REVIEW DATE: 15 Dec 2008
June Neary on Mazda's latest MX-5
No car assaults the senses and tugs on the heart strings quite so fervently as a roadster and if we're talking about roadsters, the conversation must inevitably turn to Mazda's iconic MX-5. The current car takes the classic formula that has established the MX-5 as the world's best selling sports car and updates it, but not too much. The front end now has a more aggressive edge courtesy of a reshaped air-intake with cutaway sections either side to house the fog lights. Revisions to the side sills and the rear bumper complete the effect. All of which is all very well but the appeal of the MX-5 is all about the joy of driving and people who view climbing behind the wheel of a car as a necessary evil probably won't get it. They shouldn't knock it until they've tried it, however, because despite having only two seats, a miniscule boot and a canvas roof, it's a car with the power to convert non-believers into people who routinely take the long way home just for the fun of it. The MX-5 is woefully inadequate as a family car but it is desirable, accessible and it has the capacity to make the most mundane journeys enjoyable. Yes, it would suit me. If it weren't for the kids, the dog and that monstrous weekly shop that I find myself carting home from the supermarket every Thursday night. Many other people will be in a similar boat, but that won't stop them lusting after an MX-5.
Roadsters aren't built to be practical but the MX-5 makes a surprisingly good job of being as easy to live with as its lightweight, open-top remit allows. In an age when folding hard top roofs on cars can require a whole collection of electric motors to do their thing, it's refreshing to find a canvas cover that can be deployed and stowed, one-handed from the driver's seat in a matter of seconds. Mazda claim that's it's possible to get the roof down in six seconds but you'd be hanging around a bit if it took you that long. Release a couple of catches, sling the canopy nonchalantly over your shoulder and, hey presto, you're in posing mode. If you prefer an electric folding metal roof and are prepared to pay a fairly substantial premium, there's also a Roadster Coupe version. The boot is bigger than you might imagine, usefully deep and with a wide aperture. There's space for six or so shopping bags to be lined-up across its width and Mazda say you can get cases of 12 1.5-litre bottles stood upright in there. A booze cruise might not be out of the question. The interior is perhaps the area where today's MX-5 has progressed most significantly from its forebears. Anyone familiar with the Mazda RX-8 coupe will feel at home with the simple aluminium-ringed instruments, the black plastics and the three ventilation control dials. A range of different cubby holes are provided to store CDs, cameras, mobile phones and the like but anything much larger will need to be packed in the boot. The air-conditioning system offers a range of different modes with some set-up specifically for use when the car has its roof down and the weather isn't ideal. Thought has also gone into the stereo with the optional Bose system laying on seven speakers for your listening pleasure.
The MX-5 is a comfortable place to sit and you can really feel the car enclosed around you. The cabin is split in two by a thick transmission tunnel that runs down the centre but even larger drivers should find that there's ample room and the tunnel provides a handy spot to rest an elbow while cruising. The real fun starts when you fire up the engine and point the MX-5 down a twisty back road. Here the car is in its element with its sharp responses and poise in the corners. There are two engines to consider, a 1.8-litre 125bhp one and the range-topping 2.0-litre which generates 160bhp. My advice would be to save yourself £1,000 and get the 1.8. You do have to pay more attention to keeping the revs on the boil with this less powerful unit but most of the time the power gap isn't as too noticeable and, crucially, the 1.8 makes a more satisfying sound when revved hard. The 2.0-litre is a more relaxed proposition and great fun but, in a car that's supposed to stimulate the senses, the higher-pitched growl of the smaller unit muffled in the rushing wind does more for me. It's a given that the MX-5 is going to be a hoot to drive but it delivers the goods in quite a benign way. Neither engine is particularly raucous and both are surprisingly refined when not being asked to press on. Even with the roof down, you feel cosseted in the driver's seat with little buffeting from the wind or harshness from under the bonnet.
As a value for money package of classic styling, driving excitement and open-topped motoring that isn't a chore to live with day to day, the Mazda MX-5 is hard to beat. Mazda have sensibly fought the urge to mess with their winning formula but they've given the car an added dimension in quality while making various tweaks and improvements across the board. It's still a two seater roadster and most people simply won't be able to run one as an only car for practical reasons but many of them will wish that they could. I know I do.
The results below show the top MX-5 deals on buyacar
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|Price £18,141||Save £4,944|
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