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Mazda MX-5 (2.0-litre Sport Tech Nav Roadster) review

A bargain two-seat convertible that’s as exciting and engaging as ever, though there are some minor annoyances

Mazda’s iconic MX-5 is a phenomenally successful two-seat rear-wheel drive sports car that pretty much kickstarted the 90’s appetite for small convertibles. The current generation continues the trend, but modern buyers can choose between two engines: a 1.8-litre, 126ps engine with a 0-60 acceleration time of 9.9 seconds and a 2.0-litre, 160ps engine with 0-60 acceleration time 7.6 seconds for the soft-top version and 7.9 seconds for the hard-top model.

There are also a number of different trim levels and special editions, and more information about these can be found on the Mazda website. The model we’ve reviewed is the 2.0-litre Sport Tech Nav roadster coupe, which has a retractable hard-top roof and looks absolutely stunning from the front, thanks to its long bonnet, fog lights that look as though they belong rather than just tacked on to the design and wide, cheerful grille.

Mazda MX-5 Front Shot

The roadster coupe looks fantastic with the roof up or down, but the excitement it elicits with the roof down on a hot summer day is primal and giddy. Once behind the wheel, it was seconds before we were tearing around country lanes, harassing tight corners and playing music much too loudly as if we were Dustin Hoffman at the start of Straw Dogs.

As you’d expect from a modern roadster, the roof is a cinch to lower. The buttons are located at the top of the centre console, and the roof safely stows away in 14 seconds. It takes 15 seconds to raise it again, but it’s worth noting that you must be stationary in order for the roof to raised or lowered.

Mazda MX-5 Front Three-Quarters

Despite its low stance, getting in and out of the MX-5 isn’t too difficult, especially with the roof lowered. That’s true as long as you can open the door wide, which can be a problem in multi-storey car parks. No matter what your age or fitness level, any difficulty with entry or exit is well worth putting up with.


Despite having a 2-litre engine and weighing just 1248kg, our Mazda MX-5 Sport Tech Nav felt remarkably calm and well composed in normal driving conditions. There was no drama or raucous expressions of childish aggression from the exhaust, just an easy, effortless cruise that makes the car perfect for driving around congested town centres or promenading through country villages.

However, push the engine beyond 4,000rpm and the MX-5 becomes a different beast. The bonnet rises slightly and there’s a progressive rush of acceleration. The acceleration isn’t especially rapid, and it lacks the visceral thrill you get from turbo- and supercharged vehicles, but it’s enough to bring a smile to your face.

Mazda MX-5 Cornering

Of course, the appeal of the MX-5 isn’t its straight-line performance but its magnificent cornering and handling. Take it on a twisting, hilly route and you’ll be rewarded with a truly exciting drive. The MX-5 is supremely agile, and turns into corners with an immediacy and confidence you rarely experience in a road car at this price. Press the accelerator as you exit a sharp bend and you get an ever-so-slight shift in movement from the rear of the car, further increasing the fun and excitement.

The car’s road holding is such that we never caused the tail to swing wide, but we feel there are few roads, especially in southeast England, where you can safely exploit the MX-5’s full potential. This makes it an ideal trackday car. The only thing we’d improve are the brakes. They’re perfectly adequate when moving through town and in general use, but we’d prefer greater stopping power for braking at higher speeds.

Body roll was minimal, and the ride was comfortable whether we were gently stop-starting through town or enjoying a 60mph cruise along a country road. The suspension dealt with bumps and pot holes with aplomb, damping them so that you’re made aware of their presence and can feel the road beneath you without giving you or your passenger a spinal injury. Indeed, it’s a fantastic combination of comfort and sports car rigidity, and neither we nor our passengers had any complaints, even after a few hours at the wheel.

Mazda MX-5 Driving Roof Up

The MX-5’s steering is incredibly light, which makes parking even easier than you’d expect it to be in a small car, but it can feel a little numb. Visibility is also excellent, thanks to large wing mirrors and the fact there isn’t much room between the rear window and the large rear-view mirror.


You don’t expect a small, two-seat sports car to be overly luxurious, and the MX-5 isn’t. However, it does have almost everything that modern drivers demand, such as electric windows, air-conditioning, comfortable seats and a multifunction steering wheel.

Mazda MX-5 Heated Leather Seats

Cars with Sport Tech trim, such as ours, even have heated leather seats, which should make winter cruises with the roof down more comfortable than they’d otherwise be. The seats are very comfortable, and although there’s ample lateral support (important when tackling those corners) it isn’t tight on your back.

