They grow up so quickly. It seems like only yesterday the first-generation Mazda MX-5 stunned the automotive world with it’s blend of pure driving engagement, classic roadster looks, brilliant build quality, and affordable price.
Actually, it was 1989, so the little Mazda, that’s since carried on through four generations, has hit the big three-oh, and the factory has built a hard to miss 30th Anniversary Edition to celebrate this brand icon’s entry to a fourth decade.
Just 3000 have been produced for global sale, with 30 of those allocated to Australia. We managed to grab a week behind the wheel of #219.
Mazda MX-5 2020: 30TH ANNIVERSARY EDITION
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Is there anything interesting about its design? 9/10
The current, fourth-generation (ND) MX-5 was designed to recapture the compact, tightly wrapped look of the 1989 (NA) original.
Not that the NB and NC models of the nineties and noughties suffered from post-Vegas Elvis-style bloat, it’s just refreshing to see a new model shrink and shed a few kilos rather than fall into the seemingly inevitable ‘bit bigger, bit heavier’ syndrome.
The exterior design is chock full of personality.
In fact, despite the passing of three decades, this car is 60mm shorter nose-to-tail than the NA, and even though it’s packing all the mandatory safety systems current new cars must, it’s around 100kg lighter than the NC model it replaced in 2015.
You can't miss this limited edition’s ‘Racing Orange’ colour.
And the exterior design is chock full of personality, from the gently curved flanks to the crisply defined lights and wide-mouth grille, it looks distinctive and fun. And you’re never going to miss this limited edition’s ‘Racing Orange’ colour. To say it stands out from the crowd is like saying Adele can carry a tune.
Other exterior differences run to the specially engraved 17-inch Rays forged alloy wheels in gloss black, with body colour brake calipers hiding behind their spokes, and a numbered ‘Anniversary’ badge just in front of the driver’s side wheel arch.
The 17-inch Rays forged alloy wheels are specially engraved.
The arresting exterior shade carries into the cockpit with orange piping and stitching on the standard Recaro seats, as well as the stitching on the steering wheel, shift lever, dash and doors. Alcantara trim on the doors and dash is unique to this model.
No other changes beyond that. The characteristic, three ring instrument cluster is dominated by a larger central tachometer, and while the left-hand dial masquerades as a conventional gauge, displaying fuel, temp and distance data, it’s actually a configurable 4.6-inch colour LCD screen able to scroll through multiple read-outs.
The central tacho incorporates a small LCD display noting the gear you’re in, often prompting you to change up. A secondary digital speed read-out in there would be much more useful. But the better news is thanks to the 2018 model upgrade the steering wheel is now height and reach adjustable, where it previously only shifted up and down.
The familiar 7.0-inch ‘MZD Connect’ screen sits proud of the dashtop in the centre of the car, displaying a range of functions including internet connectivity, audio, phone and nav, all managed via touch or a rotary controller in the centre console. This anniversary model’s arrival coincides with the rollout of standard Apple CarPlay and Android Auto for all Mazda MX-5s.
Practicality isn’t the Mazda’s strong suit. Clearly, it’s not that kind of car. But having said that, despite a modest 130-litre boot we were able to slide in a medium-size (68-litre) hard suitcase, and there’s more than enough room for several soft bags.
We were able to slide in a medium-size (68-litre) hard suitcase into the 130-litre boot.
Annoyingly, the glovebox is in the bulkhead behind and between the seats, with a couple of cupholders sitting below (they can be unplugged and moved down next to the ventilation controls). There’s a small lidded oddments box lower down, a tiny cavity at the leading edge of the centre console, and that’s about it for cabin storage.
In the spirit of less is more, there are no door pockets or bottle bins, but you will find a pair of USB inputs, and an in-line audio socket in the centre console, plus a 12 volt outlet (weirdly hidden) in the top of the passenger footwell.
By the way, don’t bother looking for a spare of any description, a repair/inflator kit is your only option in the case of a flat.
Does it represent good value for the price? What features does it come with? 8/10
At $49,990 before on-road costs, this Anniversary Edition is close to $7000 dearer than the Roadster GT it’s based on ($43,320), and you’ll need to act fast because Mazda Australia says they’re all spoken for (but you never know what’s lurking in a dealer’s inventory).
That places it in the same pool as Audi’s A3 35 TFSI Cabriolet ($49,800), the Mini Cooper S Convertible ($48,700), and something sporty but more practical in the shape of the VW Golf GTI ($46,190).
The Anniversary edition features leather-trimmed Recaro seats.
Aside from the active and passive safety tech (covered below in the Safety section), the MX-5 GT’s standard features list includes 17-inch alloys, auto adaptive LED headlights, LED DRLs, rain-sensing wipers, 'Advanced keyless entry', heated leather trimmed sports seats, climate-control air, the 7.0-inch touchscreen with 'MZD Connect' multimedia, Bose 'Premium' nine-speaker audio (with digital radio), Apple CarPlay and Android Auto, sat nav, and a reversing camera (plus reverse parking sensors),
The MX-5 GT’s standard features list includes a 7.0-inch touchscreen with 'MZD Connect'.
Then the Anniversary Edition adds the Rays forged rims, the Racing Orange paint, Brembo front brake calipers and Nissin (with an ‘i’) rear callipers, the anniversary badge, the special interior piping and stitching, Alcantara and leather-trimmed Recaro seats, plus Alcantara panels on the doors and dash.
Then the Anniversary Edition adds the Rays forged rims.
What are the key stats for the engine and transmission? 8/10
The MX-5 GT’s all-alloy ‘Skyactiv-G’ powerplant is a double-overhead cam design featuring direct-injection and variable valve timing. Thanks to a late 2018 upgrade it now produces 135kW (+17kW) at 7000rpm (+1000rpm) and 205Nm (+5Nm) at 4000rpm (-600rpm). The rev ceiling has also been elevated from 6800rpm to 7500rpm.
The MX-5 GT’s all-alloy ‘Skyactiv-G’ powerplant is a double-overhead cam design featuring direct-injection and variable valve timing.
Drive goes to the rear wheels via an in-house design six-speed manual gearbox.
How much fuel does it consume?
Claimed fuel economy for the combined (ADR 81/02 - urban, extra-urban) cycle is 6.8L/100km, the MX-5 emitting 158g/km of CO2 in the process.
Over a roughly 200km mix of city, suburban, and freeway running we recorded 8.2L/100 (