Shropshire Star

UK Drive: The Mazda MX-5 remains a sheer delight to drive

The Mazda MX-5 is almost in a class of one if you’re looking for an affordable, fun convertible. Ted Welford tries it out

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What is it?

The MX-5 has been an icon for Mazda.

The knock-on effect of the popularity of SUVs and EVs is that cars are getting bigger, but also heavier. An average family car a decade ago would have been a diesel Volkswagen Golf, coming in at around 1,350kg. Today, a typical family bus is probably the best-selling Tesla Model Y, which weighs almost two tonnes, even before it’s laden with people and luggage. That’s not to single out the Tesla, as any equivalent will weigh similar, if not more.

It means that cars like the lightweight Mazda MX-5 roadster now hold quite a unique position, and this drop-top especially as it’s one of the few ‘affordable’ (relative, of course) new sports cars you can go out and buy today. But is the MX-5 starting to feel a bit behind the times, or should it still be celebrated?

What’s new?

The Zircon Sand colour is new for the MX-5 in 2023. (Mazda)

The latest generation Mazda MX-5 first arrived in dealers in 2015, and in truth hasn’t changed all that much since. There has been a slight power boost over the years, while equipment has improved too. There have been various special editions as part of model-year updates, too.

For 2023, the changes are as mild as a Korma that the curry powder has been left out of. They include the addition of a questionable colour called Zircon Sand (a strange dark-beige shade), while the trim levels have been renamed to bring it in line with newer Mazda models.

What’s under the bonnet?

The MX-5 can be had with a choice of 1.5- and 2.0-litre engines. (Mazda)

Engine choice remains identical on the MX-5 to before, with the option of a 130bhp 1.5-litre petrol and a 181bhp 2.0-litre petrol. Both are naturally aspirated, send drive to the rear wheels and come with a six-speed manual gearbox as standard. You have to choose the hard-top ‘RF’ model if you want an automatic.

Our test car is the more powerful of the two and is able to accelerate from 0-60mph in 6.3 seconds and head on to a top speed of 136mph. The good news is that because of the MX-5’s low weight (1,127kg, including a 75kg driver), it shouldn’t cost noticeably more to run than a typical hatchback, with Mazda claiming 40.9mpg and CO2 emissions of 155g/km.

What’s it like to drive?

The MX-5 is brilliantly agile to drive. (Mazda)

The MX-5 is a complete paradox to an SUV, with those models towering above this little Mazda like monster trucks. Getting in isn’t the most elegant of manoeuvres, and once you’re there, you’ve not got a huge amount of space to put your legs if you’re a taller driver.
But once in, it all starts to come together. The short-shift manual gearbox is a joy to use, and though you do have to work the engine quite hard at times, the process is superb and only adds to the excitement.

But it’s the handling of the MX-5 that is the best thing. The agility of this Mazda is incredible, and you can turn it sharply into a corner with full confidence and knowledge of where and what the front wheels are doing. It’s light, involving and entertaining and can be enjoyed without the risk of doing silly speeds.

How does it look?

Mazda isn’t a firm known for radical changes, and that’s why the ‘new’ MX-5 looks almost identical to the model that came out almost eight years ago. But why change something for the sake of it?

With its long bonnet and sharply-styled front end, the MX-5 looks like a proper sports car, while the plentiful trim range means there are various different looks and wheels you can go for. That stems from smaller, simpler alloy wheels on entry-level models through to larger BBS rims you’ll find on top-spec MX-5s.

What’s it like inside?

The MX-5’s interior is functional, but starting to show its age. (Mazda)

We’ve addressed the fact that the MX-5 ‘s cabin doesn’t offer the greatest amount of space, but that shouldn’t come as any surprise. For two people, there’s enough room, though storage is limited, while the boot, while relatively tight to access, offers space for a few small weekend away bags.

The rest of the cabin is fairly traditional, as there’s no big touchscreen or digital dials, but there’s no harm in that. Sure, it might look a bit dated, but with an easy-to-use infotainment system, incorporating wireless Apple CarPlay and Android Auto, it comes with everything you need. The heated seats will be welcome if you want to use this drop-top all year round as well.

What’s the spec like?

All MX-5s come with plenty of standard equipment. (Mazda)

Mazda has rejigged the trim levels, and in the process, has probably made things a bit confusing. But here goes, as the range starts with the Prime-Line, which comes with LED headlights, heated seats and climate control. Exclusive-Line brings leather upholstery, keyless entry and a range of driver assistance technology.

Moving up the trims, the Exclusive Line packs a sportier suspension setup, reversing camera and adaptive LED lights, while the top-spec Homura packs BBS alloy wheels, red Brembo brake callipers and a smart cream leather upholstery.

The best thing about the MX-5 remains its price, as with a starting tag of £25,825, it’s cheaper than cars like the Volkswagen Golf. The 2.0-litre model is noticeably more expensive, costing more than £30,000, but by sports car standards, things don’t get much more accessible than this.

Verdict

To some, the idea of a small, manual roadster that does without any hint of electrification might feel like a bygone relic, but if you care about and enjoy driving, the Mazda MX-5 is a car to be celebrated.

Offering one of the purest, simplest and most enjoyable driving experiences of any car on sale today, it might lack a little in the way of refinement and space, but you’ll struggle to get a more enjoyable new car for less than this Mazda.

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