Currently reading: Nearly new buying guide: Mazda MX-5
It may be Japanese, but this roadster follows the best of British tradition

There’s no need to overthink a sports car.

At the forefront, they’re about driving thrills and gigglesome fun, and few do that as well and as simplistically as the Mazda MX-5. Its small dimensions, modest weight and rear-wheel-drive dynamics are timelessly entertaining. The same can be said of the 1989 original all the way up to this current, fourth-generation car.

Let’s get specific, though, and see what makes it tick. A 1.5-litre engine opens the ‘ND’ range with a modest 129bhp for a 0-62mph time of 8.3sec. There’s also a 2.0-litre engine with 158bhp, which was upgraded to produce 181bhp in mid-2018. The latter output allows for 0-62mph in 6.5sec, although it varies depending on your particular configuration – heavier trim levels and the automatic gearbox will slow it down.

Speaking of trims, there are a fair few to choose from. Most notably towards the lower end, you have SE with 16in alloy wheels, LED headlights, air-con, a basic audio system with an aux connection and a single detachable cupholder.

Move up to SE L Nav and it gains a second cupholder for the passenger (or thirsty driver), along with heated seats, cruise control, climate control and a 7.0in infotainment screen (replacing a basic head unit) with a DAB radio, sat-nav and Bluetooth.

If you go for the 2.0-litre engine, a rear limited-slip differential that helps with traction when cornering is included, along with 17in alloys. Sport Nav trim gets you firmer sports suspension with Bilstein dampers, automatic lights and wipers, leather seats, a Bose premium stereo, rear parking sensors and lane-departure warning.

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Lastly, go for GT Sport Nav+ to get keyless entry and a reversing camera. As a whole, the luxuries and interior quality of the MX-5 are to be admired. There’s nice leather trim in places and everything is logically laid out.

Even the suspension swoons you, because it’s not particularly hardcore in its set-up, making long journeys surprisingly comfortable.

That also speaks to the car’s focus on accessible handling limits. It isn’t just dyanamic on a track but also on the road. You don’t have to be going at warp speeds to play with its grip, and with its light weight, rev-happy personality and uncrazy power, you can have fun legally for longer.

Overall, then, if you aim to spend your money on fun handling and driving engagement, it would be criminal to not shortlist the MX-5.

Prices begin at around £11,500 for an early 1.5-litre cars, while well-used early 2.0-litre cars rise to a reasonable £12,000 to begin with. For the 181bhp 2.0-litre engine, you’re looking at upwards of £19,000, but that’s still less than what you would pay for a new entry-level Toyota Yaris.

Need to know

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There have been several special-edition MX-5s, including the 30th Anniversary (pictured) and the Z-Sport, with black 17in BBS alloys and a cherry-red hood.

The MX-5 received a respectable rating of 95.1% in the most recent What Car? Reliability Survey.

A Retractable Fastback (RF) car is also available. It isn’t quite as quick as the soft-top, due to its extra weight, and you’re always aware of metal behind you, but then it’s a little more refined. Some will prefer its coupé-like look, too.

Buyer beware

Surprise shifts: If your automatic MX-5 was built between 5 October 2016 and 22 November 2018, it might downshift unexpectedly. A Mazda dealer will need to update the software for the gearbox if it’s affected by this recall to prevent this from happening.

Height restriction: The MX-5 is small and snug, so taller drivers should try before they buy.

Getting too hot: In issue with the start/stop system (called i-ELOOP) on MX-5s made between 15 May 2015 and 13 April 2017 could lead to it overheating and in extreme circumstances catching fire. Ask a Mazda dealer to check whether your car is affected. If it is, you will need a technician to update its software and inspect the whole system, because certain parts might need to be replaced.

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Our pick

2.0: If you can stretch to it, this engine adds a useful dose of power. The stiffer suspension (which is still comfy) and slippy diff that come with it add up to a wonderfully capable and agile sports car.

Our top spec

Sport Tech: Going for the 2.0-litre engine does limit your trim options, but Sport Tech is available here. It gets adaptive LED headlights, 17in alloy wheels and sports suspension featuring Bilstein dampers.

Wild card

30th Anniversary: Mazda built only 3000 of this bright-orange special edition. It offers no more power than a regular 2.0-litre but does get goodies including forged wheels and upgraded brakes.

Oliver Young

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gavsmit 7 July 2022

Getting too hot: In issue with the start/stop system (called i-ELOOP) on MX-5s made between 15 May 2015 and 13 April 2017 could lead to it overheating and in extreme circumstances catching fire. Ask a Mazda dealer to check whether your car is affected. If it is, you will need a technician to update its software and inspect the whole system, because certain parts might need to be replaced.

....sounds just great for a car with a supposedly reliable reputation :D 

jason_recliner 12 July 2022

And one Autocar reader had a reliability issue with his MX-5! Can you believe it?  What a stinking heap!  And have you seen the prices of MX-5s these days?

Zeddy 7 July 2022
"It may be Japanese, but this roadster follows the best of British tradition."

It does not.
They are generally very reliable (excepting the person who comes on here to tell us that it's his worst car ever ).

si73 7 July 2022
Zeddy wrote:

"It may be Japanese, but this roadster follows the best of British tradition."

It does not.
They are generally very reliable (excepting the person who comes on here to tell us that it's his worst car ever ).

The best of British tradition is more meaningless than it was when the first na models came out as small British sports cars were still well remembered, if not commonplace, then. Nowadays if anyone was asked to think of a two seat small sports car, the MX5 is probably what they would first think of.
So it's probably more accurate to refer to best of Japanese tradition now.
I still think the 1.5 is all you need performance wise for the road, it is a fair bit quicker than my '94 1.8 na which I always find quick enough for country road blasts.

Zeddy 7 July 2022
You can drive the 2.0 engine relying on the torque in a lazy manner.
30 mph in 6th is not uncomfortable.