If you’re conscious of costs, the 1.5-litre is your best option, being the cheapest MX-5 to buy and run. The good news is you’re not losing out by going for this model, as it's still great fun to drive.
If you’re a company car driver, the MX-5 is unlikely to be your first choice of steed. Even so, the 1.5-litre offers lowest BIK costs in the range but you’ll want to drive one to see if it's suitable before you buy. If you’re a business driver regularly up and down the motorway, the MX-5 probably isn’t your best option in either form as it may prove too noisy, cramped and impractical.
Performance fans will want the 2.0-litre. It has a healthy dose of extra power - considerably so from September 2018 - and a more focused suspension set-up is available on the Sport models.
The best Mazda MX-5 convertible models tested
- MX-5 Z-Sport (June 2018)
- BBR MX-5 ND Stage One Turbo (July 2017)
- MX-5 Arctic
- MX-5 Icon
- MX-5 2.0 Sport Recaro
- MX-5 2.0 SE-L Nav
- MX-5 1.5 SE-L Nav
- MX-5 1.5 Sport Nav
- MX-5 2.0 Sport Nav
It’s a strange fact of life that good road cars aren’t always fun to drive on a track. The opposite is often true too, with more circuit-focused models feeling half-asleep anywhere else.
The exception that proves this rule is the Mazda MX-5 – a car we rate very highly for the way it handles a twisty B-road, that is equally (if not more) impressive on a race track - particularly if you’re a novice driver.
What makes the Mazda MX-5 a good cheap track car?
In a word, simplicity. There are very few driving aids to disguise the unskilled – there’s no torque vectoring all-wheel drive or multi-stage traction control to interpret your imprecise inputs and translate them into the ideal driving line. Just your right foot and four small patches of rubber.
In addition to that, the 160hp output from the 2.0-litre petrol engine in this limited-run Z-Sport model might be sufficient to haul you along at a modest rate, but you certainly won’t be making up time on the straights.
To set a fast lap time then this car needs to be driven extremely smoothly with plenty of speed carried though the corners – two fundamental track-driving skills possessed by successful circuit drivers from karting to F1.
Sounds like hard work…
In truth getting the most from this Mazda doesn’t feel like work – with every lap of Silverstone’s Stowe circuit (and we did very, very many) a faster line or later braking point would be discovered, only to find ourselves losing time somewhere else. A frustrating but extremely addictive process.
Helping accelerate our development were the MX-5’s transparent limits. It’s obvious when you’ve got a corner entry wrong because the car will roll so hard it’ll feel like you’re going to fall out, and the standard mechanical limited slip differential allows the rear end to break away gradually in response to an early stab of the gas, so you can catch it and learn for next time.
When it all started to come together (about two laps before the end of the day) the feeling of satisfaction was incredible – planning two or three corners ahead to ensure a good position on track, allowing the suspension to settle between bends, and applying the power at the right time to get maximum speed on the long straight.
At that point the MX-5 didn’t feel roly-poly or lacking in power – but as sharp and precise as a proper race car. As such, we didn’t exit the track until the Mazda was running on fumes.
What’s special about this special edition then?
Mechanically, not much at all – it’s based on based on the 2.0-litre Sport Nav, so you get the aforementioned limited slip differential, Bilstein dampers and a strut brace.
On top of that there’s a red roof (the first offered in the current MX-5) plus BBS alloy wheels and Sand leather seats. The Z-Sport is limited to 300 models but the good news is you can have just as much fun on track in the standard 2.0-litre car.
The Parkers Verdict
If you’re graduating from a go-kart or always fancied yourself as a circuit hot-shoe, the Mazda MX-5 is the ultimate first track car. You can only really gather pace by driving it properly, so any mistakes you make will likely be at low speed where you’ve got plenty of time to react.
Vitally it’s a car that will requires the development of essential track driving skills to get the best from – lessons you’ll remember even long after you’ve moved onto something faster.
MX-5 Z-Sport: on the road (Tested July 2018 by Lawrence Cheung)
Since the Mazda MX-5 was launched in 2015, the range has never been shy of a special edition. While the last limited-edition Arctic had subtle styling cues to differentiate it from the rest of the range, the Z-Sport seen here comes with its own bespoke look.
With 300 examples made, each of them come with black 17-inch BBS wheels, a Machine metallic grey paint finish and a dark cherry-red roof. Inside you’ll find sand leather seating, a numbered badge, door sill plates and a set of mats. You certainly won’t confuse this 2018 special edition with any other model.
Based on the 2.0-litre Sport Nav, all the extra cost of this model goes on these cosmetics; with no mechanical changes made elsewhere.
This means the Z-Sport drives just like the flagship MX-5, fitted with a suspension setup that includes a set of Bilstein dampers and a strut brace in the engine bay to deliver a sportier drive than the rest of the range. There’s also a limited-slip differential to help maximise cornering traction.
