2016 Mazda MX-5 long-term car review, part 4

Mazda MX-5 roadster

Does stepping up to a GT raise the temperature?

First published in the August 2016 issue of Wheels magazine, Australia's best car mag since 1953.

FOR the second half of the MX-5’s six-month stay in our garage I’ve moved from a 1.5-litre manual base model to the top-spec Mazda MX-5 2.0-litre GT auto. That’s a step up in many areas, and a step down in a couple as well, surprisingly.

I thought having extended exposure to both drivetrains would help me choose a favourite, but four weeks into big-bore heaven and I’m even more confused.

Part of this is the fault of the automatic transmission. This six-speed Aisin unit makes day-to-day driving easier, no question, and it’s a smooth, competent cog-swapper. But it doesn’t suit the intent or character of this car, even with paddles to manually manipulate. The Mazda MX-5 is a driver’s car, and paying an extra $2000 to be less involved doesn’t gel with the purist’s perspective.

I can see why some might consider $2K a fair tariff to free up your left arm and leg, but I never found using the manual to be tiring, even in peak-hour traffic. And that’s on top of having to row it more enthusiastically to make the most of the 1.5’s torque deficit. So for me it’s a step backwards. It’s also detrimental to the MX-5’s mechanical soundtrack, although to be fair, even with a manual gearbox the 2.0-litre doesn’t sound as zippy as the little 1.5.

Will I change my mind when we tackle a Sunday drive together? I was totally convinced by the 911 GT3 RS’s paddle-shifting ways, but then in that car a driver needs all attention on the rapidly approaching horizon. The MX-5’s fun happens at a slower, more easily digestible pace. And while my top-spec test car is a claimed 48 kegs heavier than the base manual, I suspect the 2.0-litre’s extra power and torque (up 23 and 33 percent respectively) will easily overcome that five percent weight handicap. And slightly bigger brakes and tyres will also help in that regard. But by opting for the auto,

I lose the manual’s limited slip diff… hmm…

But that’s for next month.

Now, what about the bells and whistles that additional $9560 has bought me? Putting all the mechanical differences aside, the step up from 2.0-litre Roadster to 2.0 Roadster GT is actually $5060, which is partly justified by the more upmarket infotainment and sat-nav system (see breakout).

The added seat heaters in the meantime are making Melbourne’s single-digit winter mornings much more tolerable. But no amount of investigative spirit will make me go topless on those mornings; I’m hoarding every degree I can get.

Equipment upgrade a mixed bag

There are two MX-5 equipment levels: Roadster and Roadster GT. The GT’s infotainment screen is a boon, and is generally easy to use – although it insists on sucking in my smartphone’s contact list every time (is 853 names too many for it to remember?). The beefier Bose sound system is well worth having, as is climate control. As for functions like auto headlights and wipers, auto-dimming mirror and heated wing mirrors, they’re nice to have but weren’t conspicuous by their absence on the cheaper model.

Read part three of our Mazda MX-5 long-term car review.

Mazda MX-5 2.0 Roadster GT
Price as tested: $41,710
Part 4: 1116km @ 8.2L/100km
Overall: 1116km @ 8.2L/100km
Odometer: 4960km
Date acquired: May 2016


Sign up here to receive the latest round-up of Wheels news, reviews and video highlights straight to your inbox each week.

Want free access to 5 years of Wheels archive content? Sign up now!