The MX-5’s steering wheel is suitably small, and its multifunction controls are ideally located to let you change tracks, adjust volume and set cruise control. The only thing missing are telephone controls, as telephony is only available on Sport Tech Nav models, and is not built into the car as standard. Sport Tech Nav models support telephony through their TomTom head units and have a small microphone glued to the top of the steering column to facilitate calls. Steering wheel-mounted telephone controls are essential for modern drivers, so we hope to see them on the next MX-5’s steering wheel.

Mazda MX-5 Steering Wheel

The MX-5’s cockpit is a very pleasant place to be, but it isn’t perfect. There are a few annoyances that detract from the pleasure of driving it, such as the way the driver’s sun visor hits the rear view mirror when you extend it fully to the window, which is maddening. We were also plagued by the foot rest, which we often caught with our foot whenever we used the clutch pedal. Even when you get used to it, and know it’s something you must avoid, you can still feel the foot rest next to your foot when operating the clutch. Given that we have size nines, we think those with larger feet will have an even greater problem. Thankfully, the foot rest can be unscrewed and removed, and this is something we’d be tempted to do if we owned an MX-5.

Mazda MX-5 Cockpit Shot

There are few cubby holes in which you can store essential items such as sunglasses and phones. However, the lockable glove box and lockable cubby between the driver and passenger are large enough to store many important possessions. Surprisingly, there’s more room in its 150-litre boot than you’d expect, certainly more than enough room for a few nights away, although you’ll have to use soft luggage such as holdalls rather than suitcases to make the most of it.

Mazda MX-5 Boot With iPad


Models other than those with Sport Tech Nav trim come with a standard CD and radio, rather than the TomTom satnav and multimedia system fitted to our car, but we must say that we’re not enamoured by it. Although it’s a colour system, many of its screens don’t use colour well. This makes it difficult to see which tracks or CDs are currently playing.

Thankfully, its navigation map does make good use of colour and is easy to see and understand at a glance. However, the individual screens could be better organised, as it’s often unclear what you should press to get to a particular screen. It wasn’t very responsive, either, being too slow to act on our commands, whether we were entering a post code or switching from the navigation to audio screen.

Mazda MX-5 Nav Screen

The MX-5 has a USB extension cable in the glove box to which you can connect your phone or MP3 player. Although it charged our iPhone 4S okay, it couldn’t play audio from it, and it wouldn’t play tracks from our 2nd-generation iPod Nano either. It would look as if it were playing a track, but it didn’t output any audio. The TomTom system has a 3.5mm jack input, so we just played our music through that.

The sound quality of the audio system varies depending on the source material, but it sounded best when playing tracks from our iPhone through the auxiliary port. The sound system is okay, and is plenty loud enough, but we’ve heard better sound quality from other vehicles, such as the Toyota GT86 and the Renault Clio RenaultSport 200 EDC Lux.

Mazda MX-5 CD Screen

As for telephony, we connected to our iPhone 4S via Bluetooth, and it worked well enough. As there are no steering wheel-mounted telephone controls, it’s not as easy to exploit this feature as it is on newer Mazda models such as the Mazda6.

We prefer the multimedia systems fitted to Skyactiv Mazdas such as the CX-5 and Mazda6, and we hope the next MX-5 has the modern system fitted as standard. As it is, we’d prefer to get the standard CD audio system and then fit an aftermarket multimedia head unit instead.


The Mazda MX-5 is available from a very reasonable £18,495 for the 1.8-litre soft-top version, rising to £23,295 for the limited edition 2.0i Sport Tech Nav model we reviewed. Its insurance band ranges from 21E for the 1.8-litre soft-top to 28E for the limited edition Sport Graphite hard-top model.

The 2.0-litre hard-top’s engine has a claimed fuel economy of 36.2mpg on the combined cycle, which is about right for a car with this level of performance. The 1.8-litre MX-5 has a slightly more frugal fuel economy of 39.8 combined.

Mazda MX-5 Rear Three-Quarters

We’re expecting a new MX-5 to be released within the next 15 months, and think now is the time to snap up a bargain model from the current generation. We’re already seeing some great finance deals. Gadget fiends may want to hold off to see what the new model brings, but if you can’t wait to own this charismatic, immensely pleasurable and surprisingly practical sports car, arrange a test drive at your local Mazda dealer now.

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