Mazda MX-5: The spin wins a grin

Riley Riley


What is it?

It’s been over a year since I last drove the MX-5 and nothing much has changed.

That’s a good thing because Mazda’s diminutive sports car, now in its 31st year of production, is as good as it gets this side of $50,000.

In fact, it begs the question, where to next for the MX-5, where to for a car with little need of improvement. As the saying goes — if it ain’t broke, don’t fix it.


What’s it cost?

Prices start from $34,890 for the 1.5 with soft top and manual change.

The rest of the range gets a larger 2.0-litre engine, with prices starting from $40,200 for the standard RF.

The GT with a soft top is priced from $42,820, while the RF GT is priced from $46,900.

There’s also a RF GT black roof edition priced from $47,920 while an auto with paddle shifters adds $2000 to the price.

The entry price includes cloth trim and air conditioning, along with push button start, leather steering wheel, handbrake lever and gear shift knob, LED headlights, cruise control, 16-inch alloys, 195/50 series tyres, tyre pressure monitoring, plus six-speaker audio, 7.0-inch infotainment (not a touchscreen) with DAB digital radio, satellite navigation, Apple CarPlay and Android Auto — and the manual also gets a limited slip rear diff.

GT adds leather and climate air conditioning, larger 17 inch wheels, 205/45 tyres, heated seats, daytime LEDs, auto lights and wipers, auto-dimming rear view mirror, plus automatic high-beam and nine-speaker Bose audio.

MX-5 gets five stars for safety with four airbags, rear view camera, Blind Spot Monitoring (BSM), and Rear Cross Traffic Alert (RCTA), Smart City Brake Support [Forward] (SCBS-F) and Traffic Sign Recognition (TSR).

Smart City Brake Support, Mazda’s version of autonomous emergency braking, operates between 4 and 80km/h and — in the GT — also operates in reverse.

GT adds Lane Departure Warning (LDW).

mx-5 mx-5

What’s it go like?

The 1.5-litre engine produces 97kW of power and 152Nm of torque.

The larger 2.0-litre engine in our RF GT delivers 135kW and 205Nm of torque, and revs all the way to 7500 rpm — impressive.

And, in our car, it was paired with the 6-speed manual and to be frank we wouldn’t have it any other way — manuals are so much more involving to drive.

Unfortunately, the older you get, the harder it is to get in to and out of cars like MX-5 and I find myself wondering whether it might be possible to adapt a hospital hoist to the task — just kidding.

Now, I’ve driven plenty of sports machines in my time, many of them more fancied, more powerful and more expensive, but the humble Miata as it’s called in the US never ceases to amaze.

The soft top weighs in at 1012kg, while the RF with its retractable hard top brings the kerbside weight to 1087kg — another 75kg and something to consider in such a finely tuned machine.

Despite its modest engine output, MX-5 somehow manages to exceed expectations, delivering a drive experience that is much stronger and livelier than the figures suggest.

What’s more, it likes to rev and is amazingly tractable, reminding me of early Honda VTEC engines the way it finds a second as the revs climb, remaining responsive even in fifth gear on a long hill.

There’s only one real way to drive the MX-5 and that’s with the roof down — because it’s transformative.

The drive experience is incredibly immersive.

You feel and see everything — under, around and even above you — like the sound of bell-birds as the car wends its way through a tree-lined section of road.

It brings a smile to your dial and it’s pretty hard sensation to beat, especially at the price.

MX-5’s steering is direct and responsive as it scythes through corners.

You feel the the car as it find its way around as well as the little hurry-up it seems to give the rear, as the car rotates neatly around the central axis.

There’s no need to go searching for the gear shift either.

It’s just there, waiting ready underhand and absurdly easy to use, snicking from one gear to the next and back again, with six closely spaced ratios designed to extract maximum performance.

But watch out for the foot pedals because they are slightly off-set to the right and it is easy to catch the side of your left foot in the process of punching the clutch.

The brakes? No complaints there and, with its compact dimensions and ultra low centre of gravity, the tyres combine to deliver prodigious levels of grip.

Hurtling into a second gear, 90 degree left-hander, I realise too late that I am carrying too much speed into the corner, but opt against bailing and braking.

As it turns out, there’s no need to worry because the car executes the task like it’s on rails.

Full marks.

Perhaps the best part of the drive experience, however, is that it feels faster than you’re actually going, about 20km/h faster in fact — and your licence is going to thank you for that.

With a 45-litre tank, the 1.5 is good for 6.2L/100km, while the 2.0-litre engine returns 6.9 in manual form – both take premium 95 unleaded.

Despite a damn good trashing, we were getting 6.9 on the knocker after close to 400km — and that my friends is the icing on the cake.


What we like?

  • Spot on styling
  • Bang for your buck
  • Pure driving experience
  • Convenience of hard roof
  • Five-year warranty


What we don’t like?

  • Tiny boot
  • Lacks cabin storage
  • No digital speedo
  • Misses out on adaptive cruise
  • Mechanical handbrake
  • Hard to get in and out
  • Can’t access boot with engine running
  • No spare tyre


The bottom line?

Love driving the car. Love the sophisticated new styling. Love the way it brings a smile to your dial — just love it to death.


CHECKOUT: Mazda3: Numbers not so good

CHECKOUT: Mazda finally ‘fixes’ MX-5


Mazda MX-5 RF GT, priced from $47,900
  • Looks - 8.5/10
  • Performance - 8/10
  • Safety - 7.5/10
  • Thirst - 8.5/10
  • Practicality - 7/10
  • Comfort - 7.5/10
  • Tech - 7.5/10
  • Value - 8.5/10