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In-depth reviews

Mazda MX-5 roadster - Engines, drive & performance

Its low weight means the new MX-5 doesn’t need loads of horsepower to offer a fun and involving driving experience

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4.2 out of 5

Owners Rating

5.0 out of 5

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Engines, drive & performance Rating

5.0 out of 5

Its low weight means the new MX-5 doesn’t need loads of horsepower to offer a fun and involving driving experience

Like all Mazda MX-5s to date, the latest generation is superb fun to drive, with responsive, well-weighted steering and a balanced feel through corners. Noise at high speed was one of the old MX-5’s problems and while the latest car is better in this regard, there’s still some degree of buffeting from the roof and door mirrors when you’re cruising along a motorway, especially in poor weather. As the latest version is some 100kg lighter than the previous model, the characteristic Mazda MX-5 agility has been improved upon.

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Choose a manual gearbox on the Exclusive-Line or Homura trims and Mazda includes Bilstein dampers, which give the car a firmer, sportier ride, and a limited-slip differential adds some more traction as you accelerate out of corners. When all of the bells and whistles are thrown in, this trim can make the MX-5 feel like a mini Porsche 718 Boxster on the road, which is high praise indeed. The standard MX-5 has quite soft suspension for a sports car, which means there's some body lean that can take a while to get used to. This allows the driver to better feel the car's weight transfer as you drive, and pushes the tyres into the tarmac to improve grip.

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For 2022, Mazda introduced a system called Kinematic Posture Control that’s intended to improve mid-corner stability. It slightly applies the brake on the inside rear wheel to help turn the car into the corners and reduce the potential for scruffy wheel spin, but in truth, it’s hard to notice it working on the 1.5-litre car. That may be because the cheaper MX-5s have a softer feel than the 2.0-litre ones – they have smaller wheel rims and less firm suspension.

There’s still a little bit of body roll, but this actually shows you how grippy the car is and lets you know when you’re approaching the car’s limits. The ride is communicative but not rock hard – you’ll know the bumps are there but it’s never desperately uncomfortable – and the MX-5 is an easy-to-drive yet fun car.

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Our favourite gearbox is a six-speed manual that’s a joy to use. It has a small, stubby gearlever that slots neatly into each gear and requires just the right amount of force to shift, so quick changes are a pleasure. It sits right up there with the great manual gearboxes, only bettered by cars like the Honda Civic Type R and Porsche 911.

Mazda MX-5 petrol engines

The Mazda MX-5 is offered with a choice of 1.5 or 2.0-litre SKYACTIV petrol engines. Unlike many current performance cars, it doesn’t use turbocharging technology to help reduce CO2 emissions and boost fuel economy, but Mazda has found other ways of achieving these goals.

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The 1.5-litre engine produces 130bhp, and launches from 0-62mph in 8.3 seconds. While it looks underpowered on paper, it revs quickly, sounds great and provides all the performance you could realistically need on the public road. You need to change gear frequently, but thanks to a mechanical shift action, this is more of a pleasure than a chore.

The larger 2.0-litre petrol was given a boost from 158bhp to 181bhp in autumn 2018, which improved its 0-62mph time from 7.3 to 6.5 seconds. It wasn't just the statistics that improved; the revamped 2.0-litre engine feels far more enthusiastic to rev than the previous version, giving the car an increased sense of fun and vitality as a result. The extra power means the 2.0-litre MX-5 makes a more competent cruiser than ever, as you barely need to change gear to overtake.

With no turbocharger, the MX-5 isn’t quite as eager when accelerating from low speeds as some hot hatches, but it’s so light that this isn't a problem once the engine gets into its stride. At high revs, the engine responds almost instantly to a press on the accelerator.

RF models have slightly longer acceleration times because they’re a bit heavier. The 1.5 takes 8.7 seconds and the 2.0-litre takes 6.8 seconds, but choose the automatic gearbox with the latter and it adds a second to the 0-62mph time.

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