Mazda MX-5 review

Category: Sports car

The much-loved MX-5 sports car is great to drive and doesn't cost a fortune

Red Mazda MX-5 Roadster front cornering
  • Red Mazda MX-5 Roadster front cornering
  • Red Mazda MX-5 Roadster rear driving
  • Red Mazda MX-5 Roadster interior
  • Red Mazda MX-5 RF boot open
  • Mazda MX-5 interior driver display
  • Red Mazda MX-5 Roadster front right driving
  • Red Mazda MX-5 Roadster rear right driving
  • Mazda MX-5 RF front cornering
  • Mazda MX-5 RF front right static
  • Mazda MX-5 RF rear left static
  • Red Mazda MX-5 Roadster front left static
  • Red Mazda MX-5 Roadster rear right static
  • Red Mazda MX-5 Roadster left static
  • Red Mazda MX-5 Roadster headlights
  • Red Mazda MX-5 Roadster alloy wheel
  • Red Mazda MX-5 Roadster rear lights
  • Red Mazda MX-5 Roadster interior seats
  • Mazda MX-5 interior infotainment touchscreen
  • Mazda MX-5 interior detail
  • Mazda MX-5 interior detail
  • Red Mazda MX-5 Roadster front cornering
  • Red Mazda MX-5 Roadster rear driving
  • Red Mazda MX-5 Roadster interior
  • Red Mazda MX-5 RF boot open
  • Mazda MX-5 interior driver display
  • Red Mazda MX-5 Roadster front right driving
  • Red Mazda MX-5 Roadster rear right driving
  • Mazda MX-5 RF front cornering
  • Mazda MX-5 RF front right static
  • Mazda MX-5 RF rear left static
  • Red Mazda MX-5 Roadster front left static
  • Red Mazda MX-5 Roadster rear right static
  • Red Mazda MX-5 Roadster left static
  • Red Mazda MX-5 Roadster headlights
  • Red Mazda MX-5 Roadster alloy wheel
  • Red Mazda MX-5 Roadster rear lights
  • Red Mazda MX-5 Roadster interior seats
  • Mazda MX-5 interior infotainment touchscreen
  • Mazda MX-5 interior detail
  • Mazda MX-5 interior detail
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Introduction

What Car? says...

The Mazda MX-5 is one of the best loved and most recognisable sports cars you can buy, with millions of fans around the world and a string of awards to its name.

You can choose between a regular soft-top model, the MX-5 Roadster, for care-free fun in the sun, or the MX-5 RF (Retractable Fastback), which has a folding metal roof for added security. This review covers both body styles.

Mazda launched the first-generation MX-5 more than 30 years ago, with a focus on plastering a big silly grin on your face. It has earned its stripes as a "fun car" since then, and the current MX-5 sticks with all the essential elements that have made it such a hit, including the lowest price in its class.

The thing is, a lot has changed since the first MX-5, so how does it stack up against the best sports cars, including the light and lithe Alpine A110, the formidable Porsche 911 or the MX-5 convertible’s closest rival, the BMW Z4

Read on to find out whether the Mazda MX-5 is the right car for you...

Overview

The Mazda MX-5 Roadster and MX-5 RF with the 1.5-litre engine and Exclusive-Line trim are terrific two-seaters for those that don’t want to spend a fortune. They're not as fast as more expensive sports cars, but with free-revving engines, a sweet gearbox and nimble handling, they’re well worth considering.

  • Good ride and handling balance
  • Performance suited to UK roads
  • Low running costs
  • Not much head room for tall drivers
  • Limited storage
  • Driving position would benefit from greater range of adjustment
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Our Pick

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Mazda Mx-5 1.5 [132] Exclusive-Line 2dr review
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Performance & drive

What it’s like to drive, and how quiet it is

Engine, 0-60mph and gearbox

You might be surprised to see a three-star result here, but it’s all a case of context. After all, the Mazda MX-5 occupies the same class as brutally powerful beasts including the Porsche 911.

In such company, the 130bhp 1.5-litre MX-5, which covers 0-62mph in 8.3 seconds, seems rather tame. That’s especially true of the RF, which due to its heavier roof arrangement takes a little longer to 62mph at 8.7 seconds.

