The Mazda MX-5 is renowned for being one of the most affordable two-door sports cars on the market. Now in its fourth generation, the car has seen a steady stream of updates that have made the car sportier and more advanced without losing all that makes it special.
The fourth generation first launched in 2015 but in 2023, the range had a number of tweaks, including new names for the trims, a new colour paintwork and a new look for the top level trim. While often looked down on by big car owners, those that have driven the MX-5 love them. I owned a third generation MX-5 for many years and loved it, so I was keen to see how much the car had changed in the last 15 years.
We’re yet to see any existing two-door sports cars make the move over from ICE to electric power but Mazda has already stated that its fifth generation MX-5 is likely to be electric powered – whether that’s fully electric or PHEV, is yet to be seen. Getting the driving experience right on such a car is likely to be more difficult than for an SUV but I do believe an electric version of the MX-5 could be a winner.
I was lucky to get some unseasonably warm weather for my week behind the wheel of the Mazda MX-5 and so took every opportunity to take that top down and enjoy the drive. If you’ve never driven this car, let me tell you why you should, and why this one has me wanting to buy one again.
Price and availability
Sports cars tend to attract a premium price but the Mazda MX-5 starts from just £25,825 / $28,050 for the standard Prime Line edition. There are two engine sizes, the Skyactiv-G 1.5 (132hp) or the Skyactiv-G 2.0 (184hp), with the 2.0 litre available in the Exclusive Line and Homura editions. I tested the top of the range Homura edition, with Skyactiv-G 2.0 engine, 17-inch BBS wheels with red Brembo brake callipers and Bose surround sound system. This model starts from £32,410 and £34,010 as tested.
Features and design
Following Mazda’s Kodo (soul of motion) design philosophy, the MX-5 cuts a sporty silhouette. This generation is sleeker than ever, with bigger curves over the bonnet and narrower headlights, giving the car a meaner look. The rear is higher and cleaner, with almost a flat-top boot opening.
The new Zircon sand paintwork colour is beautiful – like a subtle golden sand and it goes really well with the light stone Nappa leather interior. Those hints of red Brembo brake callipers through the all-black BBS alloys.
The standard MX-5 roadster comes with a soft-top fabric roof, which pulls up and down manually – and quicker than any electric roof – with one hand. There is a separate MX-5 RF version (retractable fastback) which has a mechanical hard-top roof should you wish. However, that extra weight does make the car slightly slower.
Those sly looking headlights are adaptive LED lights, and the Homura sits on sports suspension with Bilstein dampers, a front strut brace and a limited slip differential for sports handling.
All of the roadster versions have manual gearboxes (the RF comes with an automatic option). This is a six-speed transmission with a short sporty gear stick. Also inside you get a 7-inch touchscreen display in the centre, which offers both Apple CarPlay and Android Auto connectivity, as well as its own mapping and infotainment.
What’s interesting here is that the touchscreen functionality is disabled when in motion, forcing you to either use the dial controller in the centre console, or voice control. It’s a sensible safety feature for such a sporty car but unusual to see these days.
The rest of the controls inside the car are analogue – even the speedo and rev dial behind the wheel. I’m sure whatever the next generation model has, it will move to LCD screens for these as most new cars now have.
MX-5 performance and handling
The sporty performance from a relatively small engine here is mostly down to the size and weight of the MX-5, or lack of it. The car weighs just over a tonne (1032kg) and measures just under 4 metres long, 1.7 metres wide and 1.2 metres tall. If you’re taller than about 6’2”, you might find the interior a little tight, though nothing like the cramped cockpit of a Caterham 170R.
That power to weight ratio here means that the MX-5 can do 0-62 mph in up to 6.5 seconds (8.3 seconds from the 1.5 engine) and a top speed of 136 mph. It’s not a big number compared with cars like the Mercedes SL63 or Aston Martin DB12, but this car is a fraction of the price.
Where the Mazda MX-5 really comes into its own is on a windy country road, or anything that isn’t just a straight motorway. This is a car you actually have to drive rather than sit back and relax in. You work through the gears, you feel the grip from the tyres, and you ease on those brakes when really necessary. That said, this car is still fun on the motorway too.
I took it up and down the M4 to Heathrow last week and on the way back had the top down all the way (and the music up loud). I guarantee that no other driver was having as much fun on that journey as I was on that day.
For those longer journeys, you do get cruise control in the MX-5 (though not adaptive), so you can at least regulate your speed rather than rely on your foot pressure for hours at a time. It’s a handy addition that makes this a more practical commuter option than just a weekend driver.
Should I buy a Mazda MX-5?
The Mazda MX-5 isn’t going to be a practical family car. It’s not got a great deal of storage space – for anything more than a cabin-sized suitcase and a few extra bags. It’s an ideal car for a single person, or as a second car in a household.
There’s part of me that doesn’t care about all that though, because the MX-5 makes me smile every time I drive it. There’s nothing better than driving one in the summer with the roof down, or even in the winter with the heated seats and blowers on max. Even when the weather isn’t as nice, this car is fun to drive.
There’s enough tech in the car to make the experience comfortable – CarPlay, AC, cruise control – but enough of a manual experience that you really have to participate in the driving. In many ways it’s halfway between the raw driving experience of a Caterham and the more luxury drives of something like a BMW Z4 or Mercedes SL63.
I’m excited for the future of the MX-5 too. I feel if anyone can pull off a lightweight electric sports car it’s Mazda, just as long as they don’t go too light on the range. While I’d miss the scream of that engine at high revs and the feel of the manual gearbox, I think it’s possible to maintain that sense of joy that comes with driving an MX-5 – and that’s the real winner.