25 April 2017
In its 26-year lifetime, the Mazda MX-5 has become an icon. Despite being made in Hiroshima, Japan, it follows the principles of the classic British sports car, combining low weight and rear-wheel drive in a bid to produce driving Nirvana. This fourth-generation model is probably the purest expression of that philosophy since the original surfaced way back in 1989.
Under the long, thrusting bonnet of our top-of-the-line test car lies a 2.0-litre petrol engine mated to a snappy six-speed manual gearbox. Unlike many modern engines, it’s a naturally aspirated unit, devoid of any power- and efficiency-boosting turbo or supercharger.
As a result, it produces a relatively modest 158bhp, but thanks in part to the one-tonne kerb weight, that’s enough to achieve a respectable 0-62mph time of 7.3 seconds and a 133mph top speed.
Officially, it will return 40.9mpg, but you’ll be more likely to hit something in the high twenties or low thirties on a day-to-day basis. At least your road tax won’t be too bad, with 161g/km CO2 emissions putting it in the £180 per year bracket.
If you want a little more efficient, however, you can have a 129bhp 1.5-litre engine. It’s slower, taking 8.3 seconds to hit 62mph, but the 139g/km CO2 emissions will save you £50 per year in tax. You’ll save a few quid at the pumps too, with the official 47.1mpg economy figure indicating that the 1.5 is around 15% more economical than its 2.0-litre stablemate.
Unlike many sports cars, which live and die by their performance figures, the MX-5’s success hinges on its driving dynamics.
Fortunately, it’s absolutely stunning to drive. MX-5s with 2.0-litre engines are fitted with uprated suspension components that make it corner with less pitch and roll, but they aren’t necessary to have fun in a ‘5’.
Because it is so light and the steering is so accurate, you can throw it around all day long and it’ll thank you for it. You sit low in the middle of the car, and it seems to pivot around your hips. With the wind in your hair and the involving short-ratio gearbox to stir, few cars are a greater pleasure to drive on a sunny afternoon.
There is a resultant trade-off in terms of ride comfort though, and the MX-5 is a little too firm to use as a long-distance cruiser. Compared to more hardcore sports cars, though, it isn’t too bad.
Although the quality of the materials used in Mazdas has never been in doubt, the way the Japanese company has screwed it all together has, at times, been questionable. In the MX-5 though, it feels very solidly put together.
The company’s reputation for reliability precedes it, and the MX-5 has historically been bulletproof. We expect that trend to continue, as the MX-5’s mechanicals are relatively simple.
The MX-5 achieved a commendable four-star Euro NCAP safety rating, although that score may have been higher had it boasted more driver aids. Of course, Mazda would probably argue that gizmos like autonomous emergency braking and lane departure warning would be contrary to the MX-5’s driver-focused character.
The car’s quite secure though, with a locking glove box, central locking and a tough canvas roof.
The MX-5 is, first and foremost, a two-seat sports car, so space is at a premium. Seat adjustability is minimal and those over, say, 6’2” will probably find headroom a bit tight when the roof is in place. Knee room below the steering wheel is marginal too.
Fortunately it’s better news at the rear, where the roof does not encroach on boot space, although the 130-litre space back there is pretty dismal for anything more than a trip to the shops. And if you want to put golf clubs or a child’s buggy in there, you’ll be scuppered by the minute boot aperture before you ever get chance to squeeze into the cavity itself.
With prices starting from £18,495 for the basic 1.5-litre SE model, the MX-5 is remarkably well priced, and prices only rise to around £23,000 for range-topping 2.0-litre Sport Navs like our test car.
For that money, you’ll be looking at a car fitted with 17in alloys, satellite navigation, leather seats, climate control, Bluetooth, keyless entry and start, automatic headlights, rain-sensing windscreen wipers and various other toys.
When you consider that the less well-equipped, less agile Audi TT roadster starts from almost £29,000, the Mazda looks like incredible value.
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