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Mazda MX-5 Review

Find out more about the Mazda MX-5 in the latest Motors.co.uk Review

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8
Out of 10
Average Price £11,101
Model Review

Inspired by the British lightweight sports cars of the 1960s and 70s, Mazda unveiled the MX-5 at the Chicago Auto Show in 1989 and began the renaissance of the convertible sports car. With a cheap outlay, light structure and small engine, the MX-5 quickly became a popular model amongst the motoring community.

On a new chassis, the second generation maintained the curvy look of the first model, but gave it more air vents on the front bumper and improved the engine line-up for added performance. It kept the lightweight nature that made the first one so popular without altering too much of its make-up. This was in production from 1998 to 2005.

With the third generation came a further refreshed look and after the model type was taken away in the last edition, hard-top folding roofs returned to the MX-5 range. It was a further evolution of the curved styling, but many of the engine options were taken away to simplify the choice for customers.

Introduced in 2015, the fourth generation brought a completely overhauled look, with Mazda instead going for a more angular and modern look that was designed to bring the ever-popular roadster into the 21st Century properly. With the maintained affordability and fun driving, the MX-5 is a class above all its rivals.

Latest Model

Moving away from the cuter rounded look, the MX-5 has moved to more mature design with the fourth generation, which has given the new model a different edge to before.

Coming with the choice of just two petrol engines, the MX-5 also only comes with four trim levels, which keeps personalisation and variation rather small, but that doesn’t mean it is measly equipped by any stretch.

One thing that will always mark the small roadster down, however, is its compact build and limited storage space, and that is no different here. Clearly with the roof down, there is even less storage and with the newly introduced hard-top version – the MX-5 RF – you get even less boot space.

But the main attraction of the MX-5 will be its driving appeal and that certainly hasn’t changed with the new chassis. It has no current equal on the UK market and only the Fiat 124 can challenge it in terms of size and styling.

 

Value for money

For £18,795 the base spec MX-5 SE comes with the bare essentials for driving comfort and pleasure, such as traction control, leather steering wheel, AM/FM radio with CD and USB connectivity and manual air-conditioning, and apart from a couple of other convenience features that’s about it. You could say that for a modern car not having lots of tech is to its detriment, but that isn’t the point of the MX-5. In base spec it has the bare essentials and that means you can enjoy the car more for what it is.

However, if you’re looking for that fun driving experience but with a few more creature comforts, new body MX-5s are available in the top spec Sport Nav trim. A 2015 ’65 plate example is available for £17,995 and it only has 11,520 miles on the odometer. Fitted with a black leather interior, heated seats, keyless entry, touchscreen multimedia system and climate control, offering a much more premium feel.

With the top spec 2.0-litre petrol engine installed producing 158bhp, this is the most aggressive model you can get on the used market, and with a limited slip differential and sports suspension fitted for improved control and performance, this is a tantalising option instead of a brand new MX-5.

 

Looks and image

The MX-5 is the quintessential compact sports car and after being reduced in size since the model, this is even more true than before. The curved and cute edges were replaced by a more angular look in 2015 with the introduction of the Mark 4 and that has given a more mature feel to the MX-5.The shape is

The shape is classic sports car with the short rear end and long bonnet, and whether the roof is up or down it is unmistakably an MX-5. The larger grille and narrower headlights make this new generation look more aggressive, which is a step-up from the previous three versions.

What makes the MX-5 so attractive to driving enthusiasts is the way it performs and that has been continued throughout all four generations. With this model having a lower driving position, you feel more involved in the process and with the Mk4 100kg lighter than the previous model, even the smaller 1.5-litre petrol can offer great performance. The manual gearbox is one of the best currently on sale and when paired with the high-revving engine, hours of fun are due to be had behind the wheel.Handling is accurate but light to give

Handling is accurate but light to give optimal feel and in the higher powered 2.0-litre Mazda fits a limited slip differential for even more control and improved traction in the corners. Sports suspension is well tuned and although some bumps in the road can feel slightly uncomfortable, the overall ride is very good indeed.

In both normal soft top and RF hard top versions refinement is pretty impressive for a roadster. The hard top version will quieten wind and road noise more but the soft top does very well in its own right.

There will a high level of wind and road noise at motorway speeds with the soft top – as is to be expected – but overall it does well in its own right. The seats in cloth or leather trim are very comfortable, making fun jaunts in the MX-5 very bearable and thoroughly enjoyable.

Space and practicality

The MX-5 won’t be winning any awards for practicality and space that’s for sure, and as with any other two seater sports car storage is at a premium. Due to the model’s compact build it’s pretty snug inside, but compared to other small sports models it’s not too bad.

The seats have been lowered to improve interior space and the car’s centre of gravity, and for taller occupants they won’t feel as cramped with the roof up as they would have before. The seats have also been moved closer together but the car is still very comfortable despite being closer to the road.

 

The 130 litres of boot space is actually less than in the third generation, but due to a clever redesign it is actually easier to use. However, there are minimal cubby holes and storage pockets, which is quite annoying on longer journeys.

