Mazda MX-5 review - Latest roadster impresses... up to a point

Adam Towler
24 Mar 2016

Mazda's latest roadster perfectly matches the company's brief, but we'd like something a little sharper

Evo Rating: 
Keen engines, great gearbox, low-speed fun factor
Cabin cramped for taller drivers, chassis may be limiting for keen drivers

evo Verdict

The new MX-5 is a fine car and an appealing one, but if that line sounds curiously downbeat it is simply a reflection that, on paper, the concept encapsulates everything many of us have been arguing for in recent years. The reality that it doesn’t - quite - deliver on that potential brilliance is deeply disappointing.

Why should this be? Both engines are impressive, if not extraordinary, while the roof is a masterpiece of design that instantly rubbishes the weight and complexity of modern electric roofs. The lightness of the new car is something to savour, betrayed in everything from its responses to its fuel consumption.

Our issues lie in the detail: the decisions on chassis setup have produced a car that gives plenty to all, but that enthusiast drivers will surely find frustrating in time; the structure tremors and, if you’re tall, the lack of reach-adjustment for the steering wheel and a rather high-set and unsupportive seat. The latter makes for a poor driving position that detracts greatly from the overall experience.

The current top of the range MX-5 is the Sport Recaro. It’s based on the 2.0ltr with satellite navigation and the Bilstien dampers but adds different wheels, black aerodynamic embellishments, aluminium pedals, alcantara interior trim and, as you’d expect given its name, some Recaro seats.

Recently revealed was the MX-5 RF, a folding hard-top version. Rather than having a full convertible like the roadster, the RF’s roof is more like a targa. The centre section folds away below to buttresses behind the passenger compartment.

evo Tip

Given the above, there’s a strong argument to suggest the sweetest new MX-5 is the cheapest one, to major on the simple pleasures of a roadster. At £18,495 the entry-level 1.5 SE feels like plenty of smiles-per-pound.

However, the greater amount of power, and the limited slip diff, of the 2.0ltr is now even more tempting when in Sport Recaro guise. The aero additions, Alcantara and the seats make it look and feel more special.

evo Comment

‘There is fun to be had driving this MX-5 and it doesn’t exactly fall apart if you really do fling it down a road. But it’s a car that works best just a couple of notches back from maximum attack. This is a keen chassis, but after a few miles I just wanted more response from the front axle, tauter body control, less roll and more immediacy and intensity from the whole experience.’ Dan Prosser, road test editor (evo 212)

Performance and 0-60mph time > Light weight and rear-wheel drive traction helps the modest power output translate into a reasonable 7.3sec 0-62mph dash for the 2.0-litre car.

Engine and gearbox > 1.5 and 2.0-litre engine options, both four cylinder and naturally aspirated, provide the power, while both come standard with one of the best six-speed manuals on the market.

Ride and handling > Sure to impress casual drivers but may leave some wanting more. Plenty of body roll and some body shake, too.

MPG and running costs > Small engines and light weight means decent economy – up to 47mpg. Even 2.0-litre models do over 40mpg.

Prices, specs and rivals > An £18,495 starting price makes the basic 1.5 reasonably affordable. Rivals range from hot hatches to sports coupes.

Interior and tech > Taller drivers may find the cabin cramped, for shorter drivers it’ll fit like a glove.

Design > Classic sports car proportions, but the details divide opinion. Fits neatly into Mazda’s range of saloons, hatches and crossovers.

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