In-depth reviews

Mazda MX-5 roadster review

"The MX-5 combines usability, driving fun and dependability to make it one of the most engaging convertibles on the road"

Carbuyer Rating

4.2 out of 5

Owners Rating

5.0 out of 5

Read owner reviews

Pros

  • Sharp, distinctive styling
  • Fantastic fun to drive
  • Usable every day

Cons

  • Roof limits visibility
  • Not the most practical car
  • Cabin can be noisy

Verdict - Is the Mazda MX-5 a good car?

The Mazda MX-5 is one of the best all-around sports cars on sale, in an increasingly small cohort. When it comes to enjoying a challenging road, the MX-5 has few peers, but its price has crept up over the years. While the MX-5 was once seen as a bargain sports car, top models now command a price tag of around £36,000 – and more for the RF – putting it up against some much faster hot hatches. Still, on the right day, and along the right road, the MX-5 will put a bigger smile on your face than almost any other car.

Mazda MX-5 models, specs and alternatives

The Mazda MX-5 was amongst the first cars from a mainstream brand to rekindle interest in the lightweight roadster, a type of car once considered a British speciality. First appearing in the UK at the very end of the eighties, with a two-seat roadster layout, modest power and incredible agility, it embodied everything that made models like the Lotus Elan so addictive to drive.

Importantly, the MX-5 was also easy to live with and didn’t threaten to leave you stranded by the side of the road every time you dared to get it out of the garage. It doesn’t require expensive parts or service bills, and should be inexpensive to buy and run for a sports car. The latest MX-5 hasn’t deviated far from that concept: it’s still light, rear-wheel drive and a fantastic driver’s car.

Although the 2.0-litre version is more powerful than before, the magic is found in its impeccable balance and steering that puts you at the centre of the action. The MX-5 is frequently updated, with recent introductions including fuel-saving technology and a simplified trim range culminating in the luxurious Homura model.

Toyota GT86 front passenger sideBest cheap sports cars

The MX-5’s closest rival is a used Fiat 124 Spider, which shares the Mazda’s structure, but uses different engines. As pure driver’s cars go, the Lotus Elise could be called a rival, but it costs a lot more to buy and is also no longer in production. When it comes to fun, the Toyota GR86 is similarly simple, light and engaging to drive, but being a coupe it misses out on the open-air fun of the MX-5. The MINI Convertible is another small, fun drop-top that's Britain’s most popular convertible, but it feels very different to drive thanks to its front-wheel drive layout and upright seating position. The Porsche 718 Boxster offers similar open-air thrills but it's far more expensive, costing over £49,000, not to mention far more powerful. A small hot hatchback like a Ford Fiesta ST or Suzuki Swift Sport might arguably be more closely matched to the MX-5. For a more grown-up feel, you could also go for a BMW 2 Series Coupe, which is our reigning Best Sports Car for 2023.

The RF model stretches the MX-5’s appeal still further. Those initials stand for Retractable Fastback, because it has a coupe-style metal roof, the top section of which can disappear into the bodywork at the touch of a button. It promises to deliver both the quietness, security and practicality of a coupe and the roof-down exhilaration of a roadster – for a small premium over the equivalent soft-top. We've reviewed that model separately.

This most recent evolution of the MX-5 is smaller and lighter than the one before. This makes it incredibly nimble - narrow tyres provide respectable grip, but not too much, so confident drivers can enjoy pushing the car without going too fast. It’s a car that loves to be driven around its limit, with just enough power to keep driving entertaining but safe.

Frenetic fun aside, the MX-5 is a great car to cruise around in: very compact dimensions make it easy to park and thread through narrow city streets. The steering is accurate and tells you all you need to know about how much grip the car has, while the clutch and gearshift allow fast, satisfying shifts.

The car’s light weight also means the suspension doesn’t have to work so hard, and it's softer than you might expect, making the MX-5 forgiving over bumps. However, its small size and fabric roof do make it quite noisy on the motorway, where the RF works better.

Top 10 best convertibles 2023Top 10 best convertibles

The MX-5 range features three trim levels, which are all well-equipped and changed in late 2022 as part of a shake-up by Mazda. The entry-level model is called Prime-Line (previously SE-L), followed by Exclusive-Line and the top-of-the-range Homura (which replaced the GT Sport Tech trim). Spring 2023 saw the arrival of a special edition Kizuna model, limited to just 250 models in the UK. This version is based on Exclusive-Line specification with the 130bhp 1.5-litre engine, but with a special coloured hood, alloy wheels and a light-coloured interior. The more powerful 2.0-litre engine is reserved for the two higher trims, but we still like the 1.5-litre models for their purity.

