In-depth reviews

Mazda MX-5 review – Japan’s iconic roadster is better than ever

The Mazda MX-5 is better than ever, a distillation of the sports car that has matured into a brilliant little roadster

Evo rating
Price
from £18,995
  • Sparkling new 2-litre engine, fab transmission and so much fun at road speeds
  • Chassis’ limitations aren’t hard to find, tight cabin

The Mazda MX-5. An industry stalwart and one of those cars so iconic it defines the small roadster itself, as it has done for 30 years. One might be forgiven for thinking that something with an ethos this old might feel out of touch with our modern world of electrification and SUVs, but the MX-5 is instead a shining beacon of affordable fun, with low running costs and, finally, some real class to its powertrains and design.

This ‘ND’ generation is the fourth since the car’s first introduction in 1989, and despite the changing ecosystem around it, the MX-5 steadfastly remains a two-seater, rear-wheel-drive roadster with a longitudinally mounted, naturally aspirated four-cylinder engine (although an RF model with a folding hardtop is also available).

> Toyota GT 86 v Mazda MX-5 RF

It took us a little time to appreciate the latest MX-5. It's rare that a modern performance-orientated car rolls so much in corners, and we were initially disillusioned with its lack of focus in a market where even entry-level hot hatches are razor-sharp and blisteringly quick. That, of course, is deliberate on Mazda's part – the MX-5 is designed to bring driving pleasure to the masses, rather than chase lap times.

Those body movements make you feel like you're cornering hard, even when you're not. Drive flat-out and you'll be left wanting more control, but drive enthusiastically down a familiar stretch of road and you feel completely involved in the experience. Helping this are the recent updates found under the bonnet, the 2-litre engine having received a thorough overhaul, adding power, and more importantly revs to the package. The raspy exhaust, and responses unsullied by turbocharging, plus a fantastically snappy gear shift all combine to make even a drive to the shops an experience worth savouring.

And you can drop the roof on a sunny day, which adds an extra dimension that few others at the Mazda's price point can match. For those who insist on a tin-top there is also the MX-5 RF with its electric folding targa-style roof, which adds the looks of a coupe but retains many of the roadster’s attributes and quirks.

Mazda MX-5: in detail

  • > Performance and 0-60mph time - Light weight and rear-wheel-drive traction help the modest power output translate into a reasonable 6.9sec 0-62mph dash for the updated 2-litre car.
  • > Engine and gearbox - 1.5- and 2-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 low weight mean decent economy – up to 47mpg. Even 2-litre models do over 40mpg.
  • > Interior and tech - Taller drivers may find the cabin cramped, but for shorter drivers it’ll fit like a glove.
  • > Design - Classic sports car proportions, modern Japanese design. Perfect.

Prices, specs and rivals

Another year, another change to the MX-5 range. Alongside the MY2020 update, so has Mazda slightly realigned the range, with the two engines now only available with specific trim levels. Kicking off the 1.5-litre model range is the SE-L at £23,800, which makes for a pretty basic package, but essentials like Apple CarPlay, LED headlights and climate control are still standard fit.

The £26,100 Sport models add a BOSE sound system, leather seats, auto lights and wipers, plus heated seats which are essential for winter roof-down driving. This year’s special edition model is the R-Sport at £27,700, which combines the slick Polymetal Grey exterior with a dark red leather interior, slick 16-inch forged RAYS wheels and a light grey finish to the fabric roof. It also picks up a majority of the higher-end equipment like parking sensors and keyless entry. 

> Click here to read our Ford Fiesta ST review

From here the Sport Tech and GT Sport Tech models share the more potent 2-litre engine, 17-inch alloys (forged BBS units on the GT Sport Tech), Matrix LED headlights, a reversing camera and a bunch of active safety aids. These high-spec models draw the price close to £30k at £28,405 and £29,905 respectively.

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