With Mazda this year celebrating three decades of MX-5 production, the arrival of a 30th Anniversary Edition model was inevitable. The MX-5 has, after all, been the recipient of so many limited and special edition versions over the years that it is almost impossible to keep track.
Almost, that is, but not quite. You see, Mazda UK has worked it out, and reports there’s been 52 (52!) special edition MX-5s in total, which a cynic might say does somewhat bring into question how special they actually are. Of the birthday-themed buys, this 30-year version follows on from the 10th Anniversary Edition, 20th Anniversary Edition and 25th Anniversary Edition. All have been built in limited numbers, which for the 30th Anniversary Edition equates to 550 cars coming to the UK out of a 3,000-strong worldwide production run. So it’s arguably best described as covetable, rather than truly collectable.
The urgent paint job might further limit demand, because this new 30th Anniversary Edition is available in any colour you like so long as it’s bright Racing orange. It’s not just on the outside of the car either, but also appears as accents on the door panels, seats, instrument panel, air vents and even the brake callipers (upgraded items sourced from Brembo).
FEATURES AND SPECIFICATION
As you’d perhaps expect, this 30th Anniversary Edition model is a chance for Mazda to add more equipment and a higher price point to the MX-5 line-up. It costs from £28,095 and comes with goodies such as LED headlights, a Bose sound system and Apple CarPlay. Under the bonnet meanwhile is the same 2.0-litre, four-cylinder normally aspirated petrol engine that we tested in the revised MX-5 towards the end of last year. It produces 182bhp, 151lb ft of torque and revs to 7,500rpm, which are the kind of stats that would seem to suit a light, two-seat roadster to perfection.
Drive is sent to the rear wheels through what is surely one of the best manual gearboxes offered in any car currently on sale. With six speeds, a tight, mechanical movement and an ultra-short throw it is the kind of gearbox that has you swapping cogs simply for the enjoyment of it.
Other noteworthy hardware, as also seen in the standard 2.0-litre MX-5, includes a limited-slip differential, uprated Bilstein dampers and a strut brace. A set of Ray’s 17-inch forged alloy wheels, a 30th Anniversary Edition plaque and those upgraded brakes complete the makeover.
CHOOSE YOUR ROOF
As with other models in the MX-5 range, the 30th Anniversary edition can be ordered in soft-top form with a fabric roof that is manually opened and closed in a matter of seconds, or as an electrically folding hard-top, called the RF, which comes in at £29,985.
Our test begins in the soft-top car. First things to note are that you shouldn’t confuse being small and light (and at 1,075kg an MX-5 is very light) with being tinny, because build quality is superb. The panel gaps are tight, the interior fixtures are soft where they need to be, and the whole car feels beautifully put together. The current generation of MX-5 really is a quality bit of kit.
As far as packaging goes, there’s no point pretending the boot is huge. But it’s fit for purpose, with enough space for a couple of weekend bags. In-car storage could be better (there’s nowhere obvious to put your phone, for example) but in terms of space for driver and passenger there’s little to complain about. The driving position itself is also fantastic, placing you low to the ground with a steering wheel that adjusts for height and reach (another tweak to result from the 2018 facelift). The simple analogue dials and manual handbrake also suggest a more classic driving experience than many other modern sports cars, and while Mazda does now equip the MX-5 with lane keeping assist it is a mere prod of a button should you wish to switch it off.
We already know the engine is a gem; tractable enough to be able to pull from 30mph in fourth or even fifth gear if you want it to, yet also more than willing to zing to its redline. It sounds purposeful too, slightly hollow in tone and not loud simply for the sake of it. And while this MX-5 might start to feel swamped on a big, fast circuit, that’s not to say it’s slow. Indeed, the 6.5-second 0-62mph time is perfectly respectable for a modern sports car.
DRIVING THE MX-5 30th ANNIVERSARY EDITION
It’s not merely the amount of power that matters anyway, but what you do with it. And few cars at any price make getting power to the road quite as enjoyable as an MX-5. Of course, the induction noise and the motor’s energy are great, but there’s also the joy that comes from having a car whose performance you can really enjoy on British roads, with a mid-range that builds gradually rather than in one turbocharged lump of torque. At a time when even many hot hatches seem to be getting too fast to exploit away from the track, an MX-5, even in its sportiest guise, makes for a breath of fresh air.
Speaking of which, you really must experience one of these cars with the roof down. Because that’s when what is already a great experience takes on a whole new dimension, whether it’s the sounds and smells of the countryside, the sight of a canopy of autumn leaves overhead, or the peace of driving under a starry night sky. And that’s before you even get to the chassis, which is brilliant for the way it sends a constant stream of information to you: how much grip there is, the loads that are running through the front tyres, the small twitches from the rear under power. It’s all there in brilliant 4k detail. And you respond to it with controls that are entirely free from slack, whether it’s the pedals, the steering or that gearbox.
As if all that wasn’t enough, the MX-5 also rides well. This is a car that breathes with the road. It is, in pretty much every important way, truly delightful to sit in and to drive.
A PROBLEM WITH WIND
The RF model gives you all of the same magic with the not so welcome addition of significant wind noise. It must be something to do with how the air moves over the prominent rear buttresses, which at 50mph or faster becomes quite tiring quite quickly. Unless you really need the added security of a folding hardtop, the basic MX-5 is quite simply a better car, not to mention a cheaper one to the tune of some £1,800. You’d have to really want the added security of the folding hard-top to conclude anything different.
You could say something similar about the effect that the Racing orange paintwork has on the desirability of this 30th Anniversary Edition MX-5 versus a standard car in a more subtle colour. Still, if it’s really not your thing, or even if your budget is much smaller, the good news is that pretty much any MX-5 will be imbued with a good dose of the magic that makes this particular special edition so great. And on that note, I’m off to search the classifieds.
Power: 182bhp @ 7,000rpm
0-62mph: 6.5 seconds
Top speed: 136mph
Fuel economy: 40.9mpg (on test 38mpg)
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