The only factor that limits the MX5’s appeal is its poor practicality. There are only two seats and the boot holds 130 litres of luggage – even less than the MINI Convertible. There’s not a lot of storage inside the car, either, while a few design oversights such as poorly sited cupholders can be irritating. We were disappointed by the quality of some of the interior surfaces, and the cabin is starting to show its age, too. There's no conventional glovebox but you get a lockable cubby between the front seats instead. This will limit the MX-5 to weekends away for all but the most dedicated enthusiasts and those who pack lightly.

Raising and lowering the manually-operated soft-top is an easy process and it doesn’t eat into boot space when it’s down, while the RF’s roof is fully automatic. Rear visibility is slightly reduced on both versions when the roof is raised, but the soft-top is made from thick material and does a reasonable job of keeping the worst wind noise out of the interior.

Recommended

New Mercedes CLE Cabriolet released, costing from £53k
Mercedes CLE Cabriolet front quarter
News
22 Feb 2024

New Mercedes CLE Cabriolet released, costing from £53k

Top 10 best driver's cars 2024
Best drivers cars
Best cars
21 Feb 2024

Top 10 best driver's cars 2024

Cupra Formentor review – our favourite hot SUV
Best Hot SUV: Cupra Formentor
In-depth reviews
16 Feb 2024

Cupra Formentor review – our favourite hot SUV

Facelifted Mazda MX-5 is your £28k ticket to open-top thrills
2024 Mazda MX-5 dynamic
News
12 Feb 2024

Facelifted Mazda MX-5 is your £28k ticket to open-top thrills

Most Popular

Best new car deals 2024: this week’s top car offers
Carbuyer best new car deals hero
Deals
23 Feb 2024

Best new car deals 2024: this week’s top car offers

New Mercedes CLE Cabriolet released, costing from £53k
Mercedes CLE Cabriolet front quarter
News
22 Feb 2024

New Mercedes CLE Cabriolet released, costing from £53k

Hot car deal: sporty Skoda Octavia vRS Estate for £278 a month
octavia vrs hot deal
Deals
19 Feb 2024

Hot car deal: sporty Skoda Octavia vRS Estate for £278 a month

More on MX-5

Top 10 best driver's cars 2024
Best drivers cars
Best cars
21 Feb 2024

Top 10 best driver's cars 2024

You don’t need a supercar to enjoy a twisty road – these driver’s cars offer just as much fun
Facelifted Mazda MX-5 is your £28k ticket to open-top thrills
2024 Mazda MX-5 dynamic
News
12 Feb 2024

Facelifted Mazda MX-5 is your £28k ticket to open-top thrills

Mazda has released UK specs for the facelifted MX-5, with the entry-level model costing under £30k
Top 10 best sports cars 2024
The best sports cars 2023
Best cars
2 Jan 2024

Top 10 best sports cars 2024

If you’re looking for a car with driving pleasure in mind, our list of the best sports cars is a must-read
New Mazda MX-5 to arrive in March 2024
Mazda MX-5 RF facelift
News
25 Oct 2023

New Mazda MX-5 to arrive in March 2024

An updated version of the Mazda MX-5 has been revealed at the Japan Mobility Show and will go on sale next year
Top 10 best convertibles
Top 10 best convertibles 2023
Best cars
3 May 2023

Top 10 best convertibles

The best convertibles and cabriolets aren't just toys for the summer, they can be used all year round. Here's our definitive guide to the drop-tops th…
Best cheap sports cars
Toyota GT86 front passenger side
Best cars
9 Jan 2023

Best cheap sports cars

Looking for the ultimate weekend toy but you’re on a budget? Check out our top new and used picks for affordable sports cars
Top 3 used summer cars for £15,000
Top 3 summer cars for £15,000 header
Tips and advice
8 Apr 2022

Top 3 used summer cars for £15,000

Dear Carbuyer, I want a fun convertible for the summer months. What is out there for £15,000?
Updated 2022 Mazda MX-5 gets a price tag of £24,755
2022 Mazda MX-5
News
16 Dec 2021

Updated 2022 Mazda MX-5 gets a price tag of £24,755

The Mazda MX-5 has received a minor refresh for 2022 and is now available to order
Special edition cars: the best, worst and weirdest
News
15 Dec 2020

Special edition cars: the best, worst and weirdest

Take a look at the best and most memorable special edition cars
New Mazda MX-5 R-Sport special edition now on sale
Mazda MX-5 R-Sport
News
18 Jun 2020

New Mazda MX-5 R-Sport special edition now on sale

Latest limited-edition Mazda MX-5 gets styling tweaks and upgrades
Updated 2020 Mazda MX-5 on sale now priced from £23,795
2020 Mazda MX-5 GT Sport Tech - front 3/4 dynamic
News
5 Mar 2020