Performance is also the same: with 160hp and 200Nm of torque, 0-62mph takes 7.3 seconds and top speed remains the same at 133mph. Claimed fuel economy is 40.9mpg.
Oddly, this didn’t feel as urgent as previous examples we’ve tested – chiefly the Sport Recaro from 2016 – which, not only felt more eager to accelerate, but also made a louder, rorty noise in the cabin
The driving position also seems to have been raised a touch – which may compromise comfort for those who are taller.
The Parkers Verdict
Otherwise, the MX-5 continues to be a fun-to-drive roadster; offering agility, plenty of bodyroll and everyday comfort.
If you want the ultimate in MX-5 performance this is a great upgrade as we explain in our review.
Tested April 2017
Like it is in every other trim and engine combination, the Mazda MX-5 Arctic is a superb little sports car. It’s nimble, well-priced, has a lively engine and – above all else – is seriously good fun.
Those lucky enough to get their hands on a limited-edition Arctic won’t be disappointed with their choice of spec either. It comes with all the kit most customers will ever need and undercuts the more premium Sport Nav model considerably.
Some drivers might prefer the slightly more hardcore 2.0-litre MX-5 derivatives, yet for us, the sweeter 1.5-litre engine is the one to go for.
Tested September 2016
No matter what spec or engine you go for, the Mazda MX-5 is an exceptional open-top sports car. For us, the well-equipped Icon trim and lively nature of the smaller 1.5-litre engine suit the MX-5’s personality perfectly, though some might bemoan the lack of torque and more comfort-focused road manners.
The 2.0-litre model should address any such issues but at the expense of the smaller motor's ability to entertain so much at lower speeds, so we think the Icon is one of the best MX-5s to go for if you can find a used one out there, as they sold in limited numbers.
Tested August 2016
The Sport Recaro was the first of many special edition MX-5s, and is the ultimate in terms of kit and luxury. It’s a good choice if they are priorities for you.
We think the smaller 1.5-litre engine on 16-inch alloys is more enjoyable for keen drivers, though, which is where the Icon above comes into play.
The Sport Recaro is worth seeking out though, as the 2.0-litre engine is a really flexible unit that’s good for every day driving and if you use your MX-5 on the motorway.
The Alcantara-trimmed Recaro seats exclusive to this model are particularly good though, offering huge levels of comfort, grip and support, so you can really enjoy the experience.
Other extra features on this car over other MX-5s are a black body kit, Alcantara-trimmed dashboard and red stitching inside the car. There are also a set of unique alloys to complete the look.
Aesthetic parts aside, the Sport Recaro drives just like other 2.0-litre models.
Tested December 2015
With 160hp and 200Nm of torque available, the 2.0-litre is the punchier of the two MX-5s available to buyers. It’ll sprint from 0-62mph in 7.3 seconds and is eager to rev. The engine note is characterful, but not quite as much as the 1.5.
The sharp steering, great gearchange and excellent grip impress, but it remains composed at all times thanks to excellent balance in the chassis.
Roof up or roof down, the MX-5 is all about driving fun and precise handling, as opposed to cruising down the motorway everyday.
Mid-range SE-L trim is an excellent option with lots of equipment at a reasonable cost, made even greater value if you go for the 1.5-litre petrol.
Tested December 2015
For a reasonable price, the mid-spec 1.5-litre SE-L is a great-value package with a good haul of standard equipment, with only heated seats being the feature we’d like to see for when you’re driving in winter with the roof down.
As with all MX-5s, it’s great fun to drive thanks to communicative steering, excellent ride quality and nippy responses from the characterful 1.5-litre engine.
It’s a fun package, and one that entertains readily even at lower speeds, but some may crave the power advantage the 2.0-litre offers.
Those who do will miss out on the 1.5’s sweetness and eagerness to be revved. Power figures aren’t particularly generous, with 131hp and 150Nm of torque, but even when you rev the nuts off the thing and make good use of the fantastic manual gearbox, it still returns decent fuel economy.
It’s simple and great fun, like a roadster should be.
Tested October 2015
We love the 1.5-litre engine and the slick manual gearchange in the MX-5, so we’ll focus on Sport Nav trim here.
It sits at the top of the MX-5 hierarchy and comes complete with sat-nav, heated leather seats, rear parking sensors, auto lights and wipers, LED headlights, a Bose sound system and keyless entry. It’s packed with kit.
In reality, though, you can probably live without a lot of these features and save yourself a lot of money by going for the mid-range SE-L Nav model with the same engine. Just buy a big jumper with the money you’ve pocketed.
Tested August 2015
The 1.5 is less money and more fun for the majority of motorists. That’s why we couldn’t recommend this top-spec car unless you’re an extremely keen driver who will make good use of the differential and trick suspension that comes with this model.
Take a long, hard look at the spec list and running costs before making your decision, too, as there are some noticeable differences in price.
Either way, though, you won’t be disappointed. The MX-5 is a bona fide five-star sports car no matter which spec you choose.
