The latest version of the Mazda MX-5 is set to be the coolest car on the scene this year
Words by Erin Baker, editorial director at Auto Trader
The Mazda MX-5 is the world’s best-selling sports car ever, with more than one million sold since it launched 30 years ago, in 1989. The reason for its success is the perfect blend of rear-wheel-drive fun, affordability, reliability and easy use. And now there’s this, the RF (Retractable Fastback) option, which replaces that simple, collapsible fabric roof with an electronic folding hardtop. Is it still a winner?
Beauty is in the eye of the beholder, but we like the fatter haunches of the RF, where the body spreads out over the wheels and rises to meet the roofline behind the seats – it looks like a cute little American muscle car, ready to hustle its way out of trouble, and gets the MX-5 out of the “hairdresser’s car” accusations so unfairly thrown at it.
With the roof up, you get a solid sports car, and with the roof collapsed into a slot behind the seats, you get some remaining metalwork which gives it the appearance of a Porsche 911 Targa: it looks more hardy, more serious.
Inside, it’s still a small, simple cabin, thank goodness, full of cheap but inoffensive plastics and some exposed bodywork painted the same colour as the outside. Ours also had some cheeky pink stitching – maybe the hairdresser is still lurking inside.
The MX-5 RF has Mazda’s touchscreen protruding from the dashboard, which has been around for a while now, with red and black graphics. The price of this car, and its size, means you’re not going to get a huge amount of cutting-edge technology, but the twiddly rotary dial takes you between functions like satnav, Bluetooth for your phone calls and DAB radio nicely. Our car, which was towards the top of the price tree, had audio buttons mounted on the steering wheel too, which are a much better solution than reaching for the rotary dial or touchscreen.
We also had an USB port for phone charging and playing songs, and the Bose sound system including two speakers near the head rests, which is important when the roof’s down and the wind is whistling round you.
My boyfriend is 6ft and drove it comfortably, albeit you can’t really enjoy the go-kart position of legs and arms straight out and seat reclined when you’re that tall, because the seat won’t go back far enough.
But for most women, this is a very comfy car, with the pedals right next to each other for sporty driving, the little gearstick a quick, short throw between its six manual gears, and the feeling that you’re wearing the car, which gives you a huge amount of confidence in its, and your, capabilities.
I owned an MX-5 15 years ago and used it for the daily commute as well as long trips from Scotland all the way down to Cornwall. It was always a joy, and never a chore, to drive: somehow, despite it being a small sports car, you arrive refreshed every time.
There’s also decent boot space in the rear – what it loses in width, it makes up for in depth. There are two cubby holes between the two seats, and even cupholders these days.
The only downside is, er, two seats, which, if you need to transport kids at all times, won’t do.
The MX-5 in both standard convertible form and RF, comes with an engine choice of a 1.5-litre petrol or 2.0-litre petrol. Mazda has always made the best petrol engines – reliable and frugal, they like to rev high to provide maximum fun. We tested the 2.0-litre job with 184 horsepower, which is plenty (0-62mph in 6.8 seconds); it’s worth test-driving both, because we actually prefer the 1.5-litre version, which feels younger, keener and more puppy like, which is exactly the character you want from this car. Or maybe you just like overtaking others, in which case it will be the 2.0-litre version. Just keep the revs at 3,000-4,000rpm to get the most out of this car.
Outstanding value for money has kept the MX-5 at the top of the sales tree. The MX-5 RF range starts at £23,095 (£19,495 for the standard convertible), and you get that fantastic Japanese reliability (I utterly abused my MX-5 for years in London, leaving it parked on the road for weeks in between drives, and it started and drove perfectly every time). You will not find that much driving fun for that little money anywhere else.
In addition, Mazda offers 0 per cent APR finance on a 24-month PCP deal or various other deals with a Mazda deposit contribution – check out their website for further details.