Mazda MX-5 roadster
Price £20,195 - £23,690
- Sharp, distinctive styling
- Fantastic fun to drive
- Usable every day
- Roof limits visibility
- Not the most practical car
- Interior could be more special
At a glance
“The Mazda MX-5 is the most successful sports car ever, and there are several good reasons why. It successfully combines usability, driving fun and dependability to make it one of the most engaging convertibles of all time.”
The basic recipe of the Mazda MX-5 hasn’t really changed over the nearly 30 years it's been on sale. The key elements are the fact that it's light, simple and handles beautifully. It doesn’t rely on stratospheric power or huge amounts of grip to provide the thrills, rather using its light weight, relatively meagre power and sharp steering to provide driving fun at reasonably low (and legal) speeds.
Finding direct rivals for the MX-5 is tricky. Obviously, there's the new Fiat 124 Spider, which is basically the same car underneath as the Mazda (but uses different engines), while you could also argue the Lotus Elise subscribes to the same light, simple ethos as the Mazda and the Fiat. Despite the fact that they’re coupes, the Subaru BRZ and Toyota GT86 twins also offer engaging driving experiences in a light and simple package.
With this latest generation, Mazda has managed to make the MX-5 even smaller and lighter than the previous version. Amazingly, it weighs in at less than a tonne. This low weight, combined with the inherent balance afforded by the front-engine, rear-drive layout, makes the MX-5 fantastic fun to drive. Its relatively skinny tyres mean there isn’t a vast amount of grip and while this may sound like a bad thing, it means you can have fun at safe and legal speeds.
Thanks to its relatively small size, the MX-5 is very easy to drive, too, whether you’re trundling around town or haring down your favourite B road. It never feels intimidating and the steering is so accurate and full of feel that you always know exactly where you’re going and what the car is doing. All the controls – especially the clutch and gearshift – are light and crisp, meaning the Mazda is no chore to drive, wherever you are.
Low weight has many benefits in a car and one of them is that the less weight the suspension has to deal with, the softer and suppler it can be, therefore improving ride comfort without compromising dynamic ability. The Mazda is also reasonably quiet and refined, even at motorway speeds, so it's actually usable every day.
If you plan on taking several long trips, however, you may want a second car, as one area where the MX-5 does fall down is practicality. The boot can only swallow 130 litres (roof up or down) so there's enough room for a couple of soft weekend bags, but not an awful lot else. This is compounded by the lack of storage space inside, while some people may be disappointed by the quality of some plastics in the cabin. There are some slightly irritating features in there, too, such as the placement of the cup-holders next to your left elbow, where they can get in the way when you’re changing gear.
However, the soft-top roof is very easy to operate, despite the fact that you have to do it yourself. It doesn’t eat up any boot space when it's down and, although it limits visibility when it's up, it does make the MX-5 a reasonably quiet and comfortable cruiser. If you fancy an MX-5, but want something a little quieter, a model with a folding hard-top is on its way – likely to arrive in the UK in 2017.
Another benefit of the MX-5's low weight is the fact that it won’t cost a huge amount to run. There are two four-cylinder petrol engines available, displacing 1.5 and 2.0 litres respectively. Both are hooked up to a six-speed manual gearbox as standard and return 47.1 and 40.9mpg on average respectively. This equates to CO2 emissions of 139 and 161g/km, resulting in road-tax bills of £130 and £185 respectively.
Although neither engine provides a huge amount of performance, that's not really the point of the MX-5: it's all about having fun in corners. It's not slow, though. The 129bhp 1.5-litre model manages 0-62mph in 8.3 seconds, while the 161bhp 2.0-litre model reaches the same benchmark in 7.3 seconds. If you want straight-line performance, you may be better off with a hot hatchback like the Volkswagen Golf GTI.
Equipment-wise, all MX-5s get 16-inch alloys, LED headlights, USB and MP3 player connectivity, as well as air-conditioning and a multifunction leather steering wheel. Our favourite trim level, however, is SE-L, which adds luxuries like climate control, cruise control, DAB radio, a seven-inch touchscreen infotainment system and Bluetooth connectivity. If you really need sat nav, you can upgrade to SE-L Nav trim for around £600 more.
SKYACTIV engine technology ensures the new Mazda MX-5 can put a smile on your face without breaking the bank
Light weight means the new MX-5 doesn’t need loads of horsepower to offer a fun and involving driving experience
A hi-tech, high-quality interior largely borrowed from the Mazda3 hatchback makes the new Mazda MX-5 a comfortable and satisfying place to spend time
Practicality was never a Mazda MX-5 strong suit and that hasn’t changed with this latest model
Mazda has a long record of producing dependable and safe cars and the new Mazda MX-5 should be no different