Saturday 22 August 2015

MX-5 VIP Driving Event

After several months of reading, writing, and talking about the new Mazda MX-5; Today I finally had the chance to get behind the wheel. This story began a few weeks back when I received an invitation from Mazda UK to attend the VIP Driving Event in Yorkshire...

"The North Yorkshire countryside provides the perfect backdrop for this day of spirited driving fun where you will experience the responsive performance, superb handling and excellent driving dynamics of the all-new Mazda MX-5 on some of the best driving roads in the country as you make your way through the picturesque North Yorkshire countryside on an extended test drive."

Obviously I said yes. I missed out on getting a drive at Goodwood earlier this year so I wasn't going to let this chance pass me by. The venue for the event was Bowcliffe Hall, near Wetherby in West Yorkshire. It took us just over an hour and a half to get there and once we parked up a Mazda representative greeted us and we were shown to the Blackburn Wing.
This building is an impressive treehouse-type structure built in the shape of an aeroplane wing on stilts. Inside I registered my attendance and was given a pass and a pair of Mazda sunglasses. Coffee and breakfast snacks were served and we were given the chance to look through some brochures before heading out front to see the cars.
I wasn't expecting there to be so many models on site. One of the Mazda reps I spoke to said they had several of each variant, including some with the optional sandy tan coloured leather trim. There were a range of colour choices with both the 1.5 and 2.0 cars available to drive. It was good to see the range of colours next to each other as it gave a better idea of how they compare under natural lighting rather than just looking through the brochure. The 1.5 cars were fitted with Yokohama Advan Sport V105 tyres, the 2.0 models were using a Bridgestone Potenza tyre. Each car also had the MZD Connect system with navigation enabled as we would be driving a route chosen by Mazda.

I was given the choice of which car I would like to take out so I opted for a top spec Jet Black 2.0 as this is the model I'm considering buying. Fortunately there was one ready and waiting for me, car no. 26 would be mine for next two hours or so. After a brief introduction to the car from the rep I pushed in the clutch pedal and pushed the engine start button. This car had the smart keyless system so there was no key to insert or anything to worry about there.
The 2.0 Skyactiv-G fired up straight away with a little bark from the exhaust. I then carefully maneuvered the car out of it's tight parking spot. When you're driving a new car it can be hard to judge exactly where the corners are. I found the fact the ND's bumpers are so trimmed down to be helpful here, it makes squeezing in and out of parking spaces easier.

We headed out of the estate and onto the road following the navigation system's spoken directions. The pre-programmed route took us through the busy centre of Harrogate, which I suspect was intentional as a good way to show off a brand new convertible. Once we made it through the traffic the roads opened up and I was able to really get a feel for the car. I was impressed with the exhaust note and it was obvious a lot of time had been spent perfecting it. It sounds so good and far more 'sportscar-like' than any previous MX-5 I've driven.
The signature slick gear change is alive & well and great fun to use with the shifter itself being just the right size. I found the new style seats with the mesh support instead of springs to be very comfortable and supportive, especially around the sides. The steering I was curious about as I know they have used a new electrically assisted system, it felt precise and responsive and I really had no complaints. I must admit the forward looking camera annoyed me when I first saw it back at the dealership preview, but on driving the car I really didn't notice it was there.

After a fair bit of zooming around, I pulled off the route and stopped to get a few pictures. I was able to check underneath and confirm this car was fitted with the yellow Bilstein dampers with black springs, but I didn't get the impression it was crashy or too hard a setup for UK roads. I guess that depends on what you are used too, I'd imagine the non-Bilstein cars will be softer with more roll.
We'd been lucky with the weather so far and I had the roof down for about half the drive. Before I got going again, I flicked up the roof as I wanted to see how much quieter it was, also the skies were darkening and I didn't want to get caught short with the rain. The roof is extremely easy to operate, it's very lightweight and the mechanism has some spring assistance so takes little effort.

Back on the open road I was absolutely loving the car but traffic was getting slow ahead. I was eventually caught up by four other ND models and we ended the drive with me leading a convoy of roadsters back into the Bowcliffe grounds. It felt pretty special and I didn't want to give the car back!

After reluctantly stepping out of the car I took the opportunity for more photos out in the grounds then headed into Bowcliffe's driver's lounge. This room was decorated with all kinds of vintage motoring memorabilia and Mazda artwork prints. It was a great place to relax in and talk more with the Mazda guys about the experience I'd had with the car.

Overall it was a great day out and I was extremely impressed with the car, it's everything I expected and more. My thanks to Mazda UK for the invitation.