It’s 25 years since the original Mazda MX-5 went on sale in the UK. In that time, not only has it become the best-selling two-seat roadster in history but it’s also won huge acclaim with motoring journalists and enthusiasts alike.
So if you’re tasked with creating the new model, do you start from scratch or do you build upon what you’ve already got? Mazda has done a bit of both.
This fourth-generation car is all-new but still very much an MX-5. It gets a brand new rear-wheel drive chassis and a choice of two new petrol engines: the 2.0-litre unit that we’re running and a less powerful but still fun 1.5. But it’s still got the all-important MX-5 DNA.
MX-5 programme manager Nobuhiro Yamamoto told us there are five key characteristics that make up an MX-5: rear-wheel drive with a front-mid engine layout, 50/50 weight distribution, minimal ‘yaw inertia’ (how quickly it changes direction), a low kerb weight and affordability. This new model, he said, excels in each area.
For me, the two traits that are most impressive are the low kerb weight and the continued affordability. As cars get safer, faster and more high-tech, the tendency has been for them to get bigger, heavier and more expensive. The MX-5 totally bucks the trend. It’s shorter than any MX-5 that’s gone before, it weighs just over a tonne thanks to some clever weight-saving techniques and it starts at just £18,495, which is astonishingly good value for something this capable.
You’ll notice that our car has come in at nearly £3000 over that starting price. That’s mostly because we’ve gone for the more powerful 2.0-litre model, which isn’t available in entry-level SE trim. We’ve actually chosen SE-L Nav trim — adding £1350 to the starting price — which comes with the touchscreen infotainment system from the Mazda 3, sat-nav, climate control, cruise control, DAB, Bluetooth and two speakers in the driver’s headrest.
Upgrading to the 2.0-litre model is a further £850, but it’s well worth it, because you get not only improved performance but also a limited-slip differential and front strut brace as standard. The final thing we added is Soul Red metallic paint, a £660 option that looks fantastic. And speaking of looks, Mazda’s ‘Kodo’ design language really suits a two-seat roadster. It’s aggressive and futuristic but still clearly an MX-5. It’ll win a lot of fans.
As mentioned, this generation of MX-5 is the shortest yet, but you wouldn’t know it from the cabin. There’s still plenty of room for two adults and the driving position is great. You sit low down and the pedals, gearlever and steering wheel are all where you would want them to be. It’s a shame the wheel doesn’t adjust for reach, but that hasn’t stopped us getting comfortable.
The cabin is also the classiest yet. The materials are much higher in quality than those of the previous car. It’s true that the German manufacturers don’t need to feel threatened, but then it is significantly cheaper than an Audi TT or a BMW Z4, so we shouldn’t grumble.
One of the best touches is the folding roof. It’s lighter than before and can still be operated one-handed. It drops in just five seconds and is remarkably easy to use. It’s also pretty good at keeping out road noise when in place, but I hope to have it down as much as possible.
Now to practicality. The boot is 20 litres smaller than the one that went before it, but I’m assured it’s a better shape and therefore more usable. lf reports are to be believed that snapper Luc was able to get all his camera gear in it, I shouldn’t have any issues fitting a couple of weekend bags in there.
Right, so now we know all about it, here’s the important bit: what’s it like to drive? Well, all the reports you’ve read so far are true. This really is a fun car. It’s not remarkably fast, but the level of enjoyment it offers is hard to beat. It steers and handles beautifully and the gearbox is fantastic.
My commute won’t do this car justice, so I’m already planning weekends away to get the most out of it. That’s if I can hold on to the keys for long enough. In the Autocar office, a high percentage of people have owned an older MX-5, so we might have to come up with a booking system for weekends.
Is there anything negative to report so far? I could pine for a steering wheel that adjusts for reach, but that would be me being just a bit too sensible.
Update - 10 December 2015
Now that the temperature has dropped, we've decided to put winter tyres on the MX-5.
A reader recommended Tyres on the Drive, a service that does as the name suggests and comes to your home or office to repair punctures or replace tyres.
The MX-5 was originally on Bridgestone Potenzas, but those have been swapped for Bridgestone Blizzak run-flat winter tyres. I'll report back on how the winter tyres have affected the MX-5's handling and braking, but I can report that everything with Tyres on the Drive went off without a hitch. A van-based mobile workshop arrived and changed the tyres in about 90 minutes without any hassle.
Mazda MX-5 2.0i SE-L Nav
Price as tested £21,355
Options Soul Red metallic paint £660
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