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View all Mazda MX-5 reviews
Parkers overall rating: 4.4 out of 5 4.4

Proof that a great-handling car needn’t be expensive

Mazda MX-5 Review Video
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PROS

  • Fun to drive at any speed
  • Both engines are excellent
  • Slick manual gear change
  • Sharp, modern design

CONS

  • Cabin feels cramped for tall drivers
  • Lacks storage spaces inside
  • Fiddly steering-wheel buttons
  • Not the easiest to get in and out of

PROS

  • Fun to drive at any speed
  • Both engines are excellent
  • Slick manual gear change
  • Sharp, modern design

CONS

  • Cabin feels cramped for tall drivers
  • Lacks storage spaces inside
  • Fiddly steering-wheel buttons
  • Not the easiest to get in and out of

Mazda MX-5 rivals

For three decades, the Mazda MX-5 – or Miata in certain markets – has been the de facto choice for those who want a small, cheap roadster. Over a million examples across four generations have been sold, making it the world’s most popular two-seat sports car by quite some margin.

In the UK, the MX-5 was launched in 1990 in its first-generation guise - we’re now onto the Mk4 model, known as the MX-5 ND to enthusiasts. It’s been on sale since 2015, but underwent some tweaks in 2018 that bought more power for the range-topping 2.0-litre engine. Before the facelift, the smaller 1.5-litre engine was our favourite in the range, but since the upgrade the extra shove of the 2.0-litre means it’s well worth the extra cash.

That 2018 upgrade also brought improvements to comfort, convenience and safety equipment, chief among which was the introduction of a reach-adjustable steering wheel, making life so much more comfortable for taller drivers. But regardless of model year, the MX-5 has remained compact, rear-wheel drive and convertible – not to mention highly affordable. It’s one of the best expressions of ‘fun at any speed’ on the market, and rivals other roadsters as much as it does fun-biased hot hatchbacks.

Not many rivals these days

The market’s not exactly flush with two-seat roadsters any more, and the MX-5 has few direct rivals. Most obvious is the Fiat 124 Spider and its high-performance Abarth 124 Spider cousin, both of which are actually based on the MX-5, but have been withdrawn from the British market in early 2019. The relationship runs so deep that the cars' interiors are virtually identical – though the Fiat/Abarth pair do boast a 1.4-litre turbocharged engine in contrast to the naturally-aspirated units found in the Mazda.

2018 Mazda MX-5 interior

If two seats and a folding roof are the important things, options such as the Audi TT and BMW Z4 are available – but both are larger, more powerful, more complex and significantly more expensive. Those simply after a fun car for not much money could opt for the Toyota GT86 or Subaru BRZ – virtually identical twin coupes that major on low-speed fun.

The MX-5 is also a rival for hot hatchbacks, which have the same ethos of an entertaining drive without necessarily having to do dangerous speeds. The Ford Fiesta ST is our pick of these supermini-sized hot hatchbacks.

Simplicity and lightness

The MX-5 does without any added complexity where necessary. This is best embodied in the fabric roof, which is totally manually operated – nearly every rival features an electrically operated soft-top. Is this a problem? Of course not – the MX-5’s roof operation is simple and easy, requiring nothing more taxing than a swing of the arm. Best of all, it’s accomplished in seconds. Want the security of an electric hard-top? Then you can opt for the Mazda MX-5 RF, which we’ve covered in a separate review.

Mazda MX-5 exterior

Other examples can be seen in the car’s straightforward gauge cluster, intuitive rotary controller for the infotainment system and detachable cupholders.

Choice of two zingy engines

The MX-5 is available with a choice of two four-cylinder petrol engines. They’re named SkyActiv-G – Mazda’s parlance for its range of highly efficient, naturally aspirated (that’s without any form of turbocharging) petrol engines.

Entry-point for the range is the 1.5-litre, an engine Mazda engineers are said to be particularly fond of as they believe it fits with the car’s simple, lightweight design philosophy. At launch, it was offered with 131hp – this was upgraded in the 2018 facelift to a dizzying… 132hp. Though it revs sweetly, sounds wonderful and makes the car feel very light on its feet, some may find it lacking in overall power.

That’s where the 2.0-litre comes in. At launch, it offered 160hp, making it a much faster machine – but it lacked the urgency of the 1.5-litre, and didn’t rev as cleanly. This was changed in the 2018 update, and the new engine not only offers 184hp but is now just as characterful as its smaller sibling. From this point on, it’s the clear pick of the range.

The Mazda MX-5 is a car to buy with the heart, rather than the head – and it’s easy to fall in love with this effervescent little machine. But how does it stack up as daily transport? Read on for our full review and find out.

Mazda MX-5 rivals

Other Mazda MX-5 models: