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 automotive 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's 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.
As a sports car, this popular model competes in one of the toughest segments there is. After all, this is a class that includes all manner of what we can't resist calling 'motoring icons' – including the light and lithe Alpine A110 and the formidable Porsche 911.
The Mazda MX-5 is much cheaper, though, with no true rivals in its price range. Indeed, you’d have to spend a big chunk of cash more on an Audi TT Roadster or a BMW Z4 to get another two-seater soft-top you can have as much fun in. The same goes for the RF, which has even fewer folding hard-top rivals, unless you consider the significantly pricier Chevrolet Corvette.
That doesn't mean Mazda has skimped on sports-car engineering. All versions have rear-wheel drive, and the revvy 1.5 and 2.0-litre petrol engines help you enjoy yourself to the full.
If the soft-top element of the MX-5 is the main attraction for you, you might also be considering a couple of the smaller convertibles out there, including the Fiat 500 Cabrio and the Mini Convertible.
So, is the Mazda MX-5 the right car for you? Over the next few pages of this review, we'll tell you how strong the performance is, what the interior quality and comfort are like, how much it will cost to buy and run, and which version we recommend.
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 two-star result here, but it’s all a case of context. The Mazda MX-5 occupies the same class as brutally powerful beasts including the Audi R8 and the Porsche 911. In such company, the 130bhp 1.5-litre MX-5, which covers 0-62mph in 8.3sec, seems rather tame. That’s especially true of the RF, which due to its heavier roof arrangement takes a little longer to 62mph at 8.7sec.
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 6.5sec. That's a bit quicker than the entry-level BMW Z4 and faster than the Fiat 500 Cabrio and the Mini Convertible Cooper S. The hard-top RF takes 6.9sec or 7.9sec when fitted with an automatic gearbox so it will have a hard time outpacing the best hot hatches.
Both engines come with a six-speed manual gearbox as standard, and we prefer that to the auto box available on the 2.0-litre RF.
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, although the Audi TT Roadster is a little more composed over really undulating Tarmac.
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.
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. 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 hot hatches with front-wheel drive. However, 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. You also get a limited-slip differential (for greater traction out of corners), but a TT offers more outright grip, especially in the wet. 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. It’s a little blustery with the roof down when approaching motorway speeds, but you can still enjoy top-down opportunities in chilly weather.
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. 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 for refinement, you should look at the TT Roadster.
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
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 setup, 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 Audi TT Roadster 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 forwards 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. The RF has over-the-shoulder obstruction when the roof is down because of its rear buttress. The entry-level Prime-Line trim misses out on rear parking sensors, but all other versions get them as standard. A rear-view camera is standard on 2.0-litre models.
All trims get LED headlights that provide great illumination at night. If you want auto lights and wipers, you’ll need mid-range Exclusive-Line trim or higher. That also gets you 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.
Sat nav and infotainment
Every MX-5 gets a smart 7.0in touchscreen with Android Auto (wired) and wireless Apple CarPlay smartphone mirroring, sat-nav, DAB radio and Bluetooth connectivity. The system is easy to control using the rotary dial and shortcut buttons behind the gearlever. The only irritation is that you can’t turn off voice guidance on the sat-nav. You can mute it, but the system still turns your music down when there would have been an announcement.
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 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 BMW Z4 infotainment system is better still, but the MX-5’s system is easier to use than almost every other rival, including Porsche models.
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 TT Roadster has a far greater spread of squishy plastics, while a 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.
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
The Mazda MX-5 is small, and feels it on the inside. The driver sits in rather close proximity to the 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 Audi TT Roadster or 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.
There's a square glovebox-sized cubby between the seats, with enough space for the service manual and maybe a small packed lunch.
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.
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 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. The TT Roadster’s boot is more than twice the size.
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. Bigger and more powerful rivals all cost much more. The 1.5-litre models are more temptingly priced than the 2.0-litre versions, but all versions cost significantly less than an entry-level Audi TT Roadster. The CO2 output is relatively low too, so it’ll cost less in tax as a company car.
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. Servicing is due every year or 12,500 miles, whichever comes first. Mazda’s fixed-price service plan isn’t the cheapest, but it can be paid in monthly instalments and makes it easy to budget for routine maintenance.
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 7.0in touchscreen infotainment system.
Exclusive-Line trim adds extras such as keyless entry, automatic wipers, leather seats, visibility aids and some additional safety kit, which makes it our pick of the range. It is worth noting that 2.0-litre Exclusive-Line cars add 17in alloys, adaptive LED headlights, a rear-view camera, a number of suspension upgrades and a limited-slip differential (LSD) over 1.5-litre cars.
Top-spec Homura adds cosmetic tweaks, including BBS alloy wheels, red brake calipers and Nappa leather seats.
The MX-5 came eighth out of 15 models in the coupés, convertibles, and sports cars category in our 2022 What Car? Reliability Survey. Meanwhile, Mazda finished eighth out of 32 manufacturers in the brands section of the survey, above Audi and BMW.
All new Mazdas come with a three-year, 60,000-mile warranty. That can be extended at extra cost with the option of European roadside assistance included.
Safety and security
One reason the MX-5 got the score it did was that automatic emergency braking (AEB) isn’t standard across the range, but it’s actually only entry-level Prime-Line trim that goes without it. All other versions 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.
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Strengths Well equipped; plenty of trim levels; strong fuel economy
Weaknesses Entry-level trim misses out on important safety kit
Based on its 45-litre tank, we’d suggest that you should be able to go roughly 400 miles between refills.
RF stands for Retractable Fastback, and the RF has a folding metal roof in place of the soft-top on the regular roadster.
You can get a six-speed automatic gearbox with the larger 2.0-litre engine, but only in folding metal roof RF guise.
Yes. The MX-5 in the UK and European market is badged as the Miata in the US, but they are the same car.
|RRP price range||£25,825 - £32,410|
|Number of trims (see all)||4|
|Number of engines (see all)||2|
|Available fuel types (which is best for you?)||petrol|
|MPG range across all versions||40.9 - 44.8|
|Available doors options||2|
|Warranty||3 years / 60000 miles|
|Company car tax at 20% (min/max)||£1,633 / £2,220|
|Company car tax at 40% (min/max)||£3,266 / £4,439|