First Drive: Mazda MX-5

Reviews

What’s new?

Light weight: it's the holy grail of sports car design. Weighing 100kg less than the old one, the fourth-generation MX-5 is all-new from the wheel nuts to the folding fabric roof, and there are new 'SkyActiv' engines of 1.5 and 2.0 litres. Even the 1.5 has 129bhp, and in a car that weighs as little as 975kg without the driver, the signs are promising.

Looks and image

To be fair the little Mazda's visual appeal depends on the angle from which you're looking. At one or two angles the bonnet looks odd, but from most viewpoints it's a fantastic-looking thing; lithe and small, tightly-packaged around a chassis no larger than that of its great-grandfather.

The back lights are a mix of old BMW Z4 and new Jaguar F-Type, but the light signature at night is unmistakably unique. LED headlights are standard on every model to allow for the incredibly narrow, knife-sharp design.

Space and practicality

It's shorter than before, so unsurprisingly the boot is smaller. But it's more evenly shaped than before and it's deeper, with a narrower rectangular recess at the bottom to stop smaller bags moving too much.

The cabin is small and six-footers may feel cramped, particularly people with long legs. The lack of reach adjustment on the steering column is a niggle but for a 177cm-tall man (me) the driving position is pretty good anyway.

You can remove the slightly flimsy central cupholders, or shift one of them to a slot beside the passenger's legs. Handy.

Behind the wheel

No other sports car feels so light, so responsive to throttle inputs through corners or so downright hop-skip-jump happy. Bilstein dampers on this 2.0 Sport model keep the tyres on the Tarmac without sagging in the corners, so a briskly-driven MX-5 flows beautifully over and along the road rather than crashing through it. It's so confidence-inspiring you'll laugh out loud.

The 1.5 is higher-revving, with about 500rpm extra versus the 2.0's 6,600rpm limit, but the torquier 2.0 gets up to speed much faster. It's a rear-wheel drive joy machine, whereas the 1.5, although sweet and revvy, just lacks muscle for overtakes and for true sports car handling.

The cabin is on the cramped side, though, and at 177cm tall I felt 100 miles in one stint was the limit. Six-footers be warned; you won't even get close to stretching out. The lack of reach adjustment for the steering wheel is annoying, but it's not a deal-breaker.

Value for money

It's not a huge jump northwards from the entry model, the 1.5 SE, to a mid-spec 2.0 SE-L – and it's the latter you should go for. It's much easier to enjoy and feels more like a true rear-wheel drive sports car should. At a little over £20,000, it's just about the best value proper sports car on the market. And it comes with a soft-top! The jump to Sport, which brings loads of extra kit including the Bilsteins, is a hefty £2,600.

Who would buy one?

The question on my lips as I step out of the car at Inverness Airport to make my way home is this: why wouldn't you? This is as good a car to drive as you'll find below £50,000, and you won't lose your licence while enjoying it. If you need more space or four seats you're clearly looking in the wrong place, but if your lifestyle allows, you know you want to (and you really do).

This car summed up in a single word: Energising

If this car was a…: breakfast drink it would be premium orange juice. It's sharp, it's well-resolved and it makes your every morning that much brighter.

FACTS AT A GLANCE

Mazda MX-5 2.0 Sport Nav, from £23,295

Engine: 2.0-litre four-cylinder petrol producing 158bhp and 148lb/ft

Transmission: Six-speed manual driving the rear wheels

Performance: Top speed 133mph, 0-62mph in 7.3 seconds

Fuel Economy: 40.9mpg

Emissions: 161g/km

Mazda MX-5

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