Mazda MX-5 review
The Mazda MX-5 delivers superb handling, sleek looks and bulletproof reliability at an affordable price
The Mazda MX-5 is the world's most popular two-seat sports car. Ever since it's launch 25 years ago, its balanced blend of performance, excellent value and handsome looks has ensured it's lasting success. Even though the current third-generation model is nine years old now it's still one of the best of its kind and an all-new model will arrive next year promising more power and better economy.
The MX-5 is available with a choice of 1.8-litre or 2.0-litre petrol engines. Neither unit delivers a huge hit of performance but they’re enough to let drivers get the most out of the MX-5’s balanced and involving rear-wheel-drive chassis.
Despite retaining the original car's classic roadster shape, the latest Mazda MX-5 gets a new bumper and grille. It’s available either in traditional soft-top or hard-top Roadster Coupe guise.
The folding metal roof of the Roadster Coupe, is well integrated within the MX-5’s compact frame and manages to keep the rain out without adding too much weight.
The Mazda MX-5 is offered in three main specification levels - the entry level SE, the Sport Tech and the Sport Tech Nav with standard sat-nav.
Ahead of the new fourth-gen MX-5 arriving next year, Mazda has created a special edition 25th Anniversary model with production limited to just 1,000 models. It's based on top-spec Sport Tech Nav but is fitted with eye-catching desing tweaks and extra kit inside.
Our choice: MX-5 2.0i Sport Tech manual
First launched in 2005, the newest generation Mazda MX-5 received a facelift in 2008 to incorporate a restyled front end that took design cues from other models in the Mazda range. The changes included a larger grille, as well as new head and fog lights.
The interior also received an upgrade, with Mazda giving the MX-5 redesigned graphics for the instruments.
Mazda has also been generous when it comes to providing the MX-5 with standard equipment, as all versions get climate control, electric windows and remote central locking with boot release. Plus, all models apart from the SE get cruise control as standard.
On the outside, Mazda has been equally as generous with the exterior of the MX-5. The entry level SE gets 16-inch alloy wheels as standard, while higher trim levels get 17-inch alloys.
Like the previous two generations of the Mazda MX-5, the newest generation continues to provide great driver enjoyment thanks to its sharp handling and quick steering.
The 124bhp 1.8-litre MX-5 is mated to a five-speed manual gearbox, whereas the 158bhp 2.0-litre petrol variants can either be specced in six-speed manual or automatic guise - the latter coming with steering wheel mounted paddles.
The 25th Anniversary Limited Edition model is fitted with the most powerful 158bhp 2.0-litre engine and six-speed manual gearbox. It's the best combination available in the MX-5 with enough grunt and a short and sharp gearchange. It may not be the most powerful roadster available but it's lightweight and rear-drive setup makes it one of the most driver focused. Delicate steering and a raspy exhaust note add to the occasion, but you have to work the engine to get the best out of it. All of the power is at the top of the rev range but its free-revving natyre means the power is always accessible.
The latest-generation Mazda MX-5 hasn't yet been subjected to the rigours of the Euro NCAP crash safety tests.
Having said that, the old model was tested back in 2002, and received a four-star rating. It gave a well-balanced performance, but questions were raised concerning passenger safety, especially from frontal impacts.
The entry-level model doesn't come with electronic stability control (ESP) as standard, either.
Mazda came on leaps and bounds in our 2013 Driver Power manufacturer rankings, finishing fourth out of 32, beating the likes of Mercedes, Volkswagen and BMW. The Mazda MX-5 also finished 47th out of 150 in our 2013 Driver Power customer satisfaction survey, which isn't bad at all.
Given its sporting credentials, it shouldn't come as a surprise that Mazda didn't aim for practicality when it was designing the MX-5.
While the 150-litre boot is only good for a few bags of shopping or a couple of rucksacks, Mazda gives the MX-5 a decent amount of storage in the cabin thanks to various cubby holes and compartments. You only get four cup-holders but remember this is two-seater sports car, so it's more than enough.
Taller drivers may also find getting behind the wheel a bit of a squeeze as the steering wheel doesn't adjust for reach.
Given its moderately sized engines, the Mazda MX-5 is reasonable in terms of its returned fuel economy.
While it doesn't offer much in terms of fuel-saving technology as other cars in the Mazda range, the 1.8-litre MX-5 returns a combined cycle of 39.8mpg and CO2 emissions of 167g/km, whereas the 2.0-litre has a combined economy of 36.2mpg, and CO2 emissions of 181g/km.
The Mazda MX-5 fitted with the Powershift automatic gearbox is somewhat disappointing in its combined cycle and CO2 emissions, with 35.3mpg and 188g/km respectively.
Another advantage that the MX-5 has in terms of running costs is that resale values are relatively strong. Reasonable prices from new and the MX-5’s popularity as a used car mean you’ll never loose a fortune on an MX-5. Parts should also be quite affordable.