Mazda MX-5 convertible review
Our Rating

4.5/5

Mazda MX-5 convertible review

Now in its fourth generation, the Mazda MX-5 has gone back to its roots. It’s smaller and lighter, with raspy petrol engines, a better interior and clever manual hood.

The fourth-gen MX-5 is better than ever.

Introduction

Perhaps it’s just us, but we can’t help but be excited when a new Mazda MX-5 is announced. So important is this sports car for the people – it is a sales record-breaker after all – it’s rather like welcoming a new friend to the fold. But, on the flip-side, it also puts huge pressure on Mazda to make sure it lives up to the reputation of its forebears.

So, what’s new? Well, everything from the tyres up, with the biggest change being its size and weight. Fans were worried the MX-5 was getting fat, so this fourth-gen version is the smallest and lightest since the original, with the entry-level version weighing less than a tonne. So, does this equal more fun? Let’s find out…

Performance

A car that feels fast and a fast car can be two very different things, and so the MX-5 proves. The fourth-generation version comes with a choice of two naturally-aspirated petrol engines, a 129bhp 1.5-litre and the more powerful 158bhp 2.0-litre version. Yes, although the bigger engine is hotter, for enthusiasts the 1.5 just might be the one to go for, despite the fact that it's 29bhp down.

In return, however, you get a full 1,000rpm extra on the tachometer, which really brings out the engine's high-revving character, complete with its hard-edged exhaust note. The MX-5 has never been a fast car and the 1.5-litre takes 8.3 seconds to scamper from 0-62mph, but with its real responsiveness, sense of urgency and road-skimming driving position, it feels pretty darn exciting indeed. Fold the roof down on a sunny day and it's an even better sensory experience.

Much of the 1.5's pleasure comes from the short-throw manual gearbox, which flicks up and down the gears with a pleasing snickety-snack sound, and which will make you feel like a driving god as the rev needle dances around the gauge. However, given that the smaller engine is so excitable even at demure speeds, it can get tiring rowing up and down the gears when you're just mooching around town, and it also struggles a bit on motorways and dual carriageways.

But, as sweet and likeable as the 1.5-litre is, some will want more, which is where the 2.0-litre comes in. It might have just 158bhp, but it feels gutsier and in a car weighing as much as a pad of paper, it can raise an eyebrow, even in a straight line. If you must know, it accelerates from 0-62mph in 7.3 seconds, but extracting this figure feels more exciting than hitting the same speed in 6.8 seconds in a Vauxhall Corsa VXR.

Ride and Handling

The Mazda MX-5 ticks all the sports car boxes: it’s light, well-balanced and rear-wheel drive, with a responsive engine. While this doesn’t necessarily make it fast – a Nissan GT-R is about as far removed from an MX-5 as you can imagine a sports car to be – it sure as heck makes it brilliant fun to drive. The steering is so sharp and light, you can dance the Mazda through a chicane with your fingers and thumbs, using the throttle to balance (and even steer) the car.

What may come as a slight surprise is the body roll, which allows the MX-5 to lean as you enter a corner. Apparently Mazda’s engineers built this in to accentuate the feeling of speed, and let you play with the balance of the MX-5 even more. Trust the car though, and it will only lean so far, before gripping hard without ever feeling mushy. However, some will prefer the car to be a little bit tauter, and the 2.0-litre version comes with uprated Bilstein dampers and a front strut bar to tighten up the chassis and keep it flatter than the 1.5.

That said, if anything, it’s the 16-inch wheel shod models with the 1.5-litre engine which feel most willing and well-sorted, and which also riding with a surprising level of comfort for such a small sports car.

Choose the 2.0-litre and a limited slip differential (LSD) is fitted between the rear wheels, to lock them together if one starts to spin. This improves traction, but actually makes the MX-5 feel friskier in sharp bends, as the tail can step out into a slide quite abruptly. Of course, for experienced drivers, controlling the MX-5’s tail is all part of the fun, but if you aren’t used to such antics, you should probably leave the stability control switched on.

