Mazda MX-5 convertible review



“The new Mazda MX-5 keeps the model’s signature traits of superb handling, eager performance, sporty styling and low running costs.”

The Mazda MX-5 has barely put a foot wrong since the original version of this popular two-seater sports car debuted in 1989. It's always stuck to the proven formula of a retractable roof, an affordable purchase price, reasonable running costs, light weight, rear-wheel drive and tremendously entertaining handling.

It has few direct rivals – the similarly fun-to-drive Lotus Elise is a lot more expensive to buy, while more conventional convertibles such as the Volkswagen Golf cabriolet and Audi A3 cabriolet aren’t as much fun to drive. The similarly priced Toyota GT 86 also promises affordable, rear-wheel-drive fun, but it's only available as a hard-top coupe, not a convertible. MINI recently announced it would be discontinuing the two-seater MINI Roadster, removing another potential alternative to the Mazda.

The Mazda MX-5 is now in its fourth generation and shows no signs of losing the magic that has helped it to sell nearly a million examples worldwide in the quarter of a century that it's been on sale. This latest version is shorter, lower, wider and lighter than its predecessor, offering the same grin-inducing handling and eager performance that MX-5 drivers have come to expect over the years.

It's possibly the most visually attractive MX-5 to date, too, using Mazda's Kodo design language to create something that's instantly recognisable as an MX-5, yet still bang up-to-date. Narrow headlights and tight, swoopy curves make it look very compact and aggressive – and it looks particularly good in brighter colours such as red, which help to highlight its bold lines.

The new Mazda MX-5 is expected to go on sale in the UK in late summer 2015. Exact specification levels – as well as performance, fuel economy and CO2 emissions figures – have yet to be confirmed, but having driven the car, we can confirm that it shouldn’t disappoint either long-term fans of the MX-5 or those who are new to sports-car ownership.

MPG, running costs & CO2 - 4.2/5

SKYACTIV engine technology ensures the new Mazda MX-5 can put a smile on your face without breaking the bank

Mazda placed huge emphasis on low weight and low CO2 emissions when developing the new Mazda MX-5, so the benefits should be felt in the form of very low running costs for a sports car. A key part of the appeal of previous generations of the MX-5 has always been how affordable they were to run, with good fuel economy as well as cheap parts and maintenance. Long-time fans will be pleased to know that the latest version looks set to continue that tradition.

MPG and CO2

Mazda hasn’t yet confirmed official fuel economy and CO2 emissions figures for the new MX-5, but going by the company’s other models, such as the Mazda3 hatchback and Mazda CX-5, they should be pretty impressive – especially when you consider how light the two-seater MX-5 is. In the past, we’ve also found Mazda SKYACTIV engines to be better at matching their official published fuel economy figures than the small turbo engines used by the likes of Fiat and Ford.

Insurance group

Insurance ratings for the new Mazda MX-5 haven’t been confirmed yet, either. To give an indication, the outgoing model fell into groups 21 to 33, so the new version should be similar.

Warranty

All new Mazdas are currently covered by a three-year/60,000-mile manufacturer’s warranty, a three-year surface-rust warranty for the paintwork and a 12-year guarantee against rust holes in the body. There’s every reason to expect the new MX-5 will get the same level of cover.

Servicing

Exact servicing costs for the new MX-5 are also unconfirmed as yet, but Mazda offers fixed-price servicing packages, which can be paid for up front in a lump sum or spread out over regular monthly instalments, so budgeting for maintenance should be relatively straightforward.

Engines, drive & performance - 4.2/5

Light weight means the new MX-5 doesn’t need loads of horsepower to offer a fun and involving driving experience.

Like all Mazda MX-5s to date, the new car is superb fun to drive, with responsive, well weighted steering and a balanced feel through corners. Refinement at high speed was one of the old MX-5’s weak points, but it’s been improved here – although there is still some degree of wind noise from the roof and door mirrors when you’re cruising along a motorway. As the new car is a full 100kg lighter than the model it replaces, the characteristic Mazda MX-5 agility has been retained.

Petrol engines

At launch, the new Mazda MX-5 is being offered with a choice of 1.5 or 2.0-litre SKYACTIV petrol engines. Unlike many current performance cars, it doesn’t use turbocharging technology to help reduce CO2 emissions and boost fuel economy, but Mazda has found other ways of achieving these goals.

For the moment, we’ve only driven the 1.5-litre engine, which produces 129bhp. It revs quickly, sounds great and provides all the performance you could realistically need on the public road – although the exact 0-62mph time and top speed haven’t been confirmed yet.

Only one gearbox is offered: a six-speed manual that’s a joy to use. It has a small, stubby gearleaver that slots neatly into each gear and requires just the right amount of force to shift, making driving plenty of fun.

The lack of a turbocharger means the MX-5 isn’t quite as eager accelerating from low speeds as some hot hatches, but it’s so light that you don’t really miss the low and mid-range shove that a turbocharger provides as much as you’d think. At high revs, the engine responds almost instantly to a press on the accelerator.