We still recommend the 1.5, because it provides lively performance for the cost, but we can understand you plumping for the 2.0-litre. With 181bhp, it provides more mid-range punch and a far more enthusiastic top end, and drops the soft-top version's 0-62mph time to 6.5 seconds. 

That can't match the Alpine A110 but is a bit quicker than the entry-level BMW Z4. The hard-top RF takes 6.8 seconds or 7.9 seconds when fitted with an automatic gearbox so it will have a hard time outpacing the best hot hatches.

Suspension and ride comfort

The 1.5-litre version is softly sprung and proves relatively comfortable over most road surfaces, despite its low-slung appearance. It’ll cope easily with speed bumps and isn't too unsettled by awkward road cambers.

The 2.0-litre models get firmer sports suspension for a more focused handling set-up, along with bigger (17in) alloy wheels. You’ll notice rough surfaces and expansion joints more, but not uncomfortably so.

Red Mazda MX-5 Roadster rear driving

Handling

The MX-5's lightness helps to make it feel nimble, while the steering's accuracy gives you the confidence to sweep the nose from one corner to the next with enthusiasm.

Mazda MX-5 image
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You can sense the RF’s additional 45kg over the regular version when pressing on, otherwise it doesn’t affect the handling too much in everyday driving. In addition, the rear-wheel-drive set-up makes it feel more balanced than most similarly priced front-wheel-drive hot hatches.

The soft suspension of the 1.5-litre models does mean they suffer from quite a lot of body lean in corners. The stiffer suspension of the 2.0-litre versions keeps body lean under tighter control and makes them feel keener to turn in to corners.

The stiffer suspension of the 2.0-litre versions keeps body lean under tighter control and makes them feel keener to turn in to corners. That’s helped further by a limited-slip differential, which aims to give greater traction out of corners.

The MX-5 is no Porsche 718 Boxster but we think it'll put a bigger grin on your face than the BMW Z4.

Noise and vibration

Noise levels with the soft or hard-top roof up are acceptable for a sports car but there’s still a fair bit of wind and tyre noise at motorway speeds. As you might expect, with the roof down, the convertible is a little blustery, but it’s the RF’s redesigned roof that’s the problem, scooping more air into the interior. 

Both engines can be quite loud at idle on a cold start, but deliver a throaty rasp when driven enthusiastically, so it's a hoot to rev them out.

The manual gearbox, with its short, precise shift pattern, adds another joyful facet to the driving experience and is arguably one of the best in the business. The optional automatic (on the 2.0-litre RF) is smooth but nowhere near as involving, and takes some fun out of the MX-5.

You will experience some engine vibrations coming through the steering wheel and pedals when the engine is at very low or high revs. They're more of a background issue than a constant pain, but the Z4 is more refined.

Driving overview

Strengths Lively engines; agile handling; manual gearbox is joyful to use; forgiving ride comfort

Weaknesses Automatic gearbox dampens performance; heavier RF isn’t quite as balanced; noisy on motorways

Interior

The interior layout, fit and finish

Driving position and dashboard

The Mazda MX-5's driving seat is mounted fairly high, and while you can tilt the base, you can’t adjust the height, so you might feel a little perched behind the wheel.

The driver’s seat in the RF doesn’t go as far back or recline quite as much as it does in the Roadster, but in both you sit with your legs straight out forwards as if you were in a go-kart, with your posterior close to the road. Many will undoubtedly like that set-up, but getting in and out can be a touch, er, inelegant.

The steering wheel adjusts for reach and rake, but taller drivers might wish it came towards them a little more. It's also worth mentioning that the pedals are slightly offset to the right.

All but the tallest drivers will be able to get comfortable in the snug seat, so long journeys won't be a chore – although the BMW Z4 is better for long-distance comfort.

The MX-5's stubby, high-set gear lever is in just the right place, and there’s a well-placed padded central armrest and a sensible dashboard layout that’s easy to use.

Visibility, parking sensors and cameras

The MX-5 provides its driver with clear forward visibility. Looking down the sloping bonnet gives you a real sports car feeling and the windscreen pillars don’t obscure your view at junctions and roundabouts.