If anything, it’s the 16-inch wheel shod models with the 1.5-litre engine which feel most willing and well-sorted
Did you know? The Mazda MX-5 (also known as the Miata in some markets) holds the Guinness World Record for being the best-selling two-seater sports car

Interior And Equipment

Despite its tiny size and Mazda’s obsession with saving weight, the interior is much improved. While it’s not what you’d call flashy, everything feels precise and solid, from the excellent steering wheel to the handbrake lever. We love the large central rev counter too, as it brings the engine to the forefront of the driving experience and invites you to rev it out to the redline. It’s a shame the steering wheel doesn’t adjust for reach, however, and taller drivers (those around six-foot or more) may find there’s a lack of headroom with the roof up, while leg room won't come as too friendly to lankier drivers either.

The boot remains small, with 130 litres on offer which means that it's actually 20 litres down over the previous third generation model. However, Mazda's engineers have completely reshaped it to make it more usable. Its tub-like layout means it can swallow two suitcases provided they aren't too large, and having the roof down doesn't impede capacity either.

Speaking of the roof, Mazda has vastly improved the folding fabric top for the MX-5, with incredibly simple operation that can be done with just one hand. The roof also does an impressive job of keeping out wind and road noise, but for anybody who would prefer their car with a metal roof, a hard top version of the MX-5 is due later this year.

Trim levels are SE, SE-L and SE-L Nav, Sport and Sport Nav. The entry-level SE trim, available only with the 1.5-litre engine, is only moderately well equipped. But the SE-L and Sport both have climate control air-conditioning, DAB digital radio, cruise control, a Multimedia Commander, a seven-inch colour touchscreen, plus two extra audio speakers (making six in total) in the driver's headrest.

For an extra £2,600, the Sport has various styling upgrades, heated leather seats, rear parking sensors, adaptive front lighting, lane departure warning, BOSE surround-sound audio, automatic headlights and wipers and a self-dimming interior mirror. SE-L Nav and Sport Nav models can also have integrated satellite navigation for a further £600.

Cost

Pricing starts at about £18,500 for the 1.5 SE and goes up to a little under £23,500 for the 2.0 Sport Nav. The cheapest 2.0-litre car costs just over £20,000. Optional extras include mica, metallic or pearlescent paint for £540, Soul Red metallic paint for £660, tan leather upholstery (Sport Nav only) for £200 and a Safety Pack featuring blind spot monitoring (2.0 Sport Nav only) for £350.

Compared against its closest rival, the Toyota GT86, the MX-5 is something of a bargain as the GT86 is around £4,000 more expensive in its most basic form and also doesn't come as a convertible, either. The MX-5 is also relatively cheap to run, with official figures stating a combined fuel economy of 47.1mpg when using the 1.5 engine or 40.9mpg for the 2.0 engine.

Vehicle Excise Duty is £130 annually from year two onwards for the 139g/km 1.5, while Benefit In Kind taxation is 22 per cent in 2015 and will reach 31 per cent in April 2019.

With more power, extra weight and larger wheels, the 2.0 emits 161g/km of CO2 on the EU test cycle. Therefore, VED payments are £180 and BIK taxation is 27 per cent now, rising to 36 per cent (only one percentage point short of the maximum) in 2019.

Officially, combined fuel economy is 47.1mpg when using the 1.5 engine

Our Verdict

The MX-5 might not be the fastest or most powerful model, but if cars were instead measured on how much they make you grin from ear to ear, it would blow many far more expensive sports cars and hot hatches into the weeds. Mazda might have nailed the two-seater convertible recipe at its first attempt back in 1989, but it has really perfected it this time out.

Whether you prefer the 1.5 or the bigger 2.0-litre is ultimately a matter of personal preference, but with affordable running costs and a refreshing simplicity to its cabin and roof, the MX-5 is a blue-collar hero, giving us mere mortals a flavour of driving exotic topless sports cars, for a fraction of the price.

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