MAZDA MX-5 REVIEW
Vehicle Style: Two-seat convertible
Fuel Economy (claimed): 8.1 l/100km
Fuel Economy (tested): 9.3 l/100km
Looking for rear-wheel-drive sportscar thrills without the frills? Mazda’s compact and capable MX-5 may be simple in its execution, but its laser-like handling is sinful fun at the wheel.
And don’t be fooled by its benign lines; the MX-5 is still, as it has always been, a genuine driver’s car.
- Quality: The interior design is plain and features plenty of black plastic, but all of the tactile surfaces - steering wheel, gear-knob, handbrake, seats, armrests and centre console lid - are nicely trimmed in black leather. Alloy-faced pedals are a nice touch.
- Comfort: It may be small, but the low seating position puts your legs almost horizontal and allows even taller drivers (and passenger) to fit with ease. Grippier Recaro seats are a cost option.
On the debit side, the steering wheel only adjusts for tilt. Also, the door-mounted cup-holder can be a little awkward to use while driving.
- Equipment: The MX-5 Roadster is the range-topper, and its electrically-folding hardtop has better NVH supression and offers greater security than soft-top MX-5 variants.
It also packs cruise control, air-conditioning, a seven-speaker audio system with 6-disc stacker, a 3.5mm auxiliary input for external music players, front foglamps, power windows, power mirrors and 17-inch alloy wheels.
A set of 17-inch BBS alloys are available as part of the optional Sports Package, which also includes Recaro seats.
- Storage: Being a pint-size two-seat roadster, luggage-space is at a premium. You can squeeze 150 litres into the boot, which is enough for a couple of weekend bags. Boot capacity stays the same whether the roof is up or down.
ON THE ROAD
- Driveability: 118kW and 188Nm from a 2.0 litre in-line four doesn’t sound especially sporty, but the MX-5 Roadster’s lean 1167kg kerb weight means it can do more with less.
It’s far from being the quickest Mazda around (that would be the Mazda3 MPS), but the MX-5 feels very sprightly with eager throttle-response and a sweetly balanced engine.
The six-speed manual gearbox is a delight to use, with a firm mechanical action through its well-defined gate. The clutch pedal is light and easily modulated too.
- Refinement: With the roof up the MX-5 is well isolated from wind noise, but tyre and engine noise are very noticeable (not exactly unusual for a sports car, though).
Top down there’s minimal scuttle shake, but wind buffet can get pretty strong at triple-digit speeds.
- Suspension: With double wishbones up front and a multi-link rear, the MX-5’s suspension has the right hardware for a sports car.
The dampers are tuned to give good compliance, which improves grip on rougher tarmac as well as occupant comfort.
There’s a fair degree of body roll in corners, but the MX-5’s chassis is so beautifully neutral that you can pitch it into a tight hairpin without worrying about understeering wide.
A limited-slip diff (LSD) is standard on manual MX-5s, improving traction and allowing the driver to adjust the car’s cornering attitude with the throttle.
Its on-road dynamics are so easy to exploit and so adaptable to different driving styles that it’s easy to see why the MX-5 is a firm favourite among enthusiasts.
- Braking: The MX-5 is stable under hard braking and the pedal is definitely responsive, but we found the brakes faded quickly during a spirited downhill run - something we didn’t expect in a car that’s so light.
- ANCAP rating: Not tested
- Safety features: ABS, traction control, stability control, front and side airbags, three-point pretensioning seatbelts, roll-over hoops.
WARRANTY AND SERVICING
- Warranty: Three years unlimited kilometres.
- Service costs: Service intervals are set for every 10,000km, and a basic service can range between $200 and $350. The first major service is due at 100,000km, and costs around $500.
HOW IT COMPARES | VALUE FOR MONEY
- MINI Cooper S Cabrio ($48,800) - The cute styling might not be to everyone’s tastes, but the Cooper S Cabrio is a genuinely fun car to drive and has impressive dynamics for a front-wheel-drive.
With 135kW and 240Nm, it’s also got more grunt than the Mazda, but that’s offset by a heavier kerb weight. (see Cooper reviews)
- BMW 120i Convertible ($53,200) - A 2.0 litre engine, rear-wheel drive, a six-speed manual and no roof - the 120i Convertible follows a very similar formula to the MX-5. However it packs almost 300kg more weight, and feels less nimble.
Badge cachet and two extra seats work in its favour though - if, that is, you can stomach the expensive options list. (see 1 Series reviews)
- Volkswagen Golf R 3 Door ($48,490) - For less than $50k, the Golf R offers eye-widening performance, a grippy AWD drivetrain and a European badge. A performance bargain.
On the downside, it lacks the character of the MX-5, particularly when optioned with the (technologically impressive) DSG transmission. (see Golf reviews)
Note: all prices are Manufacturer’s List Price and do not include dealer delivery or on-road costs.
TMR VERDICT | OVERALL
Yes, there are other performance cars out there that will give you more kilowatts for your buck, but none of them will put a smile on your face quite like the MX-5.
It’s a classic driving experience that thankfully remains relatively undiluted by modern technology.
It might be unsophisticated in comparison to some of its peers, but few - if any - can match the MX-5’s driving experience.