With the roof up, the view back towards the rear corners of the car is poor and the rear window is tiny. What’s more, the RF has an over-the-shoulder obstruction when the roof is down because of its rear buttress.

To make parking easier, rear parking sensors are standard across the range, while all 2.0-litre models also get a reversing camera. 

All trims get LED headlights, that provide great illumination at night, and rain sensing windscreen wipers. Exclusive-Line also adds an auto-dimming rear-view mirror, which is particularly handy in a low-slung car that sits the driver in line with the headlights of most other cars.

Red Mazda MX-5 Roadster interior

Sat nav and infotainment

Every MX-5 gets a smart 8.8in touchscreen with wireless Apple CarPlay and Android Auto smartphone mirroring, sat-nav, DAB radio and Bluetooth connectivity.

The display is clear and the system is far easier to use than the touchscreens in some rivals because you get a physical rotary dial and shortcut buttons.

The Bluetooth function works well and you can hold a hands-free phone conversation at motorway speeds with the roof down if you raise your voice a touch. You get two USB-C connectors at the base of the dash, next to a cubby designed to take a mobile phone, although larger devices can get in the way of the gear lever.

All models except entry-level Prime-Line get a punchy nine-speaker Bose sound system. The Z4’s infotainment system is better still, but the MX-5’s system is easier to use than almost every other rival, including Porsche models.

Quality

Considering the MX-5 is a relatively inexpensive car, its interior looks commendably smart. There’s a good array of soft textures and a metal-effect trim that adds to its visual appeal, helping to disguise an interior predominantly put together with hard-touch plastics.

Ultimately, a Z4 has a far greater spread of squishy plastics, while the Porsche 718 Boxster is in a different league entirely.

The well-damped switches and stalks do give you the feeling this is at least a well screwed together interior, though.

Interior overview

Strengths Easy to use infotainment system; smart interior

Weaknesses Seats could be more supportive; infotainment screen could be bigger; taller drivers might struggle with the driving position

Passenger & boot space

How it copes with people and clutter

Front space

The Mazda MX-5 is small and feels it inside. The driver sits in close proximity to their passenger and can touch their door without stretching.

Taller drivers might feel that leg room is tight, too, especially in the RF version that has an altered rear bulkhead to accommodate the folding metal roof. It means you can’t slide or recline the seats quite as much as in the regular MX-5, so those over six feet tall need to try both before they buy.

You’ll feel the roof being close to your head with the roof closed in either version, so if you're quite big, we’d recommend looking at the larger BMW Z4.

Storage space is at a premium, and there are no door bins. You can stow smaller items (such as keys) in the shallow central armrest cubby or on a small tray at the base of the dash. You do get two removable cupholders that can each take a large coffee, though.

Rear space

The MX-5 is strictly a two-seater, with no usable rear passenger seats. For that, you’ll need to look at a four-seater convertible – the BMW 4 Series Convertible for example.

There's a square glovebox-sized cubby between the seats, with enough space for the service manual and maybe a small packed lunch.

Red Mazda MX-5 RF boot open

Seat folding and flexibility

The passenger seat has a lever to control the backrest angle and slide it forwards and backwards. You can't get height or lumbar adjustment, or electrically adjustable seats on any trim level.

Boot space

The MX-5's boot is unaffected by the roof’s position, so you can drive with the top down and still have a reasonable amount of luggage space. The soft-top Roadster version has 130 litres of boot space, while the RF has 127 litres because it loses a bit of space to the complex folding metal roof.

The high sill and restrictive oval-shaped opening makes loading chunky items a pain, but it's big enough to take a couple of carry-on suitcases.

Your golf clubs will need to go inside the car taking the place of your passenger. Alternatively, you’ll want to look at the Z4, which offers more than double the capacity.

Practicality overview

Strengths: Boot space unaffected by roof positioning

Weaknesses: A bit of a squeeze for taller occupants; lack of storage space

Buying & owning

Everyday costs, plus how reliable and safe it is

Costs, insurance groups, MPG and CO2

The Mazda MX-5 is the only two-seat sports car you can buy new at this price level, especially if you go for the 1.5-litre models. That said, even the 2.0-litre versions are way cheaper than bigger and more powerful rivals, costing significantly less than an entry-level BMW Z4.

