Mazda MX-5 sports performance
Don’t be fooled by the low power outputs of the MX-5’s two four-cylinder engines. This is a light car, so even these modest amounts give it decent pace. The 1.5 unit is brisk rather than outright fast and you have to rev the engine to its high 7000rpm limiter to get the best from it.
The 2.0 engine, meanwhile, offers better mid-range punch as well as a significantly more enthusiastic top end. In fact, you often find yourself waiting until the heady 7500rpm red line before changing up a gear, such is the engine’s appetite for revs. Even with a power boost to 181bhp, it's still only small hot hatch fast (think Fiesta ST), but that's more than enough to enjoy yourself.
All the pedal weights are perfectly judged, while smooth, precise brake modulation is easy; this is just another reason why the MX-5 is so much fun to drive.
Both engines come with a six-speed manual gearbox that you can snick quickly between ratios to extract the last ounce of performance. There’s no automatic option, unless you go for the folding hard-top MX-5 RF.
Mazda MX-5 sports ride
The MX-5 is softly sprung, making it a comfortable car over most road surfaces. It’ll cope easily with speed bumps and it’s not overly unsettled by awkward cambers, taking the sting out of sharp-edged bumps, even on larger 17in alloy wheels. The 2.0 Sport Nav+ and GT Sport Nav+ models, which get sport suspension and Bilstein dampers for a more focused handling set-up, are firmer but not uncomfortably so. You will notice rough surfaces and expansion joints more, though, so we reckon most will prefer the standard set-up of SE-L Nav+ trim.
Mazda MX-5 sports handling
This is the rear-wheel-drive MX-5’s trump card. It’s nimble and quick to change direction, with an accurate and generally light-footed feel. The steering is accurate and well weighted, too, letting you sweep the nose from one corner to the next with total confidence. That’s helped by good grip levels, so you don’t feel afraid to use all of the MX-5's performance on the road. Compared with most similar-priced front-wheel-drive hot hatches, the MX-5 is a much more involving, playful car.
The only quibble we have is that the soft suspension can result in quite pronounced body lean through corners. But it’s not something that’ll bother most people; and it’s a small price to pay, because the MX-5 rides well, too.
All MX-5s with the higher-powered engine gain a limited-slip differential, for greater traction out of corners, and larger, 17in wheels. Sport Nav+ and GT Sport Nav+ 2.0-litre models also get stiffer suspension that keeps roll under tighter control and makes the MX-5 feel keener to turn in to corners. You also get a strut brace to stiffen the body shell to further improve handling.
Mazda MX-5 sports refinement
Noise levels with the roof up are acceptable for a roadster, but you do need to accept a fair bit of wind and tyre noise at motorway speeds. The good thing is that it’s not too blustery with the roof down, even at higher speeds, so you won’t be afraid to go without the roof even if it's chilly outside.
Both engines deliver a pleasing rasp at medium revs and stay smooth up until the limiter, making it a hoot to rev them out. The manual gearbox’s precise, short shift makes changing gear another engaging facet of MX-5 ownership.
You get some vibrations through the pedals and steering wheel when the engines are at very low or very high revs, or over coarse surfaces, but it’s a background issue rather than a constant spoiler.