Mazda MX-5

Cheap convertible sports car is big fun to drive

9.0
wowscore
This is the average score given by leading car publications from 13 reviews
  • Wonderful handling
  • Peppy, efficient engines
  • Great value
  • Hot hatchbacks are faster...
  • ...and have four seats
  • Not much else
 

£18,495 - £23,700 Price range

 

2 Seats

 

40 - 47 MPG

Review

The Mazda MX-5 has become a sanctuary for anyone that savours cheap, simple – but ultimately hugely rewarding motoring. While the old MX-5 had numerous direct rivals, the new car really is in a class of one, undercutting sports cars such as the BMW Z4, Audi TT Roadster and Mercedes SLK massively on price.

Prices start from £18,495 and if you buy your new MX-5 using carwow you can save £1,750 on average.

This is the smallest MX-5 ever built – it’s 100kgs lighter than the car it replaces. Mazda’s attention to detail (when it comes to weight) makes its presence felt both on the straights and in the corners. It means the MX-5 doesn’t need stiff suspension to contain lean in corners – so there’s no body roll, but the car is also comfortable on the UK’s bumpy broken roads.

That’s also helped by the new 1.5-litre engine that’s 100cc smaller than the entry-level engine in the old car – allowing Mazda to sit it further behind the rear wheels. The larger 2.0-litre petrol is praised by reviewers for its eagerness to rev and linear power. It is non-turbocharged so the MX-5 is not as quick in the midrange, but will achieve close to the advertised fuel economy. 

Despite its very reasonable price, the MX-5 comes well equipped – even base models get LED headlights, 16-inch alloy wheels, air-conditioning, electric windows, remote central locking, heated wing mirrors, traction control, stability control and a multitude of airbags.

Keep reading to see what the UK’s leading car magazines think of the new MX-5 and why not check out the colours available using our Mazda MX-5 colours guide and see if it offers enough interior space with our Mazda MX-5 dimensions guide.

Mazda has revealed that a folding hardtop version will join the range later on. Check out what we know so far about the upcoming Mazda MX-5 RF folding hardtop.

Cheapest to buy: 1.5-litre SE-L petrol 

Cheapest to run: 1.5-litre SE-L petrol

Fastest model: 2.0-litre Sport petrol

Most popular: 1.5-litre Sport Nav petrol

As you’d expect, in a small, two-seater sports car, the driving environment is very focussed on the driver. An uncluttered dash features major controls that fall easily to hand, while the air vents have been designed to sit symmetrically around the driver for a cockpit-like feel. Perhaps what came as more of a surprise to testers was the standard of fit and finish. For a relatively cheap car, most of the plastics feel high quality and properly screwed together, with no squeaks or rattles.

The heating and air conditioning system is controlled by rotary dials, while a large touch screen takes care of audio and sat nav functions. Unusually for a modern cabriolet, the fabric hood is operated manually, but this is all in the name of saving the unnecessary weight (and cost) of electric motors. It couldn’t be any easier to use, either; simply undo a single latch at the top and pull it behind you.

That small hood also allowed Mazda’s engineers to make the most of the boot space. Of course it’s never going to match a family hatchback, but for such a small car, the deep load bay can swallow more than enough gear for two people.

The fourth generation MX-5 has undergone extensive mechanical changes to make it the finest handling version yet. In order to improve weight distribution and lower the centre of gravity, the heavy engines sits 13mm lower and 15mm further back than in the old model – for excellent balance.

The extensive use of aluminium – particularly in the suspension and front wings – has not only reduced overall weight, but as with repositioning the engines, focussed the majority of mass towards the centre of the car.

Although the steering is now an electrically assisted setup – which testers regularly complain have little feel – the MX-5’s system receives many plaudits. It’s quick, sharp, and communicates the necessary information to give the driver confidence in the twisty stuff. One or two testers suggest that it might be a little too light, but others argue that this suits the featherweight MX-5.

That word “agile” comes up in the vast majority of reviews. Barely a flick of the steering sends the MX-5 “diving into a corner” while the weight savings over the old version are tangible in the way that a series of bends can be strung together so smoothly. Even the ride is well judged for a sports car like this: firm enough to let you know you’re driving something sporty, but with enough compliance to offer surprising levels of comfort on longer journeys.

