Revealed to the public on February 9th at the 1989 Chicago Auto Show, the first MX-5 caused a sensation.
Mazda’s engineers and designers had created a lightweight, compact, open-topped two-seater with a front-engine, rear-wheel drive format, front and rear double wishbone suspension, perfect 50:50 weight distribution, a low moment of inertia for maximum agility and an affordable price. It was an instant hit on a global scale.
The secret of the MX-5’s success was in effortlessly bridging the generation gap. On the one hand, its appeal to those who had first-hand experience of the famous European sportscars in the 50s and 60s was instantaneous, on the other, it quickly won over a new generation of younger drivers who simply could not believe how much fun could be found in a small, 955kg*, modestly-powered yet phenomenally agile machine.
So the MX-5’s core principles were preserved thereafter, it was even ordained that, with the introduction of the second (1998), third (2005) and fourth (2015) generation models (including the MX-5 RF of 2016), the car’s unmistakable silhouette should remain instantly recognisable from a distance of 100 metres.
When production reached 531,890 units in May 2000, the little Mazda was certified by Guinness World Records as the world’s best-selling two-seat roadster in history. Total production passed the 1,000,000 mark in April 2016, and the MX-5’s Guinness certification was updated. Today, global sales of the MX-5 have reached over 1,055,000 units.** Garnering over 280 awards worldwide along the way, the MX-5’s 29-year history not only tells the story of the unswerving pursuit of an unique driving feel in which car and driver become one, it is also a record of the distance Mazda has travelled to establish its own inimitable style of driving pleasure.
The fourth-generation Mazda MX-5 was developed under the concept of ‘Joy of the Moment, Joy of Life’. Following the soft-top model’s debut in 2015, a power-retractable hardtop model, the MX-5 RF, was added to the lineup at the end of 2016. With these two distinctive personalities, the MX-5 delivers the joy of open-top driving to a wider audience, together with the inimitable thrill of Mazda’s trademark Jinba Ittai driving experience.
Masashi Nakayama, program manager and chief designer for the MX-5, had the following to say about the update. ‘The key phrase for our development of the fourth-generation MX-5 was “Innovate in order to preserve”, and I strongly believe that this model’s ongoing appeal is the result of our unceasing commitment to refining the vehicle over its 29-year history. We intend to keep refining the car’ he added, ‘seeking out new ways to make it even more thrilling and satisfying to drive, so it can continue to offer customers unique excitement and cement its position as a cultural icon.’
Driven by Nakayama’s desire to further enhance the MX-5’s core values, this 2019 version update features refinements to both design and packaging, improvements to dynamic performance and an upgrade to Mazda’s i-ACTIVSENSE safety technologies.
Comprehensive improvements to the advanced SKYACTIV-G 2.0*** petrol engine combine a higher maximum engine speed with increased power and torque output, whilst the advanced SKYACTIV-G 1.5 petrol unit delivers higher torque combined with excellent fuel efficiency and environmental performance.
Design enhancements include new alloy wheel colours and the availability of a brown soft-top canopy.**** On-board ergonomics have been improved through the introduction of telescopic steering wheel adjustment, a more positive seat recline action and easier door opening.
Finally, five new i-ACTIVSENSE safety technologies**** bring greater piece of mind to 2019 MX-5 drivers: Advanced Smart City Brake Support which detects vehicles and pedestrians ahead and helps avoid collisions, and Smart City Brake Support (Reverse) which detects vehicles and obstacles behind, as well as Driver Attention Alert, a Traffic Sign Recognition System and a Rear View Camera.
The lightest MX-5 since the iconic original, the fourth generation Mazda MX-5 is shorter, lower and wider than its third generation predecessor, with the smallest overhangs and lowest centre of gravity yet. Mazda’s KODO: Soul of Motion design philosophy gives the MX-5 an aggressive yet simple look that retains classic roadster proportions at the same time as reflecting the car’s focus on agility, lightness and driving pleasure in an unmistakably contemporary and dynamic way.
KODO with a fastback twist, the MX-5 RF combines the award-winning style and balanced proportions of the soft top with a compact, teardrop cabin shape that belies its convertible nature. Both soft-top and RF versions of the 2019 MX-5 are available in a choice of seven body colours, including the recently added Soul Red Crystal Metallic. In addition, the MX-5 RF’s top roof panel may be finished in either the body colour or piano black; the latter accentuating its fastback styling.
Design enhancements for the 2019 version include:
The MX-5 has always been the definitive expression of ‘Jinba Ittai’ - the concept of driver and car as one, and its driver-focused cabin and communicative controls have been a big part of this focus on delivering driving pleasure.
As you would expect for a sports car, the MX-5’s driving position allows you to be completely harmonised with the car and the road. The pedals, wheel and dials are laid out in a single axis that centres the driver in perfect symmetry, while the throttle and brake pedal are aligned for heel-and-toe downshifts.