Updated 2020 Mazda MX-5 on sale now priced from £23,795

2020 Mazda MX-5 range gets new technology, more standard equipment and a range-topping GT Sport Tech model
Mazda MX-5 RF convertible
In-depth reviews
10 Jan 2020

Mazda MX-5 RF convertible

"The Mazda MX-5 RF has a retractable metal roof instead of the standard model's fabric version, adding an extra dose of style and refinement to an alr…
Mazda MX-5 30th Anniversary special edition goes on sale
Mazda MX-5 30th Anniversary
News
16 Jul 2019

Mazda MX-5 30th Anniversary special edition goes on sale

UK gets 550 limited-edition Mazda MX-5 roadster and RF coupe models, all in bright orange
Top 3 used convertible petrol cars for £3,000
Top 3 used convertible petrol cars for £3,000, Mazda MX-5, MINI Convertible, Volkswagen Eos
Tips and advice
23 May 2019

Top 3 used convertible petrol cars for £3,000

“Dear Carbuyer: I want a stylish petrol convertible that is reliable, fun to drive with daily driver ability. What does £3,000 buy?”
New Mazda MX-5 30th Anniversary Edition on the way
Mazda MX-5 roadster
9 Jan 2019

New Mazda MX-5 30th Anniversary Edition on the way

New special edition Mazda MX-5 to celebrate 30 years of the world’s best-selling sports car
2019 Mazda3: price, specs and release date
2019 Mazda3 hatchback front
News
29 Nov 2018

2019 Mazda3: price, specs and release date

The new Mazda3 hatchback and Fastback will be unveiled at the LA Motor Show before set to arriving in 2019
Top 3 used sports cars for £7,000
Tips and advice
5 Oct 2018

Top 3 used sports cars for £7,000

"Dear Carbuyer: I want a great-handling convertible sports car for back-road fun in the summer. What should I buy for £7,000?"
More power for updated Mazda MX-5
Mazda MX-5
20 Jun 2018

More power for updated Mazda MX-5

Radical updates make the Mazda MX-5 more powerful than the Abarth 124 Spider
Mazda MX-5 RF Sport Black Edition unveiled
News
27 Apr 2018

Mazda MX-5 RF Sport Black Edition unveiled

High-spec, limited-edition retractable-roof sports car to hit showrooms in May
Sharper handling for 2018 Mazda MX-5
Mazda MX-5 RF
30 Oct 2017

Sharper handling for 2018 Mazda MX-5

A mild facelift gives MX-5 buyers more personalisation options and a sharper chassis
Hardtop Mazda MX-5 RF to cost from £22k
Mazda MX-5 roadster
10 Oct 2016

Hardtop Mazda MX-5 RF to cost from £22k

The Mazda MX-5 RF – Retractable Fastback – will go on sale March 2017, complete with novel folding roof
Fiat 124 Spider: prices, specs and release date
News
26 Sep 2016

Fiat 124 Spider: prices, specs and release date

The complete lowdown on the Fiat 124 Spider and Abarth 124 Spider
Abarth 124 Spider: price, specification and launch date
Fiat 124 Spider convertible
2 Mar 2016

Abarth 124 Spider: price, specification and launch date

High-performance version of the Fiat 124 Spider unveiled at Geneva Show

Tips & advice

View All
Car dashboard warning lights: the complete guide
Car dashboard symbols and meanings
Tips and advice
19 Dec 2023

Car dashboard warning lights: the complete guide

Electric car charging stations: a complete guide
Public EV charge point
Tips and advice
11 Jan 2023

Electric car charging stations: a complete guide

PCP vs HP – which type of car finance is right for you?
PCP vs HP
Tips and advice
17 May 2022

PCP vs HP – which type of car finance is right for you?

Average speed cameras: how do they work?
Average speed cameras: how do they work?
Tips and advice
12 Apr 2023

Average speed cameras: how do they work?

Best cars

View All
Top 10 best car interiors
Peugeot 208 hatchback
Best cars
25 Jun 2021

Top 10 best car interiors

Top 10 best electric cars 2024
The best electric cars 2023
Best cars
2 Jan 2024

Top 10 best electric cars 2024

Top 10 best cheap-to-run cars 2024
The best cheap-to-run cars 2023
Best cars
2 Jan 2024

Top 10 best cheap-to-run cars 2024

The UK's top 10 fastest hot hatchbacks 2024
Fastest hot hatchbacks hero
Best cars
2 Jan 2024

The UK's top 10 fastest hot hatchbacks 2024