Mazda reinvented the affordable roadster segment back in 1989, when it unveiled the first generation MX-5. Almost quarter of a century later, it’s still selling in impressive numbers and it’s still one of the most affordable sports cars you can buy.
However, in its current guise the MX-5 has been around for over six years now, with a facelift along the way. Another update is due before Christmas, but is the MX-5 getting a little long in the tooth? We’ve spent a week with a special edition Kuro – so just how much fun did we have?…
We’re still not sure about the overly smiley face, shared with several other current Mazdas, but that aside the MX-5 is still an attractive and distinctive sports car.
The metallic red paintwork of this Kuro edition certainly stands out, particularly during those rare moments of sunlight, and the racing stripes and gunmetal 17-inch alloy wheels contribute to the sporty and sophisticated look. Twin exhaust tips, wide wheel arches and a bonnet bulge all lend the shape an air of aggression, without looking over-done.
Drop the roof and it looks even better, with traditional roadster proportions. The hood folds neatly down into a space behind the two large roll hoops, and it’s such an easy process to lower the roof that you’ll find yourself “going topless” quite frequently.
Mazda has wisely kept things simple in the MX-5’s interior. The basic design is easy on the eye, with a sporty three-spoke steering wheel, large, silver-rimmed dials, and a set of heating and stereo controls which are all simple to operate.
The driving position is great too with a fair range of adjustment, though those over six feet tall may find themselves a little cramped. The seats are initially comfortable, but over longer trips of a few hundred miles, we did develop a little backache. More under-thigh support would also be appreciated.
Our Kuro edition was jazzed up with light ‘Stone’ grey heated leather seats, finished with red stitching, as well as a silver strip running across the dashboard and red rings to the small circular air vents. Grey leather is replicated on the door cards, and black leather finishes the steering wheel.
All the bits you touch feel just right, though go exploring further and the quality of some plastics leaves a little to be desired – indicative of the car nearer the end of its life-cycle than the start. At least there are plenty of places to store phones, keys, wallets and other assorted bits and bobs. The boot isn’t huge, at 150 litres, but it’d fit a weekly shop for two or lightly-packed luggage for a holiday.
The manual roof is easy to operate and flicks down in no time at all, though only taller drivers will be able to raise it again without having to leave their seat. It’s certainly leak-free though, as our rather rainy week with the car proved.
When we did get the top down during a few moments of crisp, wintry sunshine, we found wind roar was kept to a minimum, helped by the flip-up wind deflector between the roll hoops. The heater is incredibly effective too – enough that we had to turn it down as our top-down driving became too warm!
MX-5s are all about the driving experience, and the Kuro certainly didn’t disappoint.
Our 1.8-litre model was just quick enough – more on the engine below – to allow us to exploit the light-weight, finely-balanced chassis on the twisting and turning roads of the Yorkshire Dales. The steering is quick and accurate, allowing drivers to pick their chosen line with precision, and there’s plenty of feedback filtering through the wheel.
Even weight distribution front to rear means the car turns eagerly into corners, and the low stance and wide tyres provide plenty of grip, particularly in the dry. You need to be fairly brutal with the controls to make the car slide, and even then the standard stability control will rein in any waywardness. Happily, it allows a degree of slip before it cuts in too, rather than killing your fun early.
Of course, it can also be turned off with a simple button press, at which point every wet roundabout becomes a playground…
The ride quality is firm, but not uncomfortable. You’d not expect any less from a car like the MX-5, and if it was any softer you’d have to make compromises on handling. Importantly, the structure feels relatively free of wobbles too – this is a purpose-built roadster, rather than a chopped-about hatchback.
The MX-5 is offered with 1.8 and 2.0-litre four-cylinder engines. Ours was the 1.8, which serves up 126 bhp. That’s not a great deal of power and the 0-60 mph time is only a whisker under ten seconds – most basic hatchbacks could match it.
What most basic hatchbacks can’t match is the engine’s zing and thirst for revs. It’s happy to be taken to the red line once in a while, offers great throttle response, and emits a sporty note when you give it some beans.
Then there’s that much-vaunted manual gearbox, which snicks between ratios with a satisfying precision, making every gearchange a joy. A six-speed automatic with paddle-shift is available on the larger 2.0-litre engine.
The ratios are closely stacked which helps acceleration, though it does make the car busy on the motorway – at 70 mph it’s revving away at over 3,500 rpm. It’s a noisy high-speed companion as a result, but at the same time it can still provide useful acceleration without dropping down a gear.
Value for money
The Mazda MX-5 1.8 Kuro starts at £18,495. Rivals at that price are few and far between – only the MINI Roadster Cooper, at £17,845, is really in the same class. The MINI gives you a more fashionable badge and better official fuel economy, but many would argue it lacks that true sports car feel.
The Kuro does come well equipped. Our car had the aforementioned heated leather seats, air conditioning, metallic paint and 17-inch alloy wheels. Spend more, and you can get the 2.0-litre model with its six-speed gearbox, and the electric folding roof for added refinement and security.
Running costs are relatively low. Official fuel economy for the 1.8 is 39.8 mpg combined, and road tax costs £190 a year. In mixed driving we averaged around 35-36 mpg, and at 70 mph on the motorway the trip computer was showing over 40 mpg – certainly a respectable touring figure.
Throw in a 3-year, 60,000-mile warranty and the MX-5’s legendary reliability, and you’ll have running costs to shame many a family car.
Long in the tooth it may be, but the simple fact is that no other car manufacturer currently provides a car that can match or beat the MX-5 at what it does best – providing a simple, inexpensive and fun way into top-down sports car ownership.
We can overlook the slightly gormless-looking front end and the so-so cabin plastics, because once you’re actually driving the car, neither of those things really matter. And they’ll continue to not matter tens of thousands of miles later, when the car still isn’t rattling and hasn’t cost you a penny in repairs.
What the press think
Reviews are overwhelmingly positive for the MX-5, despite its advancing years. All agree that you’ll struggle to find a car that’s more fun for the money, and certainly none with the same reputation for reliability.
Some feel the car could feel more expensive and others wish for a little more power, but essentially the MX-5 is a rare case of most journalists being in agreement over a car.
For more information check out our full summary of the Mazda MX-5 alongside reviews, stats, photos and videos!