A lively, fun drive
Glamour model: Mazda MX-5
Lots of classic sports cars on South East roads this summer have been a reminder of how Britain was once the home territory of the glamorous affordable roadster. Sleek little two-seaters awash with shiny chrome and badges such as MG, Triumph, Austin-Healey and Lotus once glossed the motoring scene. Since 1989, though, a Japanese model has staked its claim on the territory, and so successful has the Mazda MX-5 been that it has sold more than 1.1 million around the world.
Slick, svelte and sporty, the MX-5 is already well-known as a fun-to-drive two-seater. Now in the fourth generation of a series that has evolved over three decades, it is a chic looker that is unarguably smart enough to be used for business.
It has just undergone a further modest updating, the big news of which is an engine upgrade to give more power and punchier performance. In place of the previous two-litre, 158 bhp petrol engine is a new one with 181 bhp that knocks almost a second off the 0-62 acceleration time – now down to 6.5 seconds. It’s a power boost that translates into a livelier feel on the road alongside clingy handling and still pretty decent economy, with a promised average of just over 40 mpg. The gearbox is a crisp six-speed manual, with the option of an auto transmission for ease of mostly urban use.
Other changes have tweaked the cabin design, with better steering column adjustment, stronger cupholders (owners used to criticise them for being flimsy), and the addition of Apple CarPlay and Android Auto connectivity to let the car mimic the set-up you use on your smart phone. A handy reversing camera is also now available in the rear bumper, either as an option, or standard kit on the top-spec GT Sport Nav+ version.
Many of us who drove sporty soft-tops in our younger days recall draughty hoods that were barely weather-proof. Back then, raising the roof with the sudden onset of rain meant a quick dash for shelter beneath an overhead bridge, where you grappled with reluctant metal supports and canvas. What a contrast to experience a slickly engineered modern MX-5 hood that seals tightly and can be raised or lowered with ease, and within seconds.
The MX-5 range starts from £18,995 for the soft-top and rises to around £30,000 for the range-topping RF model. A well-equipped mid-range SE-L Nav+ with the newly uprated two-litre engine is £22,295.
Stylish and practical
Business savvy: Peugeot 508
Change is happening in the car market, with traditional mid-size saloons and hatchbacks in the so-called D segment in decline, elbowed aside by the surge tide of tall, imposing SUVs that seem to have enraptured the car-buying masses. Ebbing demand is behind a Ford decision not to replace the current European-built Mondeo, due to expire in about three years, although there will be a new model built in China.
Prestige-badged models from the German brands seem to be faring better, but there has been a trend for D-sized models to morph into a more coupe-like silhouette, while still retaining the four side doors that make them practical. The latest car to go in this direction is Peugeot’s new 508, now a sleeker, less staid and more stylish looker than its predecessor. Gone is the old saloon shape, in comes a fastback design that Peugeot hopes will give the 508 more appeal.
In smaller Peugeots we have become used to the bold i-Cockpit dash layout, with its smaller-than-usual-steering wheel and instruments viewed over, rather than through, the wheel. That has now been adopted for the new 508, with higher-level dials and a slightly square-edged wheel that turns tautly and helps give the car a perter handling feel.
A sharp upgrade in driving behaviour is the first thing you notice when you get behind the wheel of the new 508. The two-litre, 157 bhp BlueHDi diesel model that is expected to be a major seller is impressively quiet and refined, and the overall feel is more of a “driver’s car” than before, although passengers may notice a bit of jostle in the ride quality over a lumpy back road.
All versions come with an interactive touchscreen in the centre dash and in higher-spec models from Allure trim upwards it is a larger 10in display. Under the screen is a row of handy shortcut switches laid out like piano keys, so you don’t have to operate everything via a screen. All 508s come equipped with LED lighting, autonomous emergency braking, lane-keeping assistance, DAB radio, auto lights and wipers and 3D navigation.
How practical is the 508 under that sloping tail? Perhaps surprisingly, the boot is larger than in the old saloon-shaped model, although only by 14 litres. With all five seats in position, the boot is 487 litres, and with the back row folded it extends to 1,537 litres.
Engine choices start with a 1.5 litre, 128 bhp diesel, and the range-topper is a 1.6 litre, 222 bhp petrol unit. A plug-in hybrid version will join the range next year. Pricing starts from £25,000 and tops out at £37,400.
Pictures: ©Sue Baker