The almost car


A good day today. Handed my own MX5 into Struans Mazda in Perth at 1:00 pm and two hours later collected it with new engine oil and filter, fresh gearbox oil and a clean bill of health for the cooling system as nothing was found to be leaking, and change from £200. I am beginning to suspect the “coolant leak” which I found as a wee puddle under the radiator may have been Oscar, next door's cat piddling on it! My own MX5 is going like a wee train too, a touch old school perhaps, but still a most enjoyable car.

While they did the service I spent the two hours blatting around the relatively empty roads of Perthshire up to Loch Earn in their demo MX5 RF, a sport nav model with the Bilstein shocks.  Now that’s what you call a worthwhile test drive, vastly better than the crumby little run I had on Sunday when the evil empire of Arnold Clark grudgingly let me have few miles in one, and unsurprisingly I came away with a very different opinion. It is in my opinion damned close to being the perfect all purpose sports car for the roads and legislation of 2017. It is almost perfect, but sadly “almost” in this case is a big word.

 Read on.

I started with a 15 mile trek down the A9 dual carriageway south towards Stirling, roof up, as I wanted to check its credentials as a distance cruiser. I had forgotten that this stretch of road has average speed cameras, so it was strictly at 70 mph, but it passed with flying colours. Cosy, comfortable and calm with 6th gear making it quite high geared and quiet. The rear buttresses are no worse than the canvas roof on my car and the blind spot indicators in the mirrors are a good safety feature. My first beef though is the Bilstein dampers, they may enhance body control when pressing on, but they make for a very nervous and fidgety ride at slow speed over bumpy roads, almost as bad as my Cayman, and I missed the fluidity of the first car I drove without them. If I ever buy one, it won’t be the sport version.  I pulled off the main road, had a wee picnic for lunch in the car which highlighted that the cabin is quite tight,  and took the Braco to Comrie road which is very twisty and pretty. At this point I dropped the roof and it stayed down for the rest of the afternoon. It was cold, but with jacket, hat and gloves and the heater on it was entirely cosy, although for some reason my thighs got a cold draft I could not get rid of no matter what ventilation settings I had it on.
Let me say that as a sports car it is simply superb. Light, agile, with sweetly matched controls, superb mechanical grip, and as a friend who owns one has pointed out it feels faster than it really is. On a few occasions I felt I was really going for it, yet a glimpse at the speedo revealed I was doing 10 mph less than I would have guessed. This is a good thing, fun without endangering your licence.  The engine is a peach (although it doesn’t really feel 160 bhp strong to me, perhaps its the relative lack of torque) and a peerless gearchange, with strong progressive brakes. It’s a proper drivers car and no mistake, but about feel and emotion rather than big numbers, and as such more more in tune with the zeitgeist of the day than all this silly supercar tackle. The lack of three quarters rear vision due to the buttresses seems much more irritating with the roof down somehow. Illogical, but you lose some of the proper convertible feel, although in other respects the cabin sans roof is an entirely nice place to be. I might feel otherwise on a truly hot day though.
There remains one huge Achilles heel though, and that is the wind roar from the targa bar. Up to 50 mph it is quite silent, but above 50 mph there is a really irritating mid frequency drone, like a sort of lower toned version of tinnitus and just as annoying. Strangely it doesn’t seem to get louder with speed either, it is much the same at 80 as it is at 50, and this is the real problem. In the real world you are going to be doing 50 to 60 mph on decent A roads and it is deafening. After an hour and a half of this my head was buzzing, and it makes it a very tiring car to drive, which is crazy as in every mechanical aspect it is very non tiring. It reminded of me of how beaten up I used to feel in my early biking days before I realised the benefits of riding with earplugs in. I should add I was wearing a winter “luggy bunnet” (a hat with earflaps) and I shudder to think how tiring a long fast open drive in summer with no ear protection would be.
So there we have it. It is almost the best car I’ve ever driven, but for one or two fatal design errors. I confess by the end of the journey I had gotten used to the noise, but that is a poor excuse. As a result I enjoyed it, but I did not really “bond” with the car the way I did with the 1500 Roadster version that I did almost exactly the same journey in a year ago.

One step forward, one step back. Back to where I started from.