Don’t be fooled by the low power outputs of the Mazda’s two four-cylinder engines. This is a light car, so it needs only a small power output to give it decent pace. The 1.5-litre version 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 also needs to be revved, but using the full rev range will be part of the fun with either engine, particularly since the lower power of these motors means you can do so without fearing for your licence.
All the pedal weights are perfectly judged, and smooth, precise brake modulation is easy, which is just another reason that 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, and there’s no automatic option.
Mazda MX-5 Convertible ride comfort
The MX-5 is softly sprung, which makes it a comfortable car over most road surfaces. It’ll cope easily with speed bumps, and it’s not overly unsettled by awkward cambers, and it takes the sting out of sharp-edged bumps, even when on larger 17in alloy wheels. The 2.0 Sport model, which gets sport suspension and Bilstein dampers for a more focused handling set-up, is 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 the SE-L Nav.
Mazda MX-5 Convertible handling
This is the rear-wheel-drive MX-5’s trump card. It’s nimble, quick to change direction, and feels accurate and generally light-footed. The steering is accurate and well weighted, too, letting you sweep the nose from one bend to the next with total confidence. That’s also helped by the grip you get, so you don’t feel afraid to use all its performance on the road. Compared with most of the front-wheel drive hot hatches that are similarly priced, it’s a much more involving, playful-feeling car.
The only quibble we’ve got is that the soft suspension can result in quite pronounced body lean through corners, but it’s not something that’ll bother most, and it’s a small price to pay, because as you’ll read later, it rides well, too.
Sport models with the 2.0-litre engine receive stiffer suspension that keeps roll under much tighter control and also makes the MX-5 feel keener to turn in to corners. These also give better traction out of corners thanks to a standard limited slip differential.
Mazda MX-5 Convertible refinement
Noise levels with the roof up are acceptable for a sports roadster, but you do need to accept a fair bit of wind and tyre noise at motorway speeds. The good thing is it’s not too blustery with the roof down, even at higher speeds, so you won’t be afraid to go roof-down even if there’s a chill on 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 constant spoiler.
It’s the lowest-power engine in the range and needs to be worked hard, but is still really fun to rev out and doesn’t leave the MX-5 feeling slow. It’s well worth considering if you just want a fun, unintimidating sports car that you can wring 100% from on the road, and still hold onto your licence.
Our pick 2.0 Skyactiv
Our favourite engine is thrilling without being frightening on British roads, and offers more top-end punch than the 1.5-litre for considerably more effective overtaking. The addition of a limited slip differential also brings more grip when accelerating hard out of corners.