The fourth generation MX-5 is more than ever built to feel like an extension of the driver. It retains its traditional ergonomic simplicity but matches it with high levels of quality, refinement, comfort and equipment, including Mazda’s MZD Connect infotainment system with 7” colour touch-screen and Rotary Commander.
One further key highlight of the current MX-5 generation is the unique, three-piece power hardtop with which the MX-5 RF offers customers the best of both sports car worlds: the pleasures of open air motoring with the added security of a fixed-roof coupe. The RF boasts the fastest retractable hardtop on the market, its exceptionally clever and narrow mechanism opening or closing in only 13 seconds, at vehicle speeds of up to 10km/h.
2019 version packaging improvements include:
Every generation of MX-5 has delivered the right balance between power and weight; it has never been a car that chases outright performance at the expense of affordability and handling balance. Through all four generations, the MX-5’s engines have complimented the chassis with great throttle response and an eager to rev character.
Today, bespoke versions of Mazda’s naturally aspirated 1.5 and 2.0 litre SKYACTIV-G direct injection gasoline engines feature high, 13.0:1 compression ratios, and compact 4-2-1 exhaust systems optimised for the MX-5’s layout and to enhance torque. Both units deliver linear pull from zero rpm to the redline, and outstanding real-world fuel economy.
Further enhancing real-world fuel economy, the SKYACTIV-G 2.0 litre engine comes with Mazda’s i-stop idle-stop system and a lightweight version of the i-ELOOP brake energy regeneration system.
Both engines are mated to crisp-shifting, six-speed manual gearboxes (SKYACTIV-MT) in a classic front mid-engine, rear-wheel drive layout. Additionally, a six-speed automatic transmission is available exclusively for SKYACTIV-G 2.0 versions of the MX-5 RF.
Following significant powertrain improvements in the 2019 MX-5 and RF models, and homologation of both engines according to the requirements of WLTP/RDE test cycle to achieve Euro 6d Temp emission regulations compliance, these winning ingredients are more clearly displayed than ever before.
They combine with the roadster’s light, highly rigid, driver-focused SKYACTIV-Chassis, front double wishbone and rear multilink suspension, and electric power assisted steering system to offer customers the ultimate Jinba Ittai - driver and car as one - driving experience.
A more powerful, higher-revving, acoustically tuned version of the SKYACTIV-G 2.0 features significant improvements made to every aspect of engine technology.
Maximum engine speed has been raised from 6,800 to 7,500 rpm. Maximum horsepower increased from 160 to 184 PS @ 7,000 rpm, and maximum torque from 200 to 205 Nm @ 4,000 rpm.
This results in improved torque and acceleration figures across the entire rev band for both soft-top and RF models, including the SKYACTIV-G 2.0 automatic transmission version. Yet fuel consumption remains superb with excellent European RDE regulations-compliant environmental performance.
Comprehensive improvements to the SKYACTIV-G 2.0 include:
Maintaining or increasing torque over the engine it replaces at all rpm, the upgraded SKYACTIV-G 1.5 builds on its existing, highly-acclaimed specification with several new technologies shared with the new SKYACTIV-G 2.0. Maximum engine speed is 7,500 rpm, maximum horsepower is slightly increased from 131 to 132 PS @ 7,000 rpm, and maximum torque from 150 to 152 Nm @ 4,500 rpm, and the unit returns excellent fuel efficiency and environmental performance.
Improvements shared with the SKYACTIV-G 2.0 include:
Mazda’s Proactive Safety philosophy reflects the company’s human-centred approach to vehicle development. It aims to minimise the risks that can lead to an accident, and maximise the range of conditions under which the driver can safely operate the vehicle.
The MX-5 offers unparalleled levels of safety, combining a strong SKACTIV-Body with Mazda’s sensor-based i-ACTIVSENSE active and pre-crash safety technology. Front and side airbags, as well as a tyre pressure monitor, are standard across the range.
Higher grade models also benefit from Mazda’s Lane Departure Warning System, Adaptive LED Headlights*, Blind Spot Monitoring with Rear Cross Traffic Alert*, rear parking sensors, rain-sensing wipers, dusk-sensing lights and an auto-dimming rear view mirror.
The 2019 MX-5 range’s active safety features** are enhanced by the addition of:
Named ‘one of the most beautiful roads in the world’ by numerous automotive and tourism websites, the Transfagarasan road stretches 151 kilometres over the Fagaras range - a southern section of Romania’s Carpathian mountains - connecting the historic regions of Transylvania and Wallachia.
Climbing to an altitude of 2,042 metres and passing between the highest peaks in the country, Moldoveanu and Negoiu, the Transfagarasan is the second highest alpine pass in Romania, and a fabulous, utterly engaging driver’s road. It is peppered with hairpin bends, long, sweeping curves and steep ascents and descents, and has more tunnels and viaducts than any other road in Romania.
