Mazda MX-5 1.5 2015 review

We try latest Mazda MX-5 roadster on British roads with new, smaller 1.5-litre engine

Overall Auto Express Rating

5.0 out of 5

The Mazda MX-5 has returned to its best, delivering the sort of back-to-basics driving thrills that made the original such a huge success. Yet the newcomer now adds eye-catching looks, upmarket appeal, decent refinement and low running costs to the mix. Plus, with prices starting at just £18,495, it’s good value, too. A quarter of a century on and there’s still nothing that can rival the appeal of the MX-5.

We Brits love the Mazda MX-5. In fact, over the past 25 years we’ve bought over 100,000 examples of the world’s best-selling roadster, and the pressure is on for this all-new fourth-generation model to make an impact. So, does the latest MX-5 have what it takes to continue the success story? To find out, we grabbed the keys to one of the first cars on British soil.

One thing’s for certain – the two-seat Mazda certainly looks the part. Sharp creases, an aggressive nose and perfect proportions give the newcomer a racier and more muscular stance than its softer-edged predecessor. Our test car was a late pre-production model, but with its eye-catching graphite-grey alloys it looks identical to the European flagship Sport Nav version, at £22,445. When the new model hits dealers, prices will range from £18,495 to £23,295.

Read our sister site Carbuyer's Mazda MX-5 in-depth review

Lower yourself into the MX-5’s low-slung driver’s seat and you’re confronted with an interior that blends traditional sports car cues with plenty of upmarket touches. A centrally mounted rev counter, a high transmission tunnel featuring a stubby gearlever and thin-rimmed steering wheel place the driver at the centre of the action.

Two engines will be available from launch – this 129bhp 1.5-litre and the 158bhp 2.0-litre in the car we drove last week – and both are combined with a six-speed manual gearbox. Surprisingly, it’s the smaller unit engineers designed the MX-5 around (the larger unit was originally intended for the North American market only), but it’s easy to see why Mazda was keen to downsize.

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The 1.5-litre doesn’t have the firepower of the larger unit, but it is lighter. This keeps the overall kerbweight down to just 1,015kg, which has benefits for performance, handling and economy. Mazda claims 8.3 seconds for the 0-62mph sprint, and on the road the MX-5 feels brisk rather than rapid. Yet thanks to the rasping exhaust note, a heady 7,500rpm red line and the snappy short-throw gearshift, it’s easy and fun to access the car’s full performance potential.

There’s even more enjoyment in corners, where the blend of quick steering and low weight allows the car to change direction with acrobatic agility. Better still, the controls fizz with feedback, while the rear-wheel-drive layout, sharp throttle response and skinny 195 section tyres enable you to subtly adjust the car’s line through a corner.

Yet there’s more to the MX-5 than just sparkling driving dynamics. Refinement has improved, while the supple suspension soaks up bumps and the manual hood can be raised and lowered with one hand in a matter of seconds. The only disappointment is the fact the boot has shrunk to 130 litres, down 20 litres on the last MX-5. But when a car’s this much fun, you’ll learn to travel light.

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