The Mazda MX-5 is nothing short of a legend – being the car that returned the motoring world to its love of the roadster. We felt that there was no car more deserving of an extensive review.
The 21st century is a complicated place. You can’t just pick up the phone anymore, or God forbid go and see someone. You have to like them, tweet them, poke them or pin them. If you’re lucky they might re-tweet you and that’s probably as good as you can hope for. The problem is that it’s hard to actually get past the technology (the thing that’s supposed to make things easier) to get at what is really important. It’s the same with cars; there can be so much technology on-call that driving, the reason you are there, can be a distant, dull and muted affair.
If it is like this in the “normal world” then imagine what is like in Japan? I can’t imagine anyone has actually spoken to anyone else there for 20 years. So it was rather a surprise those twenty years ago that Mazda came up with an old-school drivers’ car that snubbed modern tech for the traditions of a 1960s European sports car. The MX-5 Miata was soon compared to the original Lotus Elan but that wasn’t fair at all. It was much better than that. It didn’t break down for a start and if you had a crash there was a fairly good chance you’d survive. Unsurprisingly the Mazda MX-5 Miata was a huge hit and amazingly enough two decades later it still sticks to that old fashioned formula that worked the first time around. The key ingredients include rear-wheel-drive, a front mounted engine positioned as far back as possible, a stiff, lightweight chassis, two seats and not much else.
Some sophistication has crept in since the original MX-5, but not in any way that dulls the driving experience. The top of the range Mazda MX-5 Roadster Coupe Venture Edition we drove had sat-nav, cruise control, heated seats and even traction control and while these are all just useful gadgets for everyday life you could have just as much fun driving the base model roadster. The interior is well finished and well designed. I am over 6 feet tall and found the driving position comfortable and supportive. Strangely, the passenger side has a little less leg room so those with longer legs may find it tiring on long journeys.
There are a couple of small storage areas between the seats but on the whole there isn’t much space for larger luggage inside the cabin. The same goes for the boot/trunk. The spare wheel that could be found in the earlier cars has now been swapped for an emergency repair pack freeing up a little space. It is fine for a weekend away but any more may become a challenge. If you want practicality though, you can buy a hatchback like everyone else.
On the road
Starting up the Mazda Mx-5 was a little disappointing; at tick-over the engine note doesn’t sound as sporty as you might expect but the driving position feels just right and you sit low in the car. The stubby manual gear leaver sits high up and the change is a short and direct movement. The six speed box is one of the nicest gear shifts of any car and really gives the feel of a true sports car. The steering too is wonderfully direct and with the firm but supple suspension the windy country B-roads we tested on were a real pleasure. This is a car that makes you want to turn off your phone and go for a drive just for its own enjoyment and I soon found myself taking alternative routes to hunt for quiet stretches of road.
You have to use the gearbox to get the best out of the four cylinder engine. The larger 2 litre unit was fitted to this car which revs freely and sounds much better when you wind it up. There may be only 160 bhp available but in this lightweight car that is all you really need. It would be tempting to want a bigger engine with tuneful multi-cylinders but the added weight could ruin the car’s fine handling. Mazda have done well to stick to Colin Chapman’s (the founder of Lotus cars) formula: “Simplify, then add lightness”.
With the roof down there is little buffeting from the wind even at high speeds This car had the folding hardtop which is one of the best designs I have seen. It folds away quickly and neatly behind the seats without entering the luggage space. It is made of plastic rather than metal but is sturdy and insulates sound well. It costs more than the fabric alternative but the added security and reduced maintenance make it worth it for most buyers. Visibility is good with the roof up although like most curvy cars it is difficult to see where the vehicle ends when parking.
Mazda MX-5 Miata Review Conclusion
The Mazda MX-5 revived the fashion for two-seater convertibles and has sold more cars worldwide than any other roadster. The Mazda has been so successful because it compromises in all the best ways. It is thrilling to drive while being comfortable and practical enough to use every day. No other car can match it anywhere near this price range.
Driving back in the evening I finally relented. After opening up the top in the cool night air, I found myself trying out the heated seats. With the excellent heater controls (designed specifically for convertibles), relatively draft-free cabin and those heated leather seats I realised that this car could be driven with the roof down pretty much all year round. Perhaps the technology isn’t so bad after all.
Verdict: The MX-5 Miata is affordable, a delight to drive and easy to live with. It is not surprising that this is the world’s favourite roadster.
Mini Cooper Roadster The Mini is the latest challenger to the MX-5. Its sporty, unconventional styling and short wheelbase promise lots of fun.
Lotus Elise The Lotus is light as a feather and offers an unrivalled driving experience but at the cost of practicality.