Mazda MX-5 review
The Mazda MX-5 is a legendary small sports car that delivers driving thrills and everyday usability
The Mazda MX-5 is a unique proposition in the new car market, with the latest car continuing a proud tradition of sporty rear-wheel drive two-seaters. The combination of modest power outputs, nimble chassis and sublime manual gearbox mean it's a great way to learn about car handling, but the everyday usability and stellar reliability mean it’s well capable of being more than a summertime plaything.
Mazda's claim that the latest MX-5 returns to the original car's formula and offers a genuine sports car thrill still stands, but for buyers on a budget the MX-5 will be harder to justify as prices continue to climb year after year.
About the Mazda MX-5
The fourth-generation Mazda MX-5 fits the classic roadster template and has plenty of thrills to offer. It's the planet’s best-selling two-seat sports car, and it has earned iconic status in its 25-year history, becoming as ubiquitous as the British sports cars it emulated when it first arrived in 1989.
The MX-5 Mk4 arrived towards the end of 2015, and was smaller, more efficient and more than 100kg lighter than its predecessor. The Mk4 was updated in 2018 but in typical Mazda fashion it was a small facelift as a result of customer feedback. Both 1.5 and 2.0-litre versions received a small hike in power and became WLTP compliant, more standard fit safety kit was fitted, as was a telescopic steering column for a more comfortable driving position. Further revisions were made in early 2020 with a realigned model line up and additional standard equipment.
Car group tests
Power comes from 1.5 and 2.0-litre petrol engines, but those choosing the former won’t feel like they’re missing out as the MX-5 is equally enjoyable to drive with either unit. Three trim levels are available: Prime Line, Exclusive Line and Homura, with prices now starting from a whisker under £28,000.
The smaller 130bhp engine is available on Prime Line and Exclusive Line specifications, while the larger 181bhp motor can only be had if you go for with Exclusive Line or top-of-the-range Homura trim. A six-speed manual is standard across the range.
There are two body styles available: a convertible with a fabric roof and the folding targa hard-top of the MX-5 RF. We prefer the former for its purer driver experience and looks, and the fact it’s about £2,000 less expensive, but those after a little more security and refinement will welcome the metal roof of the RF. It’s also the only model available with the option of a six-speed automatic, however it’s offered exclusively with the 2.0-litre engine.
Rivals for the Mazda MX-5 are scarce these days, but they do exist. Most obvious is the now-discontinued Fiat 124 Spider and Abarth 124 Spider, which share their running gear with the MX-5 but uses different engines, and the also recently axed Audi TT. Similarly sporty non-convertible rivals could include the Toyota GR86, and BMW 2 Series at a push.
If you’re really serious about owning a sports car and don’t mind sacrificing practicality and comfort, it’s also worth considering the excellent – but incredibly old-school – Caterham 7, which we pitted against the MX-5 in 2021.
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In this review
- 1Verdict - currently readingThe Mazda MX-5 is a legendary small sports car that delivers driving thrills and everyday usability
- 2Engines, performance and driveThe MX-5's revvy Skyactiv-G engines are a joy, but we'd go for the extra power of the 2.0-litre
- 3MPG, CO2 and Running CostsMazda doesn’t use turbos to boost efficiency, but still claims impressive economy figures for the MX-5
- 4Interior, design and technologyOccupants sit lower down and closer to the MX-5’s centre line for maximum enjoyment, while there’s more technology than before
- 5Practicality, comfort and boot spaceIt’s no grand tourer, but the Mazda MX-5 is quite spacious considering its modest dimensions
- 6Reliability and SafetyMazda’s reputation for reliability is sound, while a suite of assistance systems boost the MX-5's safety
- 7Used and nearly newA full used buyer’s guide on the Mazda MX-5 covering the MX-5 Mk4 (2015-date)