Road test: Mazda MX-5
Mm, mm… the best is now even better!
What is it?
Mazda has updated the MX-5 sports car. Both the roadster and the retractable hard-top model now have more powerful engines, extra safety kit, and a reach-adjustable steering wheel.
How green is it?
Reasonably so for a sports car. The most fuel-efficient and lightest models emit 143g/km of CO2, and achieve a combined WLTP figure of 44.8mpg.
Who should buy one?
Anyone who enjoys driving, and appreciates a car that’s tactile, precise and exciting. So long as you can live with just two seats and a tiny boot…
Road test by David Motton, March 2019
DRIVING AND PERFORMANCE
The MX-5 didn’t need updating. Since the current generation arrived in 2015, it has been widely regarded as the best affordable roadster on sale. The launch of the RF soon after, with its folding metal hard-top, only added to the Mazda’s appeal.
Necessary or not, Mazda has improved the MX-5. The biggest change is the uprated 2.0-litre petrol engine. It now has more power (up from 158bhp to 181bhp) and slightly more mid-range pull. Just as important, it now revs 700rpm higher.
Before, it was hard to choose between the 1.5-litre and 2.0-litre petrol engines. The smaller engine sounded sweeter and revved more freely. The 2.0-litre countered with extra straight line speed, but there wasn’t a big enough difference to make it decisively better than the 1.5.
Now the 2.0-litre is more eager and the higher redline allows the engine to really stretch its legs. It sounds great, and goes as well as it sounds. We’d choose it over the 1.5, which has fractionally more power and torque than before but feels much the same from the driver’s seat.
Whichever engine you pick, though, you can’t really go wrong. The more powerful model may be sportier, but both are very rewarding cars to drive down a favourite country road.
The steering is light and accurate, and the MX-5 always feels agile and alert. The gearchange is a delight, with a short throw and a precise action.
Although at its best on a deserted B-road, the Mazda is easy to live with every day. The suspension is relatively soft and forgiving by sports car standards, and wind and road noise are kept in check with the roof up.
The RF in particular is adept at playing the all-rounder; with the roof raised it’s quieter at speed and the hard-top is more secure than the roadster’s fabric roof. That said, because the rear buttresses don’t retract when the roof is lowered, wind noise with the top down is more noticeable in the RF.
SPACE AND PRACTICALITY
Anyone considering a small two-seater sports car has to be willing to make some compromises when it comes to practicality. Whether you opt for the roadster or the RF, boot space is rather tight. With a capacity of just 130 litres, a weekly shop will be a squeeze, let alone holiday luggage for two. Choose a Toyota GT86 instead and you’ll have 237 litres for bags.
Things have improved inside the cabin, though, with a steering column which now adjusts for reach as well as height to make it easier to fine-tune the driving position. Really tall drivers may still want a little more legroom, however. Our 6’ 3” reviewer had enough, but only just.
Even if you are not particularly tall, the MX-5’s cabin will feel rather snug. It wraps around you, with the thick-rimmed steering wheel, chrome-ringed dials, and the curve of the bonnet up ahead adding to the sense of anticipation every time you get behind the wheel.
The MX-5 has a four-star safety rating from Euro NCAP. That’s good rather than great. However, the updated model does have additional safety kit on the two highest spec levels, including Front Smart City Brake Support, Lane Departure Warning System, Rear Smart City Brake Support, Traffic Sign Recognition and Driver Attention Alert. Further driver aids are part of an optional safety pack on Sport Nav+ cars and standard on GT Sport Nav+.
You don’t need to choose one of the more expensive models to enjoy a reasonable level of standard equipment. The entry-level SE+ has 16-inch alloy wheels, LED headlights, air conditioning, and smartphone connectivity. We’d be inclined to upgrade to SE-L Nav+ for climate control, a seven-inch touchscreen sat nav, a DAB radio and Bluetooth connectivity. Sport Nav+ and GT Sport Nav+ add more luxury equipment, larger alloys, and sportier suspension on 2.0-litre models.
The MX-5 is an affordable car to buy and run, especially if you choose the roadster rather than the RF. Soft-top prices start from £18,995, whereas the RF costs £22,595. The Fiat 124 is closely related to the MX-5, but has just been withdrawn from sale, while the Toyota GT86 starts from £27,285 but isn’t available as a roadster. The MX-5’s fuel and insurance bills are affordable by sports car standards.
WE SAY Mm, mm… the best is now even better!
AT A GLANCE:
Performance: 0-62 in 6.5 secs
Figures for the 2.0 Sport Nav+