The weighting for all of the controls is “perfectly judged”, and refinement is commendable – one tester noted of a little “rustle of wind noise” at motorway speeds, but otherwise all is calm and relaxing.

In a car like the MX-5, the chassis is always meant to be the star of the show, with outright performance being a lower priority. Mazda offers two engines. Entry-level cars are fitted with a four cylinder, 1.5-litre unit, while a 160hp 2.0-litre engine powers the top-of-the-range models. The smaller 1.5 is the one preferred by Mazda’s engineers, as they claim its lower mass makes it even more enjoyable to drive.

Based on the engine found in the Mazda 3, the 1.5 has been lightly tuned to 130hp. That power output may sound very modest for a modern sports car, but in a model which weighs barely 1000kg, it still offers sprightly performance. The 0-60mph dash takes approximately 8.5 seconds, and the engine is more than willing to rev right up to its 7,500rpm limit. Some testers suggest that the extra throttle adjustability that comes with the more powerful 2.0-litre might be preferable, but it seems unlikely that buyers of either will feel too let down.

The 2.0-litre unit is brand new and features Mazda’s Skyactiv technology – it is lighter than it’s predecessor, but has the same power output and better fuel economy.  It has 160hp and 148lb ft – 30hp and 37lb ft over the 1.5-litre. Some reviewers say that there isn’t a huge difference in performance between the two engines, but the larger one is a little bit better at everything. It is one second quicker to 62mph and has that little bit more power to make overtaking easier.

The gearshift is as brilliant as it always has been in the MX-5, the six speed manual offering “short, light and positive” shifts. The pedals are well-placed and easy to operate, except there is no resting place for your left leg which can get tiresome on long motorway journeys. 

When crash tested by Euro NCAP in 2015 the MX-5 received four out of five stars. That may sound poor when compared to the other five-star Mazda models, but the criteria for the score has never been more strict.

Experts say the MX-5 lost a star, because it didn’t have automatic emergency braking as standard or as an option. However it scored almost top marks for pedestrian protection thanks to its clever front bonnet that was described as delivering “exceptional pedestrian protection”. So despite the lack of some safety systems, the MX-5 should keep you and pedestrians safe.

Due to the lightweight and relative simplicity of the drivetrain, the MX-5 should be a fairly cheap car to run – certainly no more than a standard family hatchback. The 1.5-litre unit is claimed to return 50mpg in everyday driving, and the 2.0-litre version isn’t drastically inferior.

There are very few cars on the market which offer the same basic thrills as the MX-5, and the ones that do aren’t able to represent the same value for money. The Toyota GT86 and Subaru BRZ twins are very similar in principle, and add the practicality of a permanent roof, but we think they aren’t as stylish inside or out, and purchase price and running costs aren’t quite as low.

At the rawer end of the scale, the Caterham Seven 160 relies on just 80hp to fire it’s tiny 545kg along the road. Thanks to the weight, performance is on par with the 1.5 MX-5, and the driving enjoyment is hard to match at any price. The 160 starts at just £17,995 (or £14,995 if you’d rather build it yourself!), though once you factor in the cost of such luxuries as a windscreen and paint, you’re looking at nearer £21,000… Perhaps too impractical for most, but great if you own a nice, warm coat.

Mazda MX-5 SE-L Nav

The familiar Mazda SE, SE-L,SE-L Nav, Sport and Sport Nav trim levels are available for the MX-5. The basic model is pretty sparsely equipped, but the middle-of-the-line SE-L Nav has all the equipment you’ll need while still keeping to the MX-5 ethos of not overcomplicating things.

Mazda MX-5 RF

Mazda has announced it will produce an MX-5 with a folding hardtop, called the RF. This new model will retain the same boot space as the soft-top, even with the roof folded away, and be available with an optional six-speed automatic gearbox.

Mazda MX-5 Icon

The Mazda MX-5 Icon edition comes as standard with metallic red detailing, leather upholstery, sat nav, climate and cruise controls and a seven-inch touchscreen infotainment system.

Conclusion

Testers are unanimous for their love of the MX-5. This kind of simple driving enjoyment is hard to match at any price, but the fact that it should be reliable and economical too only makes it more tempting. Assuming you only need two seats, and luggage space isn’t a priority, it seems rather difficult to find any weaknesses.

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