- August 2015 – Fourth-generation MX-5 roadster launched in SE, SE-L, SE-L Nav, Sport and Sport Nav trims. All versions are available with a 1.5-litre 131hp engine, while the 160hp 2.0-litre alternative comes with all specifications barring the entry-level SE.
- November 2015 – The first limited edition based on the fourth-generation MX-5 is the Sport Recaro. Using the Sport Nav with a 160hp 2.0-litre petrol engine as a starting point, the Sport Recaro is finished in Soul Red or Ceramic White with a gloss black bodykit. The interior is swathed in Alcantara faux suede, including – as its name suggests – Recaro seats.
- August 2016 – Based on the SE-L Nav 131hp model and limited to 600 units is the Icon special edition. Finished in Mica Grey or Crystal White pearlescent paint, the Icon also has Soul Red flashes on its door mirrors, rear spoiler, sides and front splitter. Leather seats, automatic lights and wipers and rear parking sensors complete the picture.
- October 2016 – SE-L and Sport trims dropped from the range, leaving their sat-nav equipped SE-L Nav and Sport Nav counterparts in place.
- February 2017 – Arctic limited edition on sale, powered by the 131hp 1.5-litre engine. Restricted to 400 cars, the exterior’s defined by the Blue Reflex metallic paints with silver accents, while the interior features full black leather trim. Other special features include automatic lights and wipers, rear parking sensors and heated seats.
- June 2018 - Z-Sport special edition arrives, limited to 300 UK cars, based on a 2.0-litre Sport Nav and featuring a red convertible roof with contrasting Machine Grey Metallic paint. Inside you get custom kickplates and Sand leather seat trim.
- September 2018 - So-called '2019 Model Year' introduced, with a modest power boost for 1.5-litre cars and a significant one for 2.0-litre cars. There are no visual modifications to the exterior, but reach-adjustable steering is added alongside other feedback-lead changes and more extensive safety equipment. All of the existing trim levels gain a + symbol at the end, while a new GT Sport Nav+ model becomes the range-topper.
Buying a new Mazda MX-5 convertible
- Discounts are likely to be small
- More powerful engine offers greater pace
- We’d plump for Sport Nav or Sport Nav+ trim
Don’t expect significant discounts as demand is strong, even several years into the model cycle, partly down to this car’s cult following of enthusiasts but also due to the lack of significant rivals.
There’s a lot to be said for opting for the entry-level 1.5-litre and enjoying the back to basic qualities it possesses. However that 2.0-litre isn’t much more expensive, and for many, the extra torque and overtaking ability on a busy road will be worth the reasonable uplift in list price.
Those looking to drive their MX-5 hard or venture on to a race circuit should look towards 2.0-litre Sport models with Bilstein suspension, as they're more focused and composed at speed.
Choose a bright colour too, as the MX-5 looks best with some vibrancy to its paint.
There are not many options to add, though, as Mazda tends to reserve more unusual items - such as different roof fabrics and seats - for special editions.
Fortunately, standard equipment levels are high across the range.
Worked out which Mazda MX-5 is best for you? Find out how to finance it:
Buying a used Mazda MX-5 convertible
- Plenty of choice out there
- Pick which engine you want first
- High spec models are most desirable
You’ll need to decide what you really want to get out of the car before selecting which Mazda MX-5 to buy used, as there is quite a difference in character between early 2.0-litre cars and the fiesty 1.5-litre model. The difference between the sporty Bilstein suspension and the more comfortable standard setup makes a big impact, too. Sometimes literally.
Thanks to its relatively light weight, the MX-5 shouldn’t be too hard on tyres or brakes, but as a sports car it may well have been driven hard by previous owners. So check the condition of these, as they will also point to how carefully the vehicle has been cherished. Look for evidence of proper service history for similar reasons - it won't do to have missed oil changes in one of these.
Therefore it could prove worthwhile hunting down an enthusiast-owned example: MX-5 stalwarts are fanatical about the cars and tend to lavish care and attention over their roadsters.
Wherever you decide to shop, invest in a Parkers Car History Check to make sure the car you're considering isn't hiding any previous crash damage or outstanding finance. The Parkers Car Valuation Service can help you make sure its suitably good value as well.
Selling your Mazda MX-5 convertible
- Make sure your MX-5 is ready for sale
- Ensure it’s in good condition
- Advertise it in the right places
First of all we suspect it doesn’t matter which MX-5 you pick from new – you’re never going to end up with a bad car, and whatever your final spec there will always be demand for it.
That said, sporty 2.0-litre models may have a wider appeal within enthusiast circles thanks to the standard-fit strut brace, limited-slip differential and Bilstein suspension. It’s certainly the fastest and most capable in the range.
Clearly advertising the car on the owners’ club website or through a performance-orientated outlet may bring a greater range of potential purchasers.
And whatever you do, present it for sale properly with clear pictures, damage-free bodywork and wheels plus evidence of full service history. Probably best not to include any track day images you might have...