Mazda MX-5 Convertible (2015 - ) review
The Mazda MX-5 is the default choice for drop-top buyers after something fun to drive and easy to live with, but is the latest version a hit?
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Size matters to Mazda; and, as far as the company is concerned, smaller is better when it comes to the MX-5. That’s why the latest car is shorter and lower than its predecessor, with stubby overhangs to put a wheel right at each corner. This gives it a more aggressive stance than before, but it keeps those classic sportscar cues with a long bonnet, short tail and cockpit mounted right at the back of the body. It features LED headlights and dark grey alloy wheels as standard, with entry-level cars getting 16-inch rims, while Sport models and the 2.0-litre versions sit on 17s.
Traditionally, MX-5s have always been a bit compromised inside as they often came with few creature comforts and were, at best, cramped. This model goes a long way to addressing those criticisms, though. Build quality and fit and finish are now a high priority, and the dash surfaces and switches feel satisfyingly robust. The driving position is spot-on, placing the driver low down to the ground, feet straight out on the pedals, right in the centre of the car. However, the wheel only adjusts for height, not reach, so it is a bit tricky to get really comfortable unless you have longish arms. Visibility is excellent, though, and the steep windscreen angle gives you a fantastic view down the road, making the car easy to place accurately.
Careful revisions to the cockpit now mean tall adults will be much comfier in the MX-5 – with more head- and elbowroom than before. The cabin still feels narrow because of the high central transmission tunnel, but a set of handy removable cup holders, a lockable storage cubby, decent door pockets and a phone tray mean the Mazda can just about cope with all the usual gubbins associated with a longer trip. There's no denying the boot is rather small, with just 130 litres of space, but it has room for a couple of soft bags, and that space remains the same whether the fabric roof is up or down. The roof is a doddle to use, too, with a manual release, but spring-loaded action so you can fold it away in five seconds flat, one-handed. Rivals like the Mini Roadster do offer more boot space, but Mazda deserves credit for making the most of the space the MX-5 does have, while also shrinking its size.
Ride and handling
While the MX-5 loses some ground in the practicality stakes, it claws it back again with a wonderfully involving driving experience that truly sets the standard in this segment, and most others. The controls stream a constant flow of information to the driver, responding crisply and immediately to each and every input. The steering is an electro-mechanical system that is perhaps a touch lighter than you might expect around centre, but it weights up naturally as soon as you start to move the wheel. The body initially leans into corners, but once settled the tyres generate more than enough grip, both on entry and exit. Push harder and you can exploit the poised rear-drive chassis, adjusting your line by easing off the throttle. On 16-inch wheels and standard suspension, the ride on the 1.5-litre petrol is very supple, taking all but the most rutted surfaces in its stride. The 2.0 model comes on lower, harder springs, and feels quite a lot stiffer on rough roads, sending regular thuds through the front axle as it hops over potholes. As soon as you drive a little faster, though, things start to settle down. And, it feels that bit more tied down and secure if you do decide to start flinging the MX-5 around just for fun.
The two petrol engines (a 1.5 and a 2.0) are similar in character, and both thrive on being revved hard, performing best when spinning at 5000rpm and above. The big difference between them is the amount of torque you have available. The 2.0-litre feels a lot punchier in-gear, and more responsive when you want a rush of acceleration. On paper, the difference between the two models is only 30bhp and 55lb ft of torque, but out on the road this gap feels considerably wider, with the 2.0-litre a whole second faster when sprinting from 0-62mph. Both have a pleasingly raspy exhaust note and share the same wonderful six-speed manual gearbox, which provides fantastically precise shifts. Refinement is pretty good for a car of this type, with the relatively small wheels not generating much noise at cruising speed. You also sit low enough in the car that buffeting from the wind is kept to a minimum as long as you keep the side windows up.
Mazda knows that a big part of the appeal of the MX-5 is how accessible it is to everyone, and much of that is down to its affordability, with the entry-level version priced to undercut all its drop-top rivals by several thousand pounds. Thanks to the new Skyactiv petrol engines, and the 100kg of weight that has been shed compared with the old car, the MX-5 is a lot cleaner than it used to be, with CO2 emissions of 139g/km for the 1.5-litre model, and an official 47.1mpg on the combined cycle. This figure rises to 161g/km and drops to 40.9mpg for the 2.0-litre, and both are bettered by hot hatches with small turbo engines, but in the real world expect the MX-5 to be cheaper, with less wear on tyres and brakes thanks to its low weight.
Mazda – and especially the MX-5 – have a well-earned reputation for mechanical reliability, with important stuff like the engine and gearbox both likely to stand up to even the toughest abuse. This is backed up by the brand’s ranking with Warranty Direct, where it currently stands high up among the top ten manuacturers. Owners on our website also expressed their satisfaction with the MX-5’s staying power. Most report few, if any, niggles with their cars and, when repairs are carried out, everything is really cheap to fix. The latest MX-5 features more on-board technology than ever before, but hopefully this added complexity won’t compromise its enviable reputation as one of the toughest roadsters around, even if it’s a little too early to tell at this stage whether that’s going to be the case or not.
It’s no understatement to say that the latest MX-5 is comfortably the safest yet, and it scored an impressive four stars in Euro NCAP tests in 2015. It might be lighter than before, but the body shell is also much stiffer, so it’s better at absorbing energy around the driver and passenger in the event of a crash. At the front, minor shunts won’t leave you with a big bill, either, with most parts a simple bolt-on repair, and the engine is mounted right back behind the front wheels. On some versions, the comprehensive i-ACTIVSENSE pack brings gadgets like blind spot monitors, cross traffic alert (which helps reversing from driveways), lane departure warning and adaptive headlights. The standard roster of equipment has all the essentials covered, including traction control, front and side airbags, and a Category 1 Thatcham alarm and engine immobiliser to help prevent theft and improve security.
Essentially, the MX-5 range breaks down into three trim levels - SE, SE-L, and Sport - but you also have the option of adding Nav to the top two versions for a few hundred pounds. In base SE spec, the MX-5 misses out on cruise control, the touch-screen infotainment system and DAB radio, but still has alloys, air-con and a leather steering wheel. Upgrade to SE-L and you’ll receive most of the goodies mentioned above, plus a wind deflector for the cabin and LED running lights. The top-grade models look and feel a bit plusher inside, with leather upholstery on the dash and (heated) seats, a high-performance BOSE sound system that packs nine speakers into the car, including two in the seat headrests. Mazda is not the type of brand to ask its buyers to fork out loads for options either, so expect to pay something very close to the list price when you go into the dealer.
If you want the best-handling drop-top on the market, then accept no substitutes. The MX-5 is better than ever, with sharper looks, perfectly weighted controls and a new, smarter cabin that looks and feels bang up to date. The fact that it’s so tiny, and relatively cheap to buy, own and insure, only helps further bolster its huge appeal.