The Mazda MX-5 is the world’s bestselling sports car, but it’s never been the quickest. When it launched in the UK in 1990, it offered an enjoyable driving experience combined with top-down convertible thrills for the relatively inexpensive price of £14,500.
But the MX-5 failed to move with the times. It cared more about being good value-for-money than gaining power. And, like most cars, it’s been putting on weight. Demand for extra kit from both customers and regulators means the MX-5 got bloated and seriously in danger of turning into a cruiser rather than a true driver’s car.
So when I heard that Mazda has released a new roadster, I headed to the Scottish Highlands to test drive it, hoping it’d become more of a bruiser than a cruiser. This being a typical Scottish summer day, most of the test was conducted with the roof up against downpours of heavy rain and low-flying clouds.
As I turned onto the Bealach na Ba (pass of the cattle), there was a sign that warned of hairpin bends and steep gradients, along with a caution that learner drivers or those in large vehicles should seek an alternative route.
The Bealach na Ba is a historic mountain pass across the Applecross Peninsula. It’s a single-track road that has the potential to frighten even the most experienced of drivers, yet it’s worth a trip for the spectacular scenery.
Luckily, the MX-5’s compact dimensions made it an ideal car for a road like this. It helps that this model is smaller and lighter than the outgoing one. And the challenging conditions meant I didn’t find myself wishing for more power, either.
Buyers get a choice of two engines – both petrol, of course – a small 1.5-litre and a 2.0-litre. Many claim that the smaller engine remains truer to the MX-5’s roots. I’m not so sure: this is a sports car and, frankly, a sports car that needs to be worked hard just to reach the top of a mountain pass just doesn’t cut it. Even the 2.0-litre isn’t jaw-droppingly fast, but it is sufficiently so to be fun. It’s still good value, too – with prices starting at £18,495. Adding inflation into the equation, it should be around the £32,000 mark by now.
Certainly many hot hatchbacks will be faster off the line, but the Mazda offers a more enjoyable driving experience. Its light weight makes it a pleasure to punt around in, and it sounds like a traditional British sports car.
But you can’t have your cake and eat it. This is a very small car in a world full of increasingly bigger vehicles and you will find yourself wishing you had more storage space. There’s no glovebox and the only cup holders are flimsy, removable items that probably aren’t up to the job of holding a grande latte – a claim that was difficult to test out in the Scottish Highlands. There are only two seats and the boot is fairly small. If the MX-5 was your only car, the lack of space would get frustrating very quickly.
Other problems feel like they could have been easily solved. No one would have criticised Mazda for putting an extra few grams of padding around the sun visors, for example. Better sound-proofing would have been welcome, too – while the raspy exhaust is a nice touch, irritating rattles and a droning noise from the 2.0 engine could have been easily masked.
For a short drive along a Scottish mountain road? Hard to beat. But to use every day? I’m not feeling the MX-5 hype. Andrew Brady works for motoringresearch.com.
THE FACTS: MAZDA MX-5