Why we love the Mazda MX-5
PUBLISHED: 13:19 20 February 2016 | UPDATED: 13:19 20 February 2016
Whichever of the two engines you choose, the best affordable sports car you can buy is even better value now
Mazda’s latest and possibly greatest MX-5 was 2015’s star car for me. It’s the fourth generation of the Japanese brand’s flag waver and nods to both Mazda’s past and future.
For the original MX-5 rescued the company 25 years ago and the latest version showcases Mazda’s brilliant Skyactiv technology: tuning driver enjoyment, boosting power to weight ratio, and slashing consumption and emissions.
This has allowed the new Mk 4 MX-5 to echo the scale, weight and pleasure of the legendary Mk 1, retaining that front engine/rear-driven balance, yet carrying the best tech and safety demanded by consumers and legislation. More aggressive styling makes it look bigger in pictures, causing a quick mental re-calibration when viewed in the metal.
While you feel snug in the cockpit – a visual trick enhanced by door cappings that curve in towards the facia and the immaculately arranged dashboard – the car is as spacious as previous generations. These were all comfy enough for a long-distance business trip, let alone sporty expeditions or weekends away.
As ever, the properly watertight soft top can be raised and lowered manually in seconds, and with even greater ease; flick a clip and flip it back, or vice versa.
The big question for buyers is: a 130bhp 1.5-litre or 159bhp 2.0-litre engine? The former is the essence of the original MX-5, while the latter is by far the most performance-oriented MX-5 to date.
For the money (from £18,495), the 1.5 as tested here is undoubtedly the best, with its sheer affordability echoing the original MX-5 ethos: a British-style sports car that’s cheap to buy, but comes with bulletproof reliability and a user-friendly hood that doesn’t leak. The 1.5 engine itself is already familiar in the Mazda range: it is free-revving and punchy, propelling the lightly loaded Mk4 MX-5 to 0-62mph in a highly respectable 8.3 seconds.
A close-ratio six-speed manual ‘box comes as standard across the MX-5 line-up, and its slick-shifting style upholds a proud tradition.
Mazda’s marketing spiel bangs on about an analogy between car and driver and horse and rider, but you can forgive it when considering the MX-5.
This is a car to harmonise with, its nicely judged steering and balanced chassis constantly feeding back as you swoop along a clear, winding road.
If you are willing to pay more for such pleasure then the 160bhp 2.0-litre (from £20,095) beckons, with its beefed-up rear suspension and a 0-62mph in 7.3 seconds.
It adds £1,600 to the price of an equivalent 1.5 and raises running costs, but it’s a terrific car too, further rebutting the ‘hairdresser’s car’ nonsense spouted about the MX-5 over the years.
But how’s this for an independent word on the MX-5’s standing in the sports car world? An experienced driver, MX-5 owner and friend told me how delighted he was to borrow a Ferrari after calling in a favour, but added: “It was lovely, but after a driving for a while, I thought about its foibles, the silly money tied up in it, the envy/jealousy factor and so on, and then I saw an MX-5 approaching… I realised I’d rather be driving that.”
Price from: £18,495
Model featured: 1.5i SE-L Nav £19,845
Power: 130bhp and 0-62mph in 8.3 seconds
Engine: 1,496cc four-cylinder petrol
Fuel consumption: 47.1mpg combined cycle
Road tax: £130/year
Best rival: Toyota GT86/Subaru BRZ