2011 Mazda MX-5 GT Review

2011 Mazda MX-5 GT Review

Photo: Mazda Photo: Mazda Photo: Mazda Photo: Mazda Photo: Mazda
Anyone who knows me knows that my one favourite cars of all times is the Mazda Miata. It has been my favourite ever since I saw my first one on the road back in the late 1980s. Good-looking, fun to drive and best of all, affordable.

Over the last two decades, the basic shape has stayed very similar to the original. (Photo: Mazda)

None of that has changed over the years. Now officially named the MX-5, and with the demise of both the Pontiac Solstice and Saturn Sky, this roadster is the only one in its class again. No one else can seem to compete with what the MX-5 has to offer.

Every year, I get excited to get my hands on the new MX-5; whether Mazda has done any upgrades or not, this little car always leaves a big impression. This was the first year that I was not that excited to pick it up. I was finally asked to review a model equipped with the automatic transmission. Call me old-school, but I still think the only way to really drive a sports car is to do all the shifting myself.

I love both the 5- and 6-speed manual gearboxes in the MX-5. Short shifts, a great clutch and a shift knob within easy reach; I feel as one with the road, just as Mazda wants.

Loosely translated, the expression Jinba Ittai means “horse and driver as one”. This is the expression that designers have used as a baseline for creating and updating the car over the years. This philosophy has been reflected in a few specific design requirements that have been carried over year after year.

Over the last two decades, the basic shape has stayed very similar to the original. Mazda has gotten rid of the pop-up headlights, added some flared fenders, sporty exhaust tips and ditched the bubbly appearance, giving it a more aggressive look. So many people say it is a ‘chick car’ but this last generation has gotten rid of most of the cute angles and gets looks from both woman and men.

Sticking to its essence, the cockpit has large, easy to read gauges. The layout is simple and all buttons and knobs are within easy reach. Mazda has strived to make the cockpit able to comfortably accommodate two full-size occupants. My boyfriend is a body builder, and was not even open to trying to get into this little car. After some begging, I finally got him to go for a ride with me. My fingers were crossed because I didn’t think his athletic frame would fit in this little roadster.

The layout is simple and all buttons and knobs are within easy reach. (Photo: Mazda)


Shocking both of us, his wide shoulders fit snugly, but comfortably, into the passenger seat. He put his foot down in regards to taking a long road trip, but reluctantly told me that the leg and headroom were adequate, and that the seats were actually wide enough that he could tolerate them. Based on boyfriend test: MX-5 not recommended for anyone over 6 feet!

Neither one of us enjoy climbing in and out of a car that is so low to the ground, maybe we’re starting to show our age? However, the low centre of gravity and front-midship rear-drive configuration deliver almost perfect 50:50 weight distribution.

The handling is predictable and responsive; no surprises from year to year. What I enjoy the most is the go-kart feeling when driving in the city, matched with the impressive solid feeling at highway speeds. The hardtop provides some additional insulation from wind noise and one small complaint is that the interior is quite loud, especially on the highway.

That being said, the 2.0-litre, four-cylinder engine with 158 horsepower (167 with the manual gearbox) has a sweet exhaust note to it. The base model gives you a list of standard features like functional storage spaces throughout the cabin, steering wheel-mounted audio and cruise controls, tilt steering column, MP3-capable CD player and auxiliary jack. Unfortunately, you will need to go in to the GT model if you want Bluetooth and SIRIUS satellite radio.

What I enjoy the most is the go-kart feeling when driving in the city, matched with the impressive solid feeling at highway speeds. (Photo: Mazda)

For safety, this roadster comes with 4-wheel ABS on all models and dynamic stability control on the GS and GT models. Dual front and side-impact airbags are standard in every trim.

The top-of-the-line GT gets a 7-speaker Bose audio system that gives incredible sound with both closed and open roof driving.

And oh my gosh, I almost forgot! I have been driving the 6-speed automatic all week. I am impressed. Both smooth and fast, the shiftable automatic is the best of both worlds. Available on both the GT and the GS trims, it also features paddle shifters.

I was not expecting this at all. Being able to rev this sports car and be more aggressive with it has made the week incredibly enjoyable. In busy traffic, just keep it in drive and don’t even think about it. Looking for more fun? Then just do the shifting yourself.

An issue with shifting yourself (manual or automatic) is that when you have a coffee mug in the centre console, it can get in the way. An advantage with the automatic is the paddle shifters.

Decisions, decisions… I cannot believe I am going to admit this: I would have a hard time choosing between the manual and automatic. It might just come down to how much you really want to spend. Starting at just under $30,000, the GX model with 5-speed manual transmission is so much fun to drive.

The top-of-the-line GT model lists for about $40,000 and does have a few standard safety and comfort features that I think would be worth the extra dollars. And for $1,200, the automatic with paddle shifters is a great add-on.

This is hard for me to say, but I think I had more fun driving the automatic. This little car continues to impress me.

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