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While the original MX-5 was quite a basic car; nicely appointed but hardly luxurious, the current iteration with its 20 years of refinement is in a new league. The Mazda designers have managed to evolve the car over that time, completely changing it along the way while always keeping it exactly the same. They have developed a look that is instantly recognisable through three major redesigns while improving it with each iteration.
In its market space the MX-5 Roadster Coupe has only two true competitors, the BMW Z4 and the Mercedes SLK. These are the three two-seat rear-drive roadsters currently available with the folding metal hardtop. The MX-5 is by some margin the cheapest. The fact that it does not have the prestige of the Germans does not diminish its appeal, however as there are a large percentage of buyers that simply like it as a package over the other two. All three for some reason suffer from the hair-dresser reputation, which in our opinion is ridiculous.
When the new top was first introduced, a number of automotive journalist where asking why bother, it's not broken, it doesn't need fixing. The soft-top and the experience it brings may not be broken but the folding hardtop has enormous appeal for many buyers.
Power comes from a 2-litre, 16 valve DOHC in-line four cylinder engine that develops 118kW at 7000 rpm in the manual version and 118kW at 6700rpm in the automatic we tested with paddle shifters. Both develop a maximum 188 Nm of torque at 5000rpm.
With 20 years of very good sales it would be hard to find anybody who can’t recognise an MX-5. The Roadster Coupe with its folding hardtop adds a bump to the body behind the seats. This metal torneau manages to not adversely impact the simply lines of the car. The 17-in wheels fill the continuous arch of the wheel wells beautifully and the whole package is very neat.
The cocoon that is the cockpit is appealing to all senses. Visibility is very good and the only thing that may be troubling initially is finding the petrol cap release - it's in the compartment between the back of the seats. Operation of the folding hardtop is a simple lever release near the rear vision mirror and then it’s a matter of holding the button down until it buzzes - all while in Park. Just do the same in reverse to put it back up.
The MX-5 features both front & side SRS airbags, Anti-lock Braking System (ABS) as well as Dynamic Stability Control (DSC) which alters power delivery when the car judges it needs to intervene with an overly aggressive turn-in. This can be switched off.
The MX-5 starts at $43,850 for the base manual soft top and goes through to $53,655 for the folding hardtop with automatic and the Sports package (as tested). This excludes all current additional charges and taxes.
Driving is a joy. It is far from a hardcore sports car but it does give you a refined sports car experience. Steering is very direct, as it should be - you point it and goes and stays where you point it. The steering we found very neutral with no surprises.
The cockpit is very comfortable and there is not a great deal of road noise for a small two-seat. A bit more engine note into the cockpit would actually be a good thing. It is extremely easy to drive - in automatic you can just putter around sedately and feel comfortable. Rev it a bit and start using the paddles correctly and it becomes a true sports car.
The Mazda MX-5 is the epitome of a practical sports car. It has its market space all to itself as you need to move up several price rungs to reach the competition. While the competition might beat it in the performance stakes, they still only equal it on overall appeal to many buyers. The MX-5 is also quite a practical mode of transport if you don't need space. It is easy to park, fits in small garages and only consumes 8.1l/100km.