 

In keeping with Mazda’s aim to make their cars continually safer, the MX-5 has a four-star Euro NCAP rating from its testing in 2015, which at the time was the highest rating for a roadster. The brand has also done plenty of work to ensure that pedestrians are safer in an impact as well as the car’s occupants.

For example, the bonnet is raised in an impact to ensure that the pedestrian is kept away from harder elements in the engine bay and Mazda also fit safety systems that look to reduce the chance of an accident considerably. Blind spot monitoring, lane departure warning and rear cross traffic alert all aim to make the MX-5 safer and make it, generally, a more attractive option. The safety systems, however, are fitted to the higher spec models only.

 

Engines

Choice of engines is limited to just two options – a 1.5-litre 129bhp option and the top spec 2.0-litre 157bhp petrol – which may turn people away. The smaller 1.5-litre offers a better retro feel – which is what some may look for – as it is peppier, higher revving and produces a much better noise for sports car fans.

The 2.0-litre does offer a higher top speed but doesn’t produce as good a noise, feel and economy as the smaller unit, which may push buyers towards the smaller engine instead. The MX-5 only comes with a six-speed manual, which for the best sports car feel is probably for the best.

 

Running costs

Despite being fitted with non-turbocharged engines, the little sports car still offers a relatively impressive fuel return. The smaller 1.5-litre 129bhp SkyActiv unit offers a quoted 47.1mpg, while the larger 2.0-litre 157bhp petrol returns 40.9mpg, which you agree for a sports car is rather impressive. However, as the emissions are more than 139g/km CO2 for all the models, new road tax rules mean that the first year rate will be at least £200, with the annual rate thereafter costing £140.

If the car you choose is fitted with the smaller 1.5-litre engine, insurance groups vary between 25 and 26 depending on trim, while the more powerful 2.0-litre is placed in group 29 for all specification options.

Things to look out for

In keeping with the brand’s excellent reputation, only minor issues have befallen the MX-5 throughout its lifespan on the UK market. Due to Mazda’s history, the MX-5 has been reliable and problems for it are simple to resolve. Only the first generation models suffered from any real issues, but from then on the MX-5 has been a dependable choice in the sports car market.

 

Rivals

As it is built on the same base, only the Fiat 124 can really hold a candle to the MX-5 in terms of price, performance and feel, with only more premium brands such as Porsche, Jaguar and Audi offering performance convertibles. It harks back to the small British sports cars of the 60s and 70s, and now no other car can really match that feel and performance. In terms of enjoyment and affordability, you would say its closest rival is Toyota’s GT86 or the Subaru BRZ.

 

Depreciation warning

For some reason, the British driver yearns for open-top driving and convertible models despite the largely changeable weather and only momentary glimpses of sunshine. For that reason, the MX-5 performs rather well on the used market and even good quality Mk1 models can demand a surprisingly high price. In terms of the latest models, ones kitted out with a lot of tech and in mid-to-high specification will perform the best, although those looking for the pure driving essence can find that in a basic model and they will demand a slightly lower price on the used market.

Which MX-5 to Pick

Trims Explained

The MX-5 comes with three trim levels to choose from, which may not be enough choice for some people’s liking. Basic spec, however, is good with only the real essentials fitted so it doesn’t detract from the driving experience.

SE

In SE trim, Mazda fits manual air conditioning, an AM/FM radio with CD player and USB connectivity, electric windows, traction control and multi-functional leather steering wheel. As well as LED headlights, heated door mirrors and remote keyless entry, there isn’t much else to this level, but as standard you also get driver and passenger airbags and 16-inch alloy wheels.

The SE trim starts from £18,795, with the option to add metallic, mica and pearlescent paint available.

SE-L Nav

With the upgrade to SE-L Nav comes a seven-inch touchscreen multimedia display with Bluetooth and DAB radio, satellite navigation system, climate control, cruise control and headrest speakers, which gives the MX-5 a better all-round experience. If the 157bhp engine is fitted, Mazda adds gunmetal grey 17-inch alloy wheels, piano black door mirror covers and a limited slip differential.

This grade offers considerably more than SE and with the hop of £1,700 for the starting price to £20,495, you can see it is worth it.

Sport Nav

Sport Nav is the top spec and with it comes leather heated seats, lane departure warning, adaptive front lights, dusk sensing lights, rear parking sensors, rain sensing front wipers and a Bose nine-speaker sound system. Again, when you upgrade to the 157bhp engine, Mazda adds a limited slip differential, but in top spec you also get sports suspension and 17-inch alloys. You can add a sand leather seat trim and the safety pack – high beam control and blind spot monitoring – as optional extras.

What to look out for

  1. Pound for pound one of the most fun cars to drive
  2. Very reliable throughout the generations
  3. Not very practical
  4. Quite a snug cockpit
  5. Surprisingly good fuel economy
  6. Fourth generation is more mature
  7. Decent spec from base level trim
  8. Options list can bring the price up a lot
  9. Throwback performance and feel
  10. Holds its value well on the used market

Review Rating

"It’s easy underestimate how important the Mazda MX-5 roadster is to the Japanese firm, but now in its fourth generation since global sales began in 1989, over a million have been sold.... Read More"