through its 7.0-inch touchscreen, Bluetooth and USB connectivity, satellite navigation and applications including Pandora, Stitcher and Aha.

Both versions share the same safety equipment and features with front and side airbags for both occupants, all the usual electronic driver assistance systems, hill hold assistance, while manual versions have a limited slip differential.

2015 Mazda ND MX-5 pricing*
1.5L Roadster$31,990
1.5L Roadster (a)$33,990
1.5L Roadster GT$37,990
1.5L Roadster GT (a)$39,990
2.0L Roadster$34,490
2.0L Roadster (a)$36,490
2.0L Roadster GT$39,550
2.0L Roadster GT (a)$41,550
*Excludes on-road costs

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