The MX-5 is predicted to depreciate faster than most of its rivals, but when you combine the low CO2 output and cheaper list price, it’ll still cost less in tax as a company car. You can find the latest offers on our New Car Deals pages.

Whichever engine you go for, the MX-5 is very cheap to run by sports car standards. It's a relatively light car, and both the petrol engines are fairly efficient, managing more than 40mpg in WLTP tests and our own real-world testing. In our True MPG tests the 2.0-litre returned an impressive 45.1mpg, which is even better than the official figure.

PCP deals can prove tempting and Mazda often offers interest-free finance and cheap monthly payments, although they can be dependent on you making a hefty initial deposit.

Equipment, options and extras

The MX-5's entry-level Prime-Line trim comes well equipped, with goodies such as climate and cruise control, 16in alloy wheels, heated seats and a touchscreen infotainment system.

Exclusive-Line trim – which is our pick of the range – adds extras such as keyless entry, leather seats and some additional safety kit. It's worth noting that 2.0-litre Exclusive-Line cars add 17in alloys, adaptive LED headlights, a number of suspension upgrades and a limited-slip differential (LSD) over 1.5-litre cars.

Top-spec Homura is only available with the 2.0-litre engine but adds cosmetic tweaks, including BBS alloy wheels, red brake calipers and Nappa leather seats. It’s quite a bit more expensive than our chosen version but still won’t cost you as nearly much as the entry-level Z4.

Mazda MX-5 interior driver display

Reliability

In our 2023 What Car? Reliability Survey, the MX-5 finished towards the middle of the sports car category, sitting above the Porsche 911 and BMW 4 Series Convertible but below the Porsche 718 Boxster. 

Meanwhile, Mazda as a brand performed fairly well as a manufacturer, placing 13th out of the 32 included car makers. That places it way below Mini and one place below BMW, but above Porsche. 

The MX-5 comes with a three-year, 60,000-mile warranty. That can be extended at extra cost with the option of European roadside assistance.

Safety and security

The testers at Euro NCAP gave the MX-5 four stars out of five for safety in 2015, but that has since expired. The Z4 was tested in more stringent tests in 2019, making it hard to directly compare the two, but with a score of five stars it’s likely to be a safer car.

One reason the MX-5 scored four rather than five stars was that automatic emergency braking (AEB) is not standard across the range, but it’s actually only entry-level Prime-Line trim that goes without it. All other versions do have AEB, along with lane-departure warning and traffic-sign monitoring.

Additional standard safety equipment on all models includes roll bars, stability control, four airbags and an Isofix child seat mounting point, along with a bonnet that springs up to help reduce the severity of pedestrian injuries in an impact.

There’s an alarm and engine immobiliser as standard, and Thatcham Research gave the car a maximum five stars for resisting being stolen, with four stars for resistance to being broken into.

Costs overview

Strengths Well equipped; plenty of trim levels; strong fuel economy

Weaknesses Entry-level trim misses out on important safety kit

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FAQs

  • If you’re after an affordable sports car that’s fun to drive and remarkably efficient, the MX-5 is worth your time. We’d go for the 1.5-litre engine with the Exclusive-Line trim for the best combo.

  • The MX-5 feels as small inside as it looks on the outside. You see, not only is it quite tight for six-footers sitting inside, it’s strictly a two-seater and there isn’t all that much storage space. Even the boot is half the size of the BMW Z4 boot.

  • Yes. The MX-5 in the UK and European market is badged as the Miata in the US, but they are the same car.

At a glance
New car deals
Save up to £1,790
Target Price from £26,561
Save up to £1,790
or from £347pm
Swipe to see used car deals
Nearly new deals
From £20,495
RRP price range £28,015 - £34,835
Number of trims (see all)3
Number of engines (see all)2
Available fuel types (which is best for you?)petrol
MPG range across all versions 41.5 - 45.6
Available doors options 2
Warranty 3 years / 60000 miles
Company car tax at 20% (min/max) £1,772 / £2,319
Company car tax at 40% (min/max) £3,544 / £4,638
Available colours