A joy to drive, cheap to run. Genius roof design. Driving thrills get little purer.
Cramped for tall people, a GT86 is gnarlier.
What is it?
Surely one of the most recognisable sports cars on the planet. Perhaps the most recognisable. Mazda has (thus far) sold over 1.1 million MX-5s in its three-decade history, making it the biggest selling roadster on the planet. Guinness certified, too.
This is the fourth generation of MX-5, which Mazda has gradually been updating and improving since 2015. And there's a reason no-one dares take it on: it's so complete.
While the MX-5 sticks to its roots, only powering its rear wheels with naturally aspirated petrol engines – no all-wheel drive or turbos here – those engines are cleverer than ever, benefiting from all the nuanced tech that comes from Mazda’s ‘Skyactiv’ engine development.
So while they remain 1.5- and 2.0-litre engines, they've had tweaks, lighter internals, and they're better than ever. The former sees its power and torque figures pretty much as before – at 130bhp and 112lb ft – but it’s the latter where lots of interesting work has been done.
The range-topping 2.0 has seen power climb by 24bhp, to 182bhp, which in a car that basically weighs a ton is big news indeed. It cuts nearly a second from the 0-62mph time, now 6.5sec. The rev limit has also climbed by 700rpm, to 7,500rpm, so you should have a bit more fun working the engine hard via its sweet six-speed manual gearbox.
Extra performance hasn’t come about from a simple ECU remap, but from deeply nerdy mechanical things like shaving some weight from the pistons. Hard work, when the power climb that could have been doubled by simply sticking on a turbo. We’re glad Mazda took the tricky, technical route though. The MX-5’s always stood out for sticking resolutely to its simple mechanical layout.
So, weight has been shaved from the most intricate engine components to make the unit as punchy and efficient as possible, while there’s even stop/start and brake regen to eke out further fuel economy from a car already unfathomably good at approaching 50mpg, even when driven with vigour.
Other tweaks for the mk4 MX-5’s update include the addition of (optional) new tech – including Apple CarPlay alongside active safety stuff, such as lane-departure warning and blind-spot monitoring systems – as well as some interior quality improvements, the most telling of which for those who love driving is that the steering wheel now extends for reach, as well as height.
Stop scoffing: among 50:50 weight distribution, perfectly placed pedals and a low-slung seat, the inability to pull the wheel out to your chest was a real bugbear on the MX-5, and fixing it could prove as tangible an improvement as those extra bhp.
The MX-5's now entered its traditional 'special edition' phase, so if you've been tempted all over again, read on for a refresher in why this little car is an all-time great.
Our choice from the range
What's the verdict?
The Mazda MX-5 isn’t the world’s best-selling roadster by accident: its recipe of simple mechanicals and accessible fun mean it’s a car with cheap running costs and broad appeal.
Mazda does well not to mess with the recipe too much, so the MX-5’s latest update focuses on details without disrupting the bigger picture. It’s still hugely fun to drive, while still falling short of being the benchmark for handling precision.
But that’s rather the point: stiffer suspension and a bit more anger would add too much edge to a car that just wants to put a smile on your face at sensible speeds. Something the MX-5 continues to do with aplomb. A roof-down day in one of these won't fail to put a smile on your newly tanned face.