The epic drive promised by this outstanding road is the perfect proving ground for a demonstration of the refinements which make the 2019 update of the Mazda MX-5 more driver-focused and engaging than ever before. The Transfagarasan was constructed between 1970 and 1974 on the orders of the dictator Nicolae Ceausescu as a response to the invasion of Czechoslovakia by the Soviet Union in 1968. Ceausescu wanted to ensure rapid military access across the mountains via a new route that would be easier to defend than other existing passes through the southern Carpathians.
Built mainly by military forces, the road had a high financial and human cost. Junior military personnel, completely untrained in blasting techniques, were put to work with some 6,000,000 kilograms of dynamite in an alpine climate at over 2,000 metres. Official records state that about 40 soldiers lost their lives, but unofficial estimates by workers put the figure in the hundreds.
Known to this day as ‘Ceausescu’s Folly’, the road was officially opened on September 20th 1974, but not actually completed to the condition in which it is driven now until 1980. The highest alpine section of the road is only open from June 30th to November 1st, heavy snow and the risk of avalanche closing it during winter months each year and, occasionally, for even longer.
Highlights of the Transfagarasan route, both natural and man-made, are numerous and spectacular. They include the 60 metre-high Balea Waterfall - the largest stepped-cascade in the country, and, at the highest point of the road, Balea Lake - glacial meltwater which, no matter how appealing it may look, you may not want to swim in; water temperature even in the height of summer can struggle to top just three degrees Celsius. During winter months, the first Ice Hotel in Eastern Europe - built from blocks carved from the crystal-clear ice of the nearby lake every year since 2006, is only accessible by cable car from Balea Waterfall.
Further south, the Transfagarasan passes another imposing cascade, the Capra Waterfall and then, in the foothills of the Fagaras mountains, skirts the eastern shoreline of the man-made, 10 kilometre-long Vidraru Lake - its 465 million cubic metres of water held in place by the vertiginous, 166 metre-high Vidraru hydro-electric dam.
Finally, no trip to Transylvania should pass without mention of the fortress of Poenari. Perched high on a granite outcrop beside the southern section of the road, near the village of Arefu, the castle was the impregnable residence of one Vlad III the Impale - the inspiration behind Bram Stoker’s equally bloodthirsty Count Dracula.
Founded on the site of the former Roman village of Cibinium, Sibiu was first colonised during the second half of the 12th century by Saxons from the Rhine-Moselle territories. And, for much of the medieval period (and beyond), was the easternmost ethnic German city in Europe.
By the end of the 14th century, the city had become an important trading centre boasting some 19 guilds; each representing a different craft. As a fortress, with sturdy city walls protected by 39 towers and four bastions, medieval Sibiu proved to be invincible in the face of the relentless attentions of the Ottoman Empire.
Today, only a handful of the towers remain, along with the Heller bastion. Named after a 16th century mayor of Sibiu, the building is associated with a grisly period of history - when the town was hit by plague, holes were bored through its walls to enable corpses to be evacuated quickly.
Under the Habsburgs from 1692 to 1791 and again from 1849 to 1867, Sibiu (Hermannstadt in German) served as the seat of the Austrian governors of Transylvania, and the region’s capital city; the largest of seven Transylvanian cites that became known by the German name Siebenburgen (literally, seven cities).
With the collapse of the Austro-Hungarian Empire after World War 1, Transylvania became part of Romania; however, the majority of Sibiu’s population remained ethnically German until 1941. Thereafter, the city retained a large German community until the revolution of 1989, since when most Germans have emigrated.
Amongst the roughly 2000 who have remained is Klaus Johannis. He was elected mayor in 2000, remaining hugely popular until the end of his tenure in 2014, when he moved on to become Romania’s president.
A great deal of Sibiu’s architecture has roots in this colourful history, and the city is awash with aristocratic elegance. Noble Saxon history emanates from every art nouveau facade and gold-embossed church. Renowned composers Strauss, Brahms and Liszt all played here during the 19th century, and Sibiu has stayed at the forefront of Romania’s cultural scene through its festivals of opera, theatre and film, as well as rock, jazz and more.
The country’s first hospital, school, library, bank and pharmacy were all established here. The city boasts museums that include collections of art, painting, decorative arts, anthropology, history, archaeology, history of technology and natural sciences, and locals are justly proud of the spirit of enterprise that endures to this day. Today, the city has a population of around 150,000. It has experienced a significant economic and cultural renaissance in recent years and is currently one of the cities with the highest level of foreign investment in Romania. In 2007, Sibiu was the European Capital of Culture, and the historical centre - in the process of being included in the UNESCO Heritage List - has retained its former elegance and charm.
Beyond its grand architecture, Sibiu also has a good dose of bohemian flair: Houses with distinctive eyelid-shaped windows (imagine a benign ‘Amityville Horror’ House) watch over a cast of artists and buskers bustling below. Cafes and bars inhabit brick-walled cellars and luminously decorated attics.
The 1859-built iron bridge is nicknamed the Bridge of Lies. Depending on who you ask, it stems either from deceitful merchants who met here or young lovers swearing their undying affection (or virginity). If you tell a lie on the bridge, it’s supposed to creak.