"Few cars can rival the MX-5's simple appeal. It offers wind in the hair thrills and excellent reliability with reasonable prices."
Mazda hasn't changed the basic design of the MX-5 since it introduced the original version in 1989 - low weight, moderately powerful engines and excellent handling are what the MX-5 is all about. The latest model, which was revamped at the end of 2012, brought a fresher front end with new grille and bumper design, along with added safety equipment and mechanical improvements. The MX-5 is bigger, safer and slightly more powerful than its predecessors and has more in the way of creature comforts, so it's easier to live with. Storage space isn't bad considering the size of the car, but you'll still need to pack carefully for a long weekend away.
The MX-5 has incredibly accurate steering and is very nimble on the road. The 1.8 and 2.0-litre engines have 124bhp and 158bhp, respectively, which is just enough to make the Mazda into a speedy little sports car. The 1.8 has a five-speed gearbox, while the 2.0-litre has a six-speed and both have a short, accurate action that makes it easy to find the right gear. The optional six-speed Sport Tech automatic gearbox with wheel-mounted paddles is best avoided, as it's not as effective as the manual. The updated 2012 model includes a modified throttle, making it more responsive when you put your foot down, and upgraded brakes to make the car more stable when braking.
The Mazda MX-5 is more comfortable than you'd expect. It travels over rough surfaces well and there's little in the way of vibration - as is often the case in a convertible. Sport Tech models are less comfortable than the standard version due to their bigger wheels and slightly stiffer suspension, but for the most part, the MX-5 is about as relaxing and comfortable as a cabriolet gets. The tall seat backs offer protection from the elements and help keep wind noise to a relative minimum when the roof is down. With the roof up, wind and road noise is a little intrusive, particularly at higher speeds.
The entry-level 1.8-litre model doesn't come with stability control, which means it's more likely to catch unwary drivers out in slippery conditions. All other versions come with it as standard, though, as well as side, driver and passenger airbags. A reinforced windscreen frame and roll over hoops are also standard. The earliest MX-5s are still very reliable cars, and it's has been hailed for its superb durability ever since, so you can buy with confidence. The latest model gets the addition of an active bonnet system that pops up the trailing edge of the bonnet if a collision with a pedestrian is detected, increasing the crumple zone between the bonnet and the engine.
You don't buy a Mazda MX-5 for space, but for its size - the 150-litre boot is just about big enough for a couple of soft bags for a weekend away. The car's fabric hood is extremely easy to fold down - just release a couple of clips and drop it back - and it doesn’t eat into the boot space. The folding hard-top Roadster Coupe model is more secure, and is electrically operated, folding away in around 12 seconds. It's then cleverly stowed behind the cabin, leaving the 150-litre boot space unaffected. There are a number of useful storage compartments throughout the interior, plus four-cup holders – which is more than enough for a two-seater car.
Value for money
The latest model adds climate control across the whole range, including the entry-level 1.8-litre SE car. This added touch means that none of the models feel sparse. A Sport Tech Nav is also available, which gets a TomTom sat-nav system with touchscreen, Bluetooth and iPod connection. Roadster Coupe models are more desirable but carry a sizeable premium. The MX-5 is well priced, however, and you won’t find a convertible that offers so much fun for a similar price. Resale values are reasonable - the MX-5 is incredibly popular with second-hand buyers.
The most frugal MX-5 is the 1.8, which returns 39.8mpg and has emissions of 167g/km. The 2.0 Sport Tech offers 36.2mpg, along with 181g/km, so Road Tax is higher. The 2.0 Powershift with automatic gearbox is poorer still, at 35.3mpg and 188g/km.