The new Mazda MX-5 is light and compact, it looks good, it offers a direct driving experience, it’s affordable and relatively economical – what’s not to like?
Despite what the PR departments of the major car manufacturers will tell you, most cars are getting bigger, heavier, and more insulated – and therefore more remote – from the road. Therefore the new Mazda MX-5 is a huge breath of fresh air – it’s purposely been designed to be small and lightweight, and offer a rewarding driving experience, yet it also aims to be practical for a two-seater drop-top. Sounds like a great starting point – has Mazda succeeded?
The original Mazda MX-5 began as a very compact car. However the last generation of the model had grown; hats off to Mazda for vowing to reverse this trend. So the new MX-5 is shorter than the outgoing model, and it weighs in at just 1050 kg for the 1.5-litre model, and the 1075 kg for the 2-litre model (as tested).
There’s a slick 6-speed manual transmission and of course it’s rear-wheel drive, with a limited slip-differential on the 2-litre model.
Mazda’s design department has been producing some outstanding styling for its new models over recent years, so the expectations were very high for the MX-5. When the images of the new MX-5 were first released we thought it looked good, but perhaps we had even higher expectations. However the car looks fantastic in the flesh, and there’s even a modern, stylish, simple and functional interior that’s closely related to that in models such as the CX-3. You even get two cup holders. The boot isn’t huge, but it’s acceptable for a car of this size. Note that there’s a secret button hidden above the rear number plate to unlock the boot, something that we didn’t find during a week with the car, and that had to be pointed out by Mazda’s helpful PR director!
You can usually tell what a car is like to drive after just a few yards. The MX-5 is no exception. First things first, it’s easy to get in and out, but once in, you’re aware that you’re sitting low, in a compact car. The steering wheel has height adjustment, but no reach adjustment – that would be too much complexity and weight. We usually can’t get the right driving position in most cars with no steering wheel reach adjustment, but the MX-5’s driving position is spot on.
By the time you’ve pressed the starter button and then selected first gear, you’re aware that this is feeling like a slick-shifting transmission. If you set off and make any steering movement before changing gear, even before you get into second, you’ll notice that this car reacts to steering inputs unlike virtually any other car on sale at the moment – even though the steering is slightly on the light side. The MX-5 is short, with an ideal weight distribution, and compared to most cars that eventually change direction after you’ve turned the steering wheel, the MX-5 responds immediately.
As speeds grow, although the MX-5 has an excellent rear-wheel drive bias to its handling, it’s more grippy and neutral than might be expected. You can turn off the traction control and have fun, especially in the wet, but compared to the slithery Toyota GT86, the MX-5 has more rear end grip.
Through a series of B-road bends – the ideal environment for the MX-5 – the car feels taut, with little body movement. However it also has a good ride, and even negotiating speed bumps is an unexpectedly comfortable experience. The 2-litre powertrain and the exhaust system combine to give the MX-5 a soundtrack reminiscent of ‘the old days’, yet the MX-5 remains refined with the roof up, and there’s very little buffeting with the roof down. The actual process of lowering and raising the roof is very simple and quick.
The interior is modern and stylish, and also functional. The infotainment control system is excellent – a close second only to BMW’s iDrive, on which Mazda’s system appears to be based. One of the most annoying features of many latest cars is Lane Departure Warning systems that beep at you all the time. In the MX-5 – and other Mazdas – unusually you can switch this off and it stays switched off. If you’re planning to fall asleep at the wheel you can just switch it back on again.
We tested the 2-litre MX-5, weighing in at 1075kg. This has 160PS and 200Nm torque. With one adult on board, performance is adequate. With two adults on board, acceleration past slow traffic on B-roads becomes a little strained. Due to having no turbo (and the resulting relatively low 200Nm of torque), you certainly have to keep the revs high to extract the best response from the engine.
We’re due to test the 1.5-litre version soon. It’s slightly lighter, at 1050kg, with 131PS and 150Nm torque. The laws of physics suggest that this will struggle even more to accelerate at a decent rate with two adults onboard.
The official combined fuel economy of the 2-litre MX-5 is 40.9mpg, with emissions of 161g/km CO2. At 70mph on the motorway (with the roof up) we achieved 48.0mpg. This is an excellent result, and it’s a reflection of the light weight and the efficient petrol engine. Overall after a week we averaged 40.3mpg – amazingly and unusually, almost matching the official combined NEDC figure. For a car that is so much fun to drive, this is highly impressive.
In comparison, the 1.5-litre MX-5 has an official combined fuel economy of 47.1mpg, with emissions of 139g/km CO2. These are highly impressive figures, so if you want one of the most economical and rewarding driver’s cars, this is the one for you!
The MX-5 is available with two engines, a 1.5-litre or a 2-litre petrol unit. Both are naturally aspirated rather featuring turbos. There are five trim levels: SE, SE-L, SE-L Nav, Sport and Sport Nav. Prices start at £18,495 and rise to £23,295 – the price of our test car. The cost of the 1.5-litre model in the same Sport Nav spec as our test car is £22,445. For the fun and the style that it offers, we’d say that the MX-5 is definitely good value.
We like Mazda. We like the firm’s approach. Despite Mazda being a relatively small car manufacturer, all of its current line-up of cars feel as though they have been engineered to appeal to drivers who like driving. Therefore we had high hopes for the MX-5 and we’ve not been disappointed. Mazda has succeeded in updating the MX-5 effectively, with a modern, stylish, yet critically, a functional interior, and a good-looking exterior. But unlike many other new cars, where the modern tech usually comes with more of a remoteness from the road, the MX-5 retains a direct driving experience, and actually improves on the outgoing model in terms of agility. Based on all this, our scoresheet results in a rating of 10 out of 10 for the MX-5. But there’s one issue. After driving the MX-5 you’re left thinking what the car would be like with just a bit more power. A turbo perhaps, to give it more mid-range urge. Or even a supercharger. In our view, this would improve the MX-5. However what the existing car delivers is a back-to-basics driving experience, at an affordable price, with decent economy. Against the backdrop of cars getting heavier (and more expensive), with less interaction between the driver, the car and the road, the MX-5 is refreshing and should be celebrated. You can enjoy driving around the UK’s roads at legal speeds. The Mazda MX-5 is awarded a Green Car Guide rating of 10 out of 10.