First Drive: Mazda MX-5

Mazda goes back to basics for the new MX-5, but is the iconic roadster still the car it once was?

Twenty five years after it was first introduced, Mazda has tried to revive the purity of the original model in the new fourth generation of their now ubiquitous MX-5. Taking the car back to its 1990s roots by eschewing the growing trend for more power, the new model is small, light and nimble.

It’s certainly a big change from the old model. The third generation was very much an evolution of the second generation, itself an obvious stretch from the first. This new model throws out all the design cues and brings in Mazda’s successful Kodo design, all sharp edges and swoopy curves, intended to create a sensation of movement even when stationary.

The end result is that it’s not quite as pure in styling as the original, but looks a whole lot more aggressive. It also attracts attention, with the people of Inverness taking a keen interest in the car.

Inside it’s very much the modern Mazda. There’s a clear instrument panel ahead, circular air vents either side, and an infotainment screen that looks a little like an afterthought. It works well, but some design quirks leave it looking a tad untidy at times.

That’s forgiven once you hit the road. My test model is powered by a 1.5-litre engine that produces just 129bhp. If that doesn’t sound like a recipe for fun, then there’s a more powerful 2.0-litre version available for another £600 or so, but don’t jump ahead and think that’ll be the better option…

What you get on the 1.5 engined model is a tame version of the car, while the more powerful Sport model not only gets a bigger engine, but also acquires a limited slip differential, strut brace and sports-tuned suspension and Bilstein dampers.

But I’m in Scotland, driving it across delightful roads policed with a zero-tolerance to speeding, so it’s the 1.5 I spent most time with.

The car is light to use, with a short gearshift, which makes it easy to live with in urban environments, but leave the city and the engine can be worked right up to its 7,000rpm redline. Keep the revs high and the engine sings, as the car comes alive. With just 129bhp, it’s never overwhelmingly powerful – you’ll struggle to slide the back end out without extreme provocation – but that just allows you to extract the most from the car.

The steering is light but has a fair bit of feel, allowing you to place the car accurately. As you’re throwing it around, you’ll also notice the ride quality really is very good.

It’s all so effortless, and so much fun. Forget your 200mph supercars –the fun really happens right here, at around 40mph. Honestly, it’s such an engaging piece of engineering that any road becomes a pleasure to drive, roof up or down.

If that’s too overwhelmingly positive, there are niggles. The pedals are offset to the right by a surprising amount, and the steering wheel doesn’t adjust for reach. Opt for the 2.0-litre model and the ride quality suffers a fair amount, although you do get a livelier car. Swings and roundabouts.

Sticking with downsides, it’s also remarkably impractical. The boot provides just 130 litres of storage – that’s less than you’ll find in a Fiat 500 – while the cabin is a tad snug in places. However, the roof can be thrown back manually in a couple of seconds should the sun pop out briefly, while it’s reasonably frugal. Officially 47.1mpg is achievable (some rather enthusiastic driving saw it return just a smidge over 40mpg in my care), with a CO2 figure of 139g/km leaving you with a car tax bill of £130 a year.

It’s also a well priced option. The range starts at £18,495, just £4,500 up from the price it launched at 25 years ago.

For that you get the 1.5 tested here and, while it lacks the punch of the 2.0-litre, it’s beautifully balanced and provides smiles at pretty much any speed and on any road. Yes, the stiffer, faster, more powerful option will suit you better if you’re heading out for frequent track days, but for everyday use this MX-5 will provide you with a lot more fun than you’ll get out of virtually any other car.

It makes you smile, whether you’re winding your way through the highlands or queuing through traffic to get to Waitrose, and that makes it a near perfect car.

Model Tested: Mazda MX-5 Sport Nav 1.5
Price: £22,445
Engine: 1.5-litre petrol
Top speed: 127 mph
0-62 mph: 8.3 seconds
Power: 131 PS (129 bhp)
Torque: 150 Nm (111 ft-lb)
Official fuel economy: 47.1 mpg
Road Test economy: N/A
CO2 Emissions: 139 g/km
VED Band: E / £130 per year
Car insurance group: 26E
Kerb weight: 1,050 kg
The following two tabs change content below.
Phil is a motoring writer for print and web, failed racing driver, car hoarder and banger rally competitor. Nominated for the Headline Auto Rising Star award and a MGMW member, Phil freelances for outlets as diverse as Diesel Car magazine, DAD.info and Cambridge Magazine, amongst many others. He also maintains a fleet of unloved motors, but spends most of his time driving an old Corvette.

Latest posts by Phil Huff (see all)

Leave a Reply