Mazda MX-5 Roadster Review

Overall Rating

  • Interior

  • On The Road

  • Value For Money

  • See Full Specs

What’s Hot

Wonderfully neutral chassis dynamics, undiluted driving thrills.

What’s Not

Brake fade.

X Factor

A classic driving experience in a modern shell, the MX-5 has bags of enthusiast appeal.

  • Country of Origin
    JAPAN
  • Price
    $47,200 (plus on-road costs)
  • Engine
    4 Cylinders
  • Output
    118 kW / 188 Nm
  • Transmission
    Manual
  • ANCAP Rating
    4
  • Airbags
    Driver & Passenger (Dual), Side for 1st Row Occupants (Front)
  • L/100 km
    8.1
  • C02
    N/A g/km
  • Luggage Capacity
    N/A
  • Towing (braked)
    N/A
  • Towing (unbraked)
    N/A
Tony O'Kane | May 3, 2011 | 6 Comments

MAZDA MX-5 REVIEW

Vehicle Style: Two-seat convertible
Price: $47,200
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.

INTERIOR

  • 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.

SAFETY

  • 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.

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Filed under: Featured, review, petrol, Mazda, convertible, mx-5, Mazda MX-5, rwd, Sports, lifestyle, enthusiast, 4cyl, 2door, 2010 mazda mx-5, 2011 mazda mx-5

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  • chromaldragn says,
    3 years ago
    I'm surprised to see a MX-5 garner a 3 of 5 stars review. You compare it with three other cars, none of which are roadsters like the MX-5, all of which cost more. And, remarkably, on twisty roads, the MX-5 would likely beat every single one of those other cars. Convertible means something different than roadster.

    You don't buy a MX-5 for its interior, you buy it for how it handles. Way to completely miss the point in your review.
  • MotorMouth says,
    3 years ago
    So how does it end up rating just 3 stars? It is cheaper than any of the rivals you list, even though none of them are relevant, as it alone has a folding metal roof. Shop it against other similar cars, like Peugeot's two CC variants, and it's value for money is peerless. Even against the more expensive cars you list, it's driving experience is at least one level up.
  • Tony O'Kane says,
    3 years ago
    1 like
    Hi all,

    The MX-5's overall score is an aggregate of its interior/liveability score, its on-road score and its value-for-money score. Its dynamic excellence is not in question - as you'll notice, it scored the maximum possible for on-road performance - but it's a poor value for money proposition and has a relatively sp*** equipment level despite being the range-topper.

    An enthusiast buyer would happily ignore the latter two points, as their primary concern would be performance. However the majority of motorists would be more interested in what other vehicles are available at a similar price point.
    • MotorMouth says,
      3 years ago
      Sorry Tony, but you are completely wrong on the value for money front. As I said, you are comparing it to the wrong cars. If you are shopping for a soft-top Mini or 1 Series, you'd go for the cheaper soft-top MX-5, wouldn't you? Given that, the MX-5 is a lot cheaper than any of 'em. But even those comparisons aren't very useful, because the MX-5 is a 2-seater, so you need to compare it to other 2-seaters, which means the 207CC and not much else. Again, the MX-5 comes up trumps, despite being a few grand more expensive, and deserves at least 3, if not 4 stars for value.
      • Tony O'Kane says,
        3 years ago
        MotorMouth,

        The MX-5 is in the unique position of not having any direct competitors at its price point. This is why we've chosen to compare it with the 1 Series, Golf R and Cooper S.

        Would we compare it with the 207CC? Never, it's not in the same league in terms of performance. Even if we did, the Peugeot has a torquier engine, a more generous spec list and costs over $9k less. It's still an unfair comparison to make.

        To be honest, the Mercedes SLK 200 is really the MX-5's closest analog, but even then it's got more power, more torque and costs nearly twice as much. Never mind the fact that nobody would ever cross-shop a Mazda with a Mercedes.

        Personally, I'm a fan of the MX-5 and what it offers as a performance car. BUT there is no denying that there are cars that offer much greater value (and performance) for a very similar asking price.

        I hope this clarifies the matter for you.
  • Rhys says,
    3 years ago
    1 like
    Hi,
    I know it's an 11 month old thread but it's still relevant to me smile You state in your comment below that "nobody would ever cross-shop a Mazda with a Mercedes (SLK)". Well we have done just that, as well as a BMW 125I convertible and even a Porsche Boxter. The reason? My wife wanted a convertible with performance that "felt right" and could replicate the driving experience of our old 1969 MGB. What did we buy in April 2012? The Mazda MX5 Roadster Coupe Special Edition of course!
    Whilst all the other vehicles offered more power and higher levels of spec not even the Porsche had the correct feel and stance of a "proper" roadster. I think the closest true competition to the MX5 is either a lotus, a Morgan, or a Caterham (or maybe an Elfin at a pinch) but they are all in different leagues in reality. Therefore the MX5 has NO real rivalbiggrin
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