First Drive: Mazda MX-5 30th Anniversary

Three decades on from its introduction, is the MX-5 still relevant? We send Ben Thorpe to find out…

Mazda has never been shy about offering special editions of the MX-5, serving up innumerable different paint jobs, combinations of options, exclusive badges and occasional technical upgrades over the years to various degrees of success.

Key amongst these have been the anniversary editions that Mazda has used to mark milestones since the MX-5’s 1989 launch. Predictably, it’s now time for the 30th Anniversary Edition.

Three decades and four generations separate the original MX-5 from the 30th Anniversary model

The 30th Anniversary Edition of what is now the fourth generation of the MX-5 presents itself boldly in eye-catching Racing Orange. It also features a subtle, by comparison, numbered badge on one of the flanks to remind you that you’re in one of only 3,000 manufactured. Other cosmetic touches include new forged aluminium wheels from Rays that sit in front of orange brake calipers.

The 15-inch front brakes and calipers are supplied by Brembo for the first time on a UK model, while there’s also Bilstein dampers, both upgrades that should be more impactful on the driving experience. 

You’re reminded just how vivid that orange is by the matching plastic strakes that run across the top of the interior door trim, visually connecting with the front wings that flare upwards at the extremities of the bonnet. This aggressive bonnet styling makes one feel as if a significant proportion of the car’s mass is beyond your feet, and creates the sensation of the MX-5 being a larger car than it is. In fact, it’s broadly comparable to the original 30-year-old  model that this special edition celebrates, the weight being similarly impressive at just over 1,000kg.

The rest of the cockpit feels good quality and is cohesive, with sensible ergonomics as you’d expect in a Mazda. Storage is less successful though, with the “glove box” offering roughly enough space for just that and little more. Cupholders also feel something of an afterthought and are infected by a sense of design indecision that allows one of them to be repositioned from awkwardly placed by your elbow to awkwardly placed on the transmission tunnel. Niggles aside, there’s enough practicality built into the car to satisfy, given that the boot is capable of receiving roughly 130 litres of whatever you can fit through the slightly narrow aperture.

Mazda talks a lot about the concept of Jinba-Ittai when marketing the MX-5, a reference to a Japanese tradition about the oneness that should exist between horse and rider. This modern interpretation is their attempt to put the sense of connection between car and driver foremost in the mind, forging an emotional connection as well as physical. That sense of connection is more than just hyperbole and easily felt in the driving experience.

This perky little Mazda does a superb job of telling you what each of its corners are doing and making sure you know what the result of your inputs will be. With 184hp to deploy from the 2.0-litre Skyactiv-G engine, forward progress is spirited without ever feeling intimidating, as has ever been the case with Mazda’s junior sports car. There’s still plenty of power available to allow one to have fun, but the emphasis is on fun at sensible speeds rather than outright pace.

The exhaust note hasn’t been unnecessarily sanitised and, with the roof down, there’s a pleasing amount of both intake and ancillary noise that gives the drivetrain plenty of character. Contributing to this is the precise gear change, its pleasing action encouraging you to change ratios frequently, blipping the throttle as you do.

The ride is surprisingly compliant, controlling roll well but staying comfortable enough to avoid compromising every day usage. It combines well with those confidence-inspiring Brembo brakes, allowing you to push on while remaining within the bounds of talent and common sense.

As well as the soft-top tested here, the MX-5 30th is available in both the as an RF (Retractable Fastback) model. With no mechanical changes to the regular MX-5 in either roof type, there’s little comment to be made that hasn’t already. The RF may not command an enormous premium (around £1,800 extra) but it prevents you from enjoying the full soft top experience, produces a disappointing amount of wind noise, and fails to feel like a permanent roof when in position.

This Anniversary Edition is a suitable way to celebrate the Mazda’s 30th milestone, admirably showcasing the strengths that have ensured the longevity of the MX-5. Talk of oneness between driver and car translates into a driving experience that really does offer just that, while remaining civilised and as practical as one would expect a car in this sector to be.

It’s impressive that Mazda continues to capture the spirit of the original 30 years down the line, both in terms of feel and emotion, and measurables such as weight and dimensions, while adding in modern performance and economy. It does that without feeling old fashioned, too. Despite the varied and capable competition available, that a car launched in the 80s and inspired by British sports cars from two decades earlier remains relevant today is the biggest compliment the MX-5 could receive.

Model Tested: Mazda MX-5 30th Anniversary Edition Convertible
Price: £28,095
Range: £19,495 – £29,895
Top speed: 136 mph
0-62 mph: 6.5 seconds
Power: 184 PS (181 bhp)
Torque: 205 Nm (151 lb ft)
Monthly PCP*: £384
Official fuel economy: 40.9 mpg
Road test economy: N/A
CO2 Emissions: 155 g/km
Car Tax: £145
Insurance group: 34A
* Monthly PCP estimate based on 20% deposit, 36 month term, 5% APR, final payment of 40%.
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Ben is a motoring enthusiast and racing fan, with a passion for anything with a big engine that goes fast. He can therefore be found hanging around drag strips talking unfathomably about 10 seconds and quarter miles. Despite this, and a weakness for American muscle, he drives a SAAB 9-3.

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