Road tests

New Mazda MX-5 R-Sport 2020 review

The latest Mazda MX-5 R-Sport limited edition model does nothing to upset the popular roadster’s charms

Overall Auto Express Rating

4.5 out of 5

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The limited-run MX-5 R-Sport’s cosmetic extras add some exclusivity, but while it looks great, the real attraction here is what makes every MX-5 so appealing. The involving handling, a powertrain you have to push but can really revel in exploiting, great style, and the option to drop the convertible roof make this special-edition soft-top one of the best yet from Mazda.

There must be more special editions of the Mazda MX-5 than pretty much any car ever sold. That’s because this icon has been on sale continuously for more than three decades, and with more than a million examples shifted, it’s the world’s best-selling two-seat roadster.

Now there’s another special edition, called the MX-5 R-Sport, and it’s a peach. Priced from £27,700, it’s limited to just 150 examples and features Polymetal Grey metallic paint, some smart 16-inch Rays alloy wheels finished in gloss black and a special silver-grey colour for the fabric convertible roof.

This car is based on the 1.5-litre MX-5, which is lighter than the 2.0-litre version and so pure to drive. It has ‘just’ 130bhp – there are no turbos here – so you really have to work the engine and superb six-speed manual gearbox to make the most of what’s on offer. But this is the joy of driving an MX-5 and it’s reinforced in the R-Sport.

The engine doesn’t have any steps in its power delivery, revving smoothly and with a rasp to its limiter. It’s noisy and sometimes not that refined, but then this is also part of the engine’s appeal.

With only 152Nm of torque, you have to keep on top of the gearbox, but the level of interaction through the stubby lever and its direct, mechanical-feeling shift action means it’s great fun doing so.

The steering is similarly involving. It’s on the light side, but then, with relatively skinny front tyres and a weight of around a tonne, that’s not surprising. The steering feels delicate and offers good feedback.

The chassis is as communicative too; there’s quite a bit of roll, more than you might expect in a sports car, but this does allow some weight transfer to push the tyres into the tarmac and maximise grip, while leaving you to enjoy the chassis balance and exploit the car’s rear-drive layout without it feeling snappy or unpredictable.

The other benefit is that the ride is relatively comfortable for a small, light two-seater. You do get bumped around a bit on country roads, but this connection with the MX-5 and what it’s doing all of the time is the essence of the experience.

With the roof down, there’s some noticeable shaking of the structure over bad roads, but this is far from a carbon-fibre convertible supercar – and at such an affordable price for such an involving machine, the R-Sport is still great value.

That hood folds manually, but with one catch, it’s so simple to do, even on the move. It’s just as quick and easy to put back up in case you get caught in a shower.

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R-Sport spec also adds burgundy Nappa leather trim inside, which really sets the cabin off. It looks great and gives a premium feel; given that this fourth-generation ‘ND’ MX-5 has been on sale for five years now and has only received a few updates in that period, the basic cabin layout still looks surprisingly good and works well.

It’s slightly cramped for taller drivers, but even at six feet tall, you should be able to find a comfortable enough driving position.

Over time, Mazda has updated the MX-5’s tech, so there’s now Apple CarPlay and Android Auto phone connectivity, as well as the usual sat-nav. You also get cruise and climate control, heated seats, autonomous braking, lane-departure warning, a Bose stereo and keyless operation. The MX-5 is compact and visibility is relatively good, so you don’t need features such as parking sensors or a reversing camera.

The lack of mass and the smaller engine (compared with the 2.0-litre model) mean it’s relatively efficient, returning claims of 44.8mpg and 142g/km. But the MX-5’s usual flaws still remain, so along with the slightly cramped cabin, there’s only 130 litres of boot space. It’s enough for two bags – just – but the opening is small.

Model: Mazda MX-5 R-Sport
Price: £27,700
Engine: 1.5-litre 4cyl petrol
Power/torque: 130bhp/152Nm
Transmission: Six-speed manual, rear-wheel drive
0-62mph: 8.3 seconds
Top speed: 127mph
Economy: 44.8mpg
CO2: 142g/km
On sale: Now

Sean’s been writing about cars since 2010, having worked for outlets as diverse as PistonHeads, MSN Cars, Which? Cars, Race Tech – a specialist motorsport publication – and most recently Auto Express and sister titles Carbuyer and DrivingElectric

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