With its 30th anniversary looming, the Mazda MX-5 has never looked more appealing. Early models can be picked up for less than £1,000, and from here on there really is an MX-5 for every budget. For now, the options top out with the car tested here, the 2019 MX-5 complete with a revised engine for an even more exciting driving experience.
For the 2019 MX-5, Mazda has answered calls to add more power to its two-seat roadster, which is now available with an improved version of the company’s 2.0-litre, four-cylinder engine. It kicks out 182bhp, which is an increase of 24bhp compared with the outgoing car and helps to reduce the 0-62mph time by a respectable 0.8 seconds to just 6.5 seconds.
There’s also slightly more torque (4lb ft), but it’s the 700rpm increase in the rev limiter that really makes a difference, allowing the engine to spin all the way through to 7,500rpm – a challenge it positively relishes.
With Mazda being Mazda this has not all been achieved simply by remapping the car’s ECU, but has instead involved fitting lighter pistons and conrods, revised camshafts, exhaust valves and injectors, and an improved intake system. Because why make things easy for yourself?
Another small but useful change is that the steering wheel now adjusts for reach as well as height to improve the driving position, although it’s a shame Mazda didn’t also give the seats more lower back support at the same time. That grumble aside, the driving environment is superb, and you can also now specify Apple CarPlay to improve the infotainment system.
Even those who already rate the MX-5 as a brilliant driver’s car will appreciate the additional energy and urgency of this revised engine. It turns the Mazda into a proper sports car that’s capable of carrying serious speed, pulling hard through the mid-range and positively zinging to its new redline. Where previously you’d be needing to change up a gear you can now hold on for a few more glorious seconds and enjoy an engine of real character.
The six-speed manual gearbox remains a delight to operate, so much so you’ll be needlessly flicking through the gears just to enjoy its short, mechanical throw, indulging in a blip of the throttle on down changes (a responsibility Mazda has left as the driver’s).
Mazda hasn’t made any changes to the ride or handling, but then it didn’t need to. The MX-5 has long been the benchmark for affordable front-engined, rear-wheel-drive sports cars and so it remains. The steering is sharp, the chassis balance superb and the throttle response instant. What’s more, traction is ample on account of there being a limited-slip differential and no sudden rush of turbocharged torque to deal with. That’s not to say the MX-5 can’t still be provoked, only that you’d need to be seriously greedy with the throttle in order to do so.
WHAT ABOUT THE ROOF?
The surefooted handling isn’t the only thing about the MX-5 that makes it suitable for all-weather driving. The folding fabric roof is also perfectly watertight (a point we can confirm having driven the car in atrocious conditions) and you could reheat last night’s pasta on the heated seats such is their ferocity.
Alternatively, if you want the full metal roof experience Mazda also offers the new engine in the RF holding hard-top version of the MX-5. The more complex roof might carry a weight penalty of around 50kg, but the revised engine pulls just as hard and the handling remains superb.
It might be the most expensive MX-5 money can buy, but this latest model is also arguably the best. It’s seriously quick, sounds good and handles beautifully, and all for an on the road price that starts from £22,295. In terms of meeting its brief, the MX-5 is one of the best cars on sale today.
Price: MX-5 range from £18,95, car as tested from £22,295
Power: 182bhp @ 7,000rpm
0-62mph: 6.5 seconds
Top speed: 136mph
Fuel economy: 40.9mpg (on test 38mpg)
Mazda MX-5 Mk1
Launched in 1989, the original MX-5 was designed to recall the classic two-seater British sports car, only with modern standards of build quality and reliability. It was an instant hit, with a fantastically responsive engine (both 1.6 and 1.8-litre units were available), snappy gearbox and balanced handling all wrapped up in a lightweight body.
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Mazda MX-5 Mk2
The second generation of MX-5 arrived in 1998 and – to the disappointment of many – lost its pop-up headlights due to safety regulations. What it didn’t lose, however, was its near-perfect driving dynamics, and even today a spin in one of these early cars will remind you of just how much fun driving can be.
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Mazda MX-5 Mk3
By the time the Mk3 MX-5 arrived in 2005 it was a slightly larger and inevitably heavier car. As a result, some found that early examples had lost a bit of its predecessors’ dynamic sparkle, although it was still a very good car, and was further improved over time. For those seeking even more versatility Mazda introduced a folding hardtop body style for the Mk3 MX-5, known as the Roadster Coupe.
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Mazda MX-5 Mk4
The latest MX-5, launched in 2015, is regarded as one of the most rewarding driver’s cars on sale today, combining the agility of its predecessors with the latest technology and a more aggressive design. Key to its appeal is its low kerb weight, which helps makes the most of what the 1.5- and 2.0-litre engines have to offer. If it’s driving thrills in a modern package that you’re after, a Mk4 MX-5 is hard to beat.
Search for used examples of the Mk4 Mazda MX-5 on CarGurus
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