Car review: Fun Mazda MX-5 will make you fall in love

Carlton Boyce / 14 March 2016

Mazda MX-5 has all the benefits of owning and driving a classic car with none of the drawbacks.



Score

10/10

Review

The Mazda MX-5 didn’t even need to turn a wheel to pique my interest. Just sitting in it was enough for me to start to fall for it, with a perfectly measured driving position that echoes that of the first-generation MX-5 I remember with such fondness. 

You sit low, of course, and are cocooned with the stubby gear lever falling beautifully to hand; that it requires only a flick of the wrist is a wonderful bonus. 

The seats too are slim and barely padded, but as comfortable as they need to be and as supportive as you hope. 

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Deceptively spacious

This is the smallest MX-5 ever built, so you’d expect it to feel snug, but at 6’ 3” and generously padded I fitted without ever feeling cramped.

Of course, it isn’t as pretty as the early car, lacking fluidity and cohesion to my eyes, even if I can see traces of the Ferrari California in the front wings and the Jaguar F-Type in the rear. 

The white of my test car doesn’t flatter it either, but other colours are available, so I can’t complain.

Nor is there any need to, because I’d fallen head-over-heels for the MX-5 within a mile, and hopelessly in love with it after ten. 

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Pleasure and fun

The 1.5-litre engine might lack outright oomph, but any power deficit is more than compensated for with a rorty exhaust note and a willingness to rev right up to the red line. And anyway, a low-power engine equates to foot-to-the-floor driving, which simply isn’t possible in anything with more power than the Mazda’s 130bhp.

So while you might sometimes struggle to overtake slower traffic, you just won’t care because there is genuine, visceral pleasure to be had at a 50mph pootle and adrenaline-inducing fun to be had at 60. 

Seventy miles-an-hour feels ridiculously fast, especially with the roof folded, as it should be whenever it isn’t raining, the single catch operation enabling you to fold and raise it at will, leaving you with no excuse for not bothering, no matter how short the journey. 

Night-time journeys especially are an absolute delight with the roof down; I just snicked the heater up a couple of notches, pulled a woolly hat on, and remained comfortably warm, even in this February’s sub-zero temperatures.

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Feel like a racing driver

The MX-5’s grip limits are higher than they feel, giving a handling sensation unlike anything I’ve driven for a long, long time. 

It’s safe, utterly so, but so throttle adjustable that it flatters your driving ability, making good drivers feel like great drivers, and great drivers feel like Stirling Moss – and this is the heart of why the MX-5 is receiving such rave reviews: it has dissected the entire sports car experience and distilled it to the fundamentals. 

The lack of weight is the most noticeable thing, and every control is perfectly weighted to give feel, but never heft. Macho types need not apply, because this is a car to drive with fingertips, not clenched fists.

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Engineering integrity oozes from every pore

It is also a very clever car in which every single detail is a nod to the engineering integrity that oozes from every pore, from the pure-white headlight beam to the hidden boot lid release by way of the old-school engine layout. 

Long-term ownership would be a constant joy, being almost free of those everyday jarring moments that mark life with even the very best cars.

My week with it coincided with some of the best weather of the winter, being freezing cold but sunny, and I took every opportunity to jump into it and bunk off for a couple of hours. 

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Worth every penny

Even Beth, my wife, who remains ambivalent about the majority of the cars we drive, needed no encouragement to use it whenever and wherever she could. It offers, she astutely commented, all the benefits of owning and driving a classic car with none of the drawbacks.

My only problem now is that she’s starting to ask how much they are. Eighteen-and-a-half thousand pounds is an absurdly small sum for such an accomplished little car, although if it were mine I’d splash out the £500 for a nice metallic paint job. 

I certainly wouldn’t feel cheated by having to stick with the most basic model, which is an endorsement of just how irrelevant power is when the integrity of the chassis is this good.

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Perfectly judged car

It’s not perfect, obviously. The cup-holders are ideally placed to be caught by your elbow, the speedometer is sometimes hard to read in the lower reaches, and my hands got a little bit cold if I drove with the top down and the windows open (but this was in sub-zero temperatures, remember…) but that these are the sum total of my complaints shows what a perfectly judged little thing this is. 

So good, in fact, that it renders that fantasy Porsche Boxster of yours utterly irrelevant: I’ve driven both and I promise you that I would choose the MX-5 over the Boxster even if they cost the same. That the Mazda costs less than half is all the justification you need to save between twenty and thirty-five thousand pounds at a stroke. Even when you factor in the fact that the Porsche is faster and better-equipped, the MX-5 still beat it hands-down for fun.

If you’ve got the money, and are considering buying a sports car – classic, new, or second-hand – then your life has just become much simpler: just buy an MX-5. I promise that you won’t regret it.

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Competition

Best-in-class –  the Mazda MX-5 again shows just how good small, cheap sports cars can be.

The best of the rest – the Caterham range is far too hard-core for most people to consider using one as an everyday car, leaving the MX-5 in a class of one.

Left-field alternative – the Toyota GT86 and Subaru BRZ offer the same bare-bones rear-wheel-drive experience but with the advantage of two (small) rear seats.

For more car reviews and driving tips, browse our motoring articles.

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Saga Magazine car review - Mazda MX5 infographic

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