Parkers overall rating: 4.4 out of 5 4.4
  • Cabin feels tighter than ever before
  • Well-made but plastics are firmly unyielding
  • Introduction of reach-adjustable steering a boon

If you’ve ever sat in any of the first three generations of Mazda MX-5 you’ll find the interior layout of the Mk4 cabin, and some of its details, quickly familiar. This is no bad thing, since the focus here is also firmly on making life as easy as possible for the driver. Dividing the cabin in two is the high transmission tunnel, with the stubby gearlever perfectly placed to fall into the hand easily. The slick, precise mechanical change has a strong influence on how robust and well-made the MX-5 feels, and the sense of direct control is matched by the provision of a conventional manual handbrake positioned in easy reach.

The round airvents are there, and despite a flowing dashboard that doesn’t really angle itself towards the driver, the design has a symmetry ahead of the pilot that makes it feel focused and relatively single-minded. A central rev-counter keeps you focused too, and although the speedo – offset to the right of the binnacle – is quite small, the white-on-black design of the panel is clean, crisp and easy to read.

SE-L Nav models and above benefit from a prominent 7.0-inch screen, which displays Mazda's MZD Connect infotainment system. This works rather like a simplified version of BMW's iDrive, in that it's best controlled by a knob next to the gearlever. It's a straightforward, intuitive system, and we think it works very well.

Compact cabin improved

The Mk4 has the shortest, most compact cabin of any MX-5, which means that it can feel rather cosy - especially if you're tall, or broad, while long-legged drivers may find the base of the dashboard on either side of the steering column digging in to their shins. However, the engineers have worked hard to make it usable, with perfectly aligned pedals and a steering wheel that sits straight ahead of the driver.

Initially, this steering wheel only had rake adjustment, which sometimes made it difficult to find an ideal seating position - Mazda having originally decided not to fit reach adjustment as a means of saving weight. Customer - and press - feedback soon told Mazda this lack of reach-adjustment was a mistake.

So for the 2019 model year, on sale from September 2018, telescopic steering wheel adjustment has been made standard across the range.

And what's more, the new parts apparently weigh no more than the old non-adjustable ones. Which just goes to show what a little additional extra time and encouragement can make possible. This may not sound like a big thing, but it makes a surprising amount of difference to how comfortable you can get in this minimalist cabin.

Other updates for 2019 include sturdier cupholders and a smoother operating mechanism for the seat-backs and the doors. Again, all of these changes were made due to customer feedback.

Quality control

Material quality is impressive, but the Japanese err on the side of durable and strong plastics that are solid rather than soft-touch, and so it is here. For the most part the design is neat enough that you won't notice, but you certainly will notice the door cards when cornering enthusiastically, as your knee is likely to bang into them - and they're so hard this tends to hurt.

The overall control layout is generally very good - we approve of the simple knobs for the ventilation system, for example. The buttons on the steering wheel are on the fiddly side, however, and we have occasionally caught the rotary switch for the infotainment system when changing gear.

Comfortable roadster

  • Low-spec models are very comfortable
  • Higher spec trim levels firmer
  • Little buffeting with the roof down

First and foremost this car is about having fun. Choose a model with the standard suspension and you'll be rewarded with one of the comfiest cars in class - especially when combined with smaller 16-inch wheels. With the state of many UK roads, there’s an argument this specification is perfect, the compliance over bumpy surfaces being something of a highlight for such a fun car.

2.0-litre engine cars, which use a similar suspension set up to the 1.5s, but come with 17-inch wheels, feels fractionally firmer but never uncomfortably so. It’s still a supple ride, you just notice more potholes or seriously rippled asphalt more often.

Sport suspension comfort

MX-5s with the more powerful 2.0-litre MX-5s engine can come with high-performance Bilstein shock absorbers. These are great if you want maximum cornering speed and control, but they do come with a much firmer ride.

As the driver you may well be prepared to put up with this for the handling benefits, but you should perhaps spare a thought for your passengers, as they are much more likely to notice the lumps and bumps in the road as a result. It's far from unbearable, but distinctly less pleasant.

Seat options

There’s the choice of two basic seats in the UK, which prove comfortable and perfectly adjustable, even if the backrest is altered by a lever rather than more precise rotary control. Fabric and leather finishes are available, depending on trim level. Higher specification models benefit from speakers in the headrest as part of a nine-speaker Bose sound system, which makes listening to music on the move with the top down much easier.

Some limited edition models have further benefited from more supportive Recaro seats. These are heavily bolstered to better hold you in place during spirited driving, yet still even more comfortable than the regular seats.

MX-5 refinement

With the roof up, sound suppression is decent for a convertible - just don't expect it to be whisper quiet inside when making the most of the MX-5's high-revving engines. This is a sports car, after all, so plenty of engine noise is acceptable so long as it sounds good - which the MX-5 largely does. You might argue the early 2.0-litre cars are a bit lacking in this department, but later versions, which feature a retuned exhaust silencer, sound just as good as the eager 1.5-litre engine.

Being such a lightweight car, the MX-5 does suffer with some shimmying and shaking from the body over the bumpiest of surfaces. But vibrations from the engine and transmission are few and far between - and improved further still from late 2018 when additional anti-vibration measures were introduced. The only exception to this is the stop-start system fitted on those later 2.0-litre models, which brings the engine to a halt in a manner so shuddery you might think you've accidentally stalled it.