Mazda MX-5 roadster
Price £18,495 - £23,695
- Super reliable
- Loads of fun
- Relatively affordable to run
- Cramped interior
- Small boot
- Inefficient automatic
At a glance
"The Mazda MX-5 isn’t just one of the most fun-to-drive cars on the road, it's also affordable and reliable."
The Mazda MX-5 has been on the market for close to a quarter-of-a-century and despite barely changing in that time, it's still as popular as ever. And it's easy to see why, because Mazda has always stuck to a classic recipe when it comes to making the MX-5: traditional British roadster styling, a lightweight body, small engines, and superb handling. Best of all, the Japanese company also gives it a reasonable price tag, putting thrilling sports car performance within the reach of people who otherwise wouldn’t be able to afford it.
The most recent update to the MX-5 came at the end of 2012, and introduced a new, more stylish front-end, some mechanical tweaks and some additional safety equipment. It comes with a decent amount of equipment, and – given its tiny size – there's a reasonable amount of space. But the MX-5 will never be a practical car. It comes in a choice of six specification levels: entry SE, Sport Tech, Sport Tech Nav, Powershift, Venture and top-of-the-range Sport Graphite.
MPG, running costs & CO2
The 1.8-litre engine offers reasonable running costs for a sports car
As far as sports cars go, the MX-5 is pretty cheap to run. There are two engines available and both are petrols. The most economical engine is the 1.8-litre, which will do 40mpg and 167g/km CO2 – that puts it in tax band H with an annual cost of £200. The bigger 2.0-litre engine does 36.2mpg and emits 181g/km CO2, which puts it in band I with an annual cost of £220. If you go for the 2.0-litre engine in Powershift spec, which comes with an automatic gearbox, the figures are worse. It will do 35.3mpg and 188g/km CO2.
The insurance group rating for the MX-5 is lower than it is for pretty much any other convertible sports car, so premiums will be reasonable. And the car should cost very little to maintain, since it enjoys bullet-proof reliability.
Interior & comfort
Quite comfortable for a sports car
You buy an MX-5 for its sporty handling, not its comfortable ride. That said, it offers quite impressive comfort levels for a sports car. It’ll glide over most bumps and potholes serenely, and there's very little vibration inside the car – which can be a problem for many convertibles, due to the lack of rigidity caused by the lack of a permenant roof.
The seats are pretty comfy, too, and there isn’t too much wind noise when you’re driving with the roof down. It's worth noting that Sport Tech models come with larger alloy wheels, which do have a negative impact on comfort, so if you’re thinking of buying a Sport Tech car make sure you test drive a model in that specification to see if it's acceptable to you.
Practicality & boot space
Boot space is pretty small but folding the roof down doesn’t cut into it
The MX-5 looks good and drives great but it hasn’t been designed for practicality. The boot has room for just 150 litres of luggage – that's about enough space to squeeze in a small suitcase or a few bags of shopping but not a whole lot more.
The good news is that the fabric folding roof doesn’t take up any boot space when its folded away. And the roof is easy to fold down, too, you just release a couple of clips and drop it back. If you don’t want a fabric roof the MX-5 is also available with a folding hard top. It's obviously more secure and it also folds away electrically in just under 12 seconds.
There are a few useful cubbyholes and storage compartments inside the cabin, too, as well as four cup holders – impressive for a two seater! The cabin is a bit cramped, though, and there's only limited adjustment in the steering wheel, which is a shame.
Reliability & safety
No safety rating but reliability is first rate
One of the biggest selling points of the Mazda MX-5 is its incredible track-record for reliability. Mazda has always had a good reputation in this department and has been impressing customers even more in recent years – if customer satisfaction surveys are anything to go by. It came fourth out of 32 firms in the 2013 Driver Power manufacturer rankings – beaten only by Lexus, Skoda and Jaguar, a deeply impressive result. The MX-5 came 47th in the Top 100 Cars league table, too, and was rated the 12th best car for reliability.
The current version of the MX-5 hasn’t been put through the Euro NCAP crash tests, though, so it doesn’t have an official safety score. It does come as standard with side, driver and passenger airbags, a reinforced windscreen frame, roll-over hoops and an active bonnet system, which pops the bonnet up in a collision with a pedestrian to protect them from the engine and windscreen. Entry-level cars don’t come with electronic stability control, though.
Engines, drive & performance
Driving thrills are guaranteed with the MX-5
The undoubted key selling point of the Mazda MX-5 is the way it drives. It's all about fun. It may be getting on a bit – the current version has been on sale for around a decade – but it hasn’t lost any of its edge. The steering is brilliantly precise, there is loads of grip, the brakes are sharp and responsive, and the car is easy to control – which makes it super fun to throw around a country road.
The engines aren’t hugely powerful (the 1.8-litre has 124bhp and the 2.0-litre has 158bhp) but they don’t need to be because the car is so light. And they definitely have enough thrust to put a smile on your face. The 1.5-litre engine comes with a five-speed manual gearbox and the larger engine comes with a six-speed manual, but both are excellent, and make shifting through the gears a joy.
Mazda does offer the option of a six-speed automatic with flappy-paddle shifters on the steering wheel, but we wouldn’t recommend it as it's neither as responsive nor as fun as the manual options.
Price, value for money & options
Relatively inexpensive with decent resale values
As far as two-seater sports cars go, the MX-5 is pretty affordable. And you’ll struggle to find a car that's as much fun to drive for the money. The Roadster Coupe models are a little more expensive but are also more desirable, so we still consider them to be decent value for money.
The MX-5 used to be pretty basic, but Mazda has improved its equipment levels in recent years and now even entry-level cars get climate control as standard. While Sport Tech Nav gets an in-built TomTom sat-nav, with touchscreen as well as Bluetooth, and USB connectivity as standard. Best of all, resale values for the MX-5 are very strong because the car is so popular.
What the others say
"Mazda's designers did a superb job, because the simple lines haven’t been ruined by the transformation. Engineered with the help of experts at Webasto, the 20mm thick two-part plastic composite roof weighs only 18kg more than the fabric hood. Add the electric motors, and in total, the hard-top adds an impressively low 37kg to the MX-5's overall bulk."
"Speed, agility and bullet-proof build quality - everything you could ask from a roadster. The MX-5 gives you all the fun and style you'd want from a roadster. It's well made and cheap to own, too. The light body and rear-wheel drive chassis give it outstanding balance and just keeps on gripping through corners."
"The third-generation of the MX-5 is the most sophisticated yet. The classic charm of the original has been bought up to date and it's now a much easier convertible to live with everyday thanks to a comfortable ride, modern and functional interior and less wind noise in the cabin."