Diesel engine

Mazda is rumoured to be considering a diesel-powered version of the new MX-5 at some point in the future, but there’s been no official confirmation of these plans.

Interior & comfort - 4.8/5

A hi-tech, high-quality interior largely borrowed from the Mazda3 hatchback makes the new Mazda MX-5 a comfortable and satisfying place to spend time.

As with previous Mazda MX-5s, the driving position of the new model leaves you in no doubt you’re at the wheel of a dedicated sports car. You sit low down, with the pedals spaced close together at your feet and the gearstick at just the right level for your left hand. All this leaves you feeling snug and cocooned, in keeping with the Mazda MX-5 philosophy of making the driver feel at one with the car.

Dashboard

Interior quality was a bit of a sticking point in the old MX-5. The dashboard and other cabin fixtures were reasonably solid, but they were made of plastics that felt a bit dull and cheap compared to what was on offer in some rivals. The new car has raised the game in this area considerably, though, with classier-looking materials used for most of the parts that you see and feel on a regular basis. There are still some lower-quality materials in evidence lower down in the cabin, though.

Anyone who’s driven a Mazda2, Mazda3, Mazda6 or Mazda CX-5 will be familiar with the new MX-5’s infotainment system, which has a rotary controller that allows you to scroll through a range of easy-to-read menus to operate many of the car’s on-board systems.

Equipment

Mazda hasn’t yet confirmed the exact trim levels and standard equipment that it’ll be offering for the MX-5 in the UK, so it’s not possible to say which version will be the best equipped or offer the best value for money at this point.

Options

Again, exactly what optional extras you’ll be able to specify on your new MX-5 hasn’t been revealed yet. Further details should be confirmed before the car arrives in UK dealerships in late summer 2015.



Practicality & boot space - 3/5

Practicality was never a Mazda MX-5 strong suit and that hasn’t changed with this latest model.

Nobody buys a two-seater sports car for its outright luggage or passenger capacity, but it’s still nice to know you can fit a few good-sized bags in the boot for a road trip or a long weekend away. You should just about be able to do that in the Mazda MX-5, but it’s never been a class leader in this regard and that hasn’t changed much with the new model.

Interior space and storage

The new Mazda MX-5 is snug but not excessively cramped inside. It also has wide-opening doors with relatively narrow sills, so it’s much easier to get in and out of with your dignity intact than the Lotus Elise.

The steering wheel adjusts in and out, but not up and down, so exceptionally tall drivers may have difficulty finding their perfect driving position. There’s no height adjustment for the driver’s seat, either, but you can adjust the angle of the base and backrest as well as moving it back and forth.

Storage space isn’t great, as there’s no glovebox in the dashboard, so the MX-5 is best suited to people who travel light. There is however a storage box between the seats, which locks to provide extra security when the roof is down.

Boot space

Mazda hasn’t given an exact figure for the MX-5’s boot capacity yet, but although this car is smaller overall than the model it replaces, luggage space has increased a bit. The boot is deeper than you’d expect looking at from outside, so there’s definitely room for a few good-sized bags in there.

The boot opening is quite narrow and restricted, though, making it difficult to get larger items in, so you have to think carefully about how you pack.

Towing

The Mazda MX-5 has never been suitable for use as a tow car – and that fact hasn’t changed with the latest model.



Reliability & safety - 3.9/5

Mazda has a long record of producing dependable and safe cars and the new Mazda MX-5 should be no different.

One of the chief attractions of the Mazda MX-5 ever since the original model launched has been its reliability. Many sports cars offer thrilling performance that has to be balanced against high running costs or questionable reliability, but the little Mazda has always been no more complex than your average family hatchback – and as a result it has an excellent record for dependability.

Reliability

Mazda has always tended to do well in our Driver Power owner satisfaction survey, and the outgoing MX-5 was rated 10th out of 150 cars for reliability in the 2014 edition. Overall, it finished in 96th place, which was a reflection of the fact that it’s quite an old design.

Mazda as a brand was ranked eighth out of 33 marques in the manufacturer rankings, which is another impressive result and indicates that Mazda buyers are generally satisfied with their purchase.

Safety

The Mazda MX-5 hasn’t been crash-tested by safety body Euro NCAP since the second-generation model was evaluated way back in 2002. It scored four out of a possible five stars on that occasion, but the test criteria have changed a lot since then and this latest MX-5 is an all-new design, so there’s not much that can be taken from that result.

The new MX-5 will of course have standard safety systems such as airbags, anti-lock brakes and electronic stability control, but Mazda also promises to include some of the i-ACTIVSENSE active safety technology seen on the Mazda3 hatchback and Mazda6 saloon. These systems include radar-guided cruise control, lane-departure warning and blind-spot monitoring, although it hasn’t been confirmed exactly which elements will be offered on the MX-5. There’s also a pop-up bonnet designed to minimise injuries if a pedestrian is hit by the car. 
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