Though the traditional Around the Bay in a Day event concludes with pedal power, the 2023 Mazda MX-5 is about as manual and responsive as a car gets. We saddled up to see how it handles a lap around Melbourne’s Port Phillip Bay.
Melburnians will be familiar with the yearbook Around the bay in one day Cycling event around Port Phillip Bay. Growing up on a bike as a kid, I always had the goal of completing the 210km distance in one day – but the bike addiction didn’t last long enough for me to get into it and I fell in love with cars instead.
Although I’ve done a few long bike rides around Victoria, I’ve never crossed the Around the Bay Trek off my to-do list. So it was a white whale worth harpooning – this time with less lycra.
The day-trip vehicle is arguably geared closer to the elements than most — the open-air 2023 Mazda MX-5 Roadster is the entry-level model in the legendary sports car series and is everything you need for the MX-5.
It will set you back $38,340 before road costs (in six-speed manual transmission) and includes all the features and refinements you need – but nothing more. To name just a few, the base trim boasts a retractable top, a limited-slip differential, and a 7.0-inch touchscreen with wireless Apple CarPlay and wired Android Autoblack fabric covers, automatic climate control and tire pressure monitoring.
Once you’re in the cockpit, it feels like a no-frills affair – there’s very little place to stash loose items like phones or wallets, and little technology to get excited about. It’s an ergonomic compromise both for the legs (as the transmission tunnel cuts into the driver’s footwell) and side-to-side (especially with the removable cup holders attached).
But since I’m 194 cm tall, it was always a challenge. In fact, I’m really impressed with how well I fit in, even with the roof down. Otherwise, setting up Bluetooth and Apple CarPlay is quick and easy – the touchscreen functionality can only be used when the vehicle is stationary. Along the way, you need to use the rotary controller.
Hopefully one of the next updates to the MX-5 will include the addition of Mazda Connect’s new infotainment screen and software, as the old MZD system is worn out in 2023. It’s functional and remains easy to use, but is really starting to look dated compared to the newer Mazda software.
I’m usually a die-hard proponent of that Roof down unless it rains School of thought, but my passenger wasn’t too keen on the top-down adventure (it was a typically chilly Melbourne summer’s day, to be honest) so we headed down the Princes Highway, in the rain towards Geelong – particularly suited to the most boring part of the journey.
Granted, the MX-5 isn’t a grand tourer, but there’s little refinement to make highway cruising comfortable. Wind noise seeps over your right shoulder because the roof — while it’s a breeze to fold down and put back in place — doesn’t block much noise. The seats lack lumbar support and feel like you’re sitting on a frame rather than a sports seat. This is arguably the MX-5’s biggest downside and makes long rides tiring.
The diminutive two-door body feels downright tiny on the highway in the company of SUVs and crew cabs, but that lithe nature is just perfect everywhere else. City-sized turns are airy, and the car is so easy to place on the tarmac of your favorite twisty roads.
We make a pit stop in Geelong, pass busy Pakington Street for a quick coffee and then continue rolling through East Geelong and out towards Ocean Grove. Growing up in Melbourne as a kid, Geelong seemed to get a bad rap, but it’s really starting to turn the tide and become Melbourne’s cool neighboring city.
There’s plenty of history to soak in and a beautiful waterfront promenade to admire on warmer days. Restaurants and cafes are scattered in the quieter suburbs, and nearby Clifton Springs even has chic wineries like Jack Rabbit Vineyard or Bellarine Distillery across the street.
More highways towards Ocean Grove means more opportunities to squeeze out the 135 kW/205 Nm 2.0-litre four-cylinder engine. It’s a great combination with the 1059kg vehicle and far better suited than the discontinued 1.5-litre. The engine is really lively when you push the throttle down, but the engine does its best work high up in the rev range.
It builds smoothly up to its advertised 7500rpm rev limit, and the experience is accented by a great little burble from the exhaust tips. Having the right gear for overtaking maneuvers is a necessity, as there’s a distinct lack of low-end torque, but the MX-5 has the right amount of oomph to underline its sportscar nature.
The manual transmission is a delight in this sort of car, with no-frills throw through the gate and light clutch action that doesn’t get old.
Down on the Ocean Grove foreshore the weather finally turns to dappled sunlight and the top comes down briefly to take in the atmosphere. The region was packed with holidaymakers during the break, as evidenced by the time it took to find a park on the main road.
There was less to check out in town than we thought so it was a quick stop before continuing on to Queenscliff and the ferry terminal. Queenscliff was originally conceived as a strategic defensive post due to its proximity to The Heads and there are still remnants of its history at Fort Queenscliff.
Queenscliff’s main strip has historic facades and wide streets, and the railway operates a number of historic trains between Queenscliff and Drysdale.
If it was cold on land, the weather was miserable when the ferry left port, leaving the upper deck outside almost deserted. Unfortunately no dolphin sightings this time.
When we disembarked across the bay in Sorrento, it was just as busy with campers down the foreshore and day trippers browsing Ocean Beach Road. We took our time to tour the redesigned Continental Hotel before setting course for the streets that hug the bay.
While it’s a procession ride from Sorrento with holiday traffic, the route becomes pleasant once you drive through the “whale belly” tunnel at Mount Martha. The road is getting quieter and although it is a 60 km/h limited track, there are many tight and twisty corners that the MX-5 has to maneuver through.
The steering is wonderfully smooth and direct, letting the lightning fast nature of the small footprint shine through. Shifting through gears is a joy, and the simple ingredients of a manual gearbox, a high-revving naturally aspirated engine and minimal electric gimmicks are refreshing.
It’s certainly not the ideal car for everyone, and it will have everyday annoyances, but for the few who appreciate its simple, fun-loving nature, the Mazda MX-5 is one of the few remaining analog sports car experiences.
The Mazda MX-5 after 2023: Around the Bay in a Day appeared first on Drive.
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