Review: Mazda MX-5
Pretty, surprisingly practical and decently efficient, the MX-5 continues to provide affordable sports car thrills. But now it's got more power. Our advice? Do it now.
This MX-5 is an important change in tack for Mazda. In the past, the Japanese company has been happy to leave the mechanical side well alone and just update the exterior as when it’s been deemed necessary. Here, the opposite applies and it’s the engines that have come in for close scrutiny.
Both the roadster and RF models now have more power whichever engine you choose. In the case of the 1.5-litre model that starts from £18,995, it gains a very modest 2hp that does not alter its performance figures. It’s more of an ongoing refinement and makes this rev-tastic engine still the one to have when all you want to do is wring the neck of the MX-5 down a country road.
Both the roadster and RF models now have more power whichever engine you choose.
Good fun as that is, it’s now the 2.0-litre that lists from £22,295 that is the one to have in every respect. Previously, there was a case for choosing the 1.5 over this larger motor for the added sweetness of the smaller powerplant. That argument has been comprehensively blown by pushing the 2.0-litre’s power up to 184hp from its previous 160bhp.
The gain in power comes from new camshafts, valves, fuel injectors, throttle valve, air intake and lighter pistons and the rods that attach them to the crankshaft. Before we get too technical, the simple truth is the engine has less weight to move about internally along with more air and fuel to get a bigger bang. The end result is a substantial jump in power.
The 2.0-litre now spins with the same joyous abandon as its smaller sister unit.
One other advantage of this approach from Mazda is the 2.0-litre now spins with the same joyous abandon as its smaller sister unit. It turns the 2.0 into the car the MX-5 always wanted to be and one that several tuning companies have been realising since the launch of the Mk4 MX-5 in 2015. Clearly, Mazda fancied bringing that custom back in-house instead of letting the aftermarket take care of it as has been the case in the past.
On paper, this results in 0-62mph in 6.5 seconds, which is 0.8 seconds faster than the previous 2.0-litre in roadster form. The RF knocks off 0.6 seconds in manual form and 0.5 seconds with the optional automatic gearbox. In our view, the drop-top roadster is the MX-5 to go for as it’s a little lighter, faster and is also more refined when the hood is down than the RF with its targa top open. There’s too much wind whistle in the RF for our taste and it also has less headroom for taller drivers when the roof is in weather-beating mode.
To address the issue of some drivers finding the cabin a little cramped, Mazda has introduced telescopic steering column adjustment in addition to the existing height movement. It certainly helps trim the seating position more accurately and the driver’s seat also slides a little more to give more space.
What you get now is a car that is perfectly in balance with every element of its behaviour and responses.
Whichever MX-5 gets your vote, Mazda has not tinkered with the basic set-up of the MX-5, which was never in dispute from a keen driver’s point of view. With the added power of the 2.0-litre, you can now exploit the chassis to its full on the road. This doesn’t mean the more powerful engine overwhelms the tyre’s grip, the chassis’ balance or the stopping power of the brakes. Far from it, what you get now is a car that is perfectly in balance with every element of its behaviour and responses.
The engine of the 2.0-litre begs to be revved yet also has enough low-down punch that you can be lazy with the six-speed manual gearbox when you’re in the mood to pootle. Step it up a notch and the engine is always ready to play along. The snick-snack of the gear shift makes swapping ratios a delight and also lets you take the engine to its peak revs and change up smoothly. It’s the same when coming down the gears with a little blip of the throttle to match engine and road speeds.
The brakes deserve a mention on their own as the MX-5 is now a very rapid cross-country machine that’s more than able to keep up with hot hatches that would previously have had the better of the Mazda. Stopping the car is drama-free corner after corner, helped by the MX-5’s light weight.
Making progress down country lanes is huge fun and all possible within legal limits.
The handling is also unencumbered by any niggles or quirks. Yes, you can feel the rear tyres begin to lose grip when you give it an excessive amount of throttle on wet roundabouts, but the traction control is there to prevent any unpleasantness. The steering is also quick in its reactions to tame these sort of antics.
More importantly, you really do have to provoke the Mx-5 into this kind of action as there’s lots of grip and poise, which means making progress down country lanes is huge fun and all possible within legal limits. Find yourself on a track and the 2.0-litre MX-5 will give some more powerful cars a close run for their money thanks to the handling balance of the Mazda.
In every other respect, the MX-5 continues as before. So, it’s very pretty, surprisingly practical and decently fuel efficient with lower CO2 emissions than before even with more power. This is a win-win for those looking to take on an MX-5. Our advice? Do it now.
Model tested: Mazda MX-5 Roadster 2.0
Size and weight are key to the MX-5’s appeal, and its appearance reflect this. It’s actually the smallest one yet.
Simple and unfussy in the true sports car tradition, the MX-5’s interior feels like a quality product.
Fantastic driver’s car – handling as poised as ever and additional power from the 2.0-litre to range makes it a great cross-country machine.
The cockpit is still as cosy as ever, but steering wheel now more adjustable than before.
Despite power gains, the MX-5 is more fuel efficient and produces less CO2 than before – 40.9 combined mpg and 156g/km in the 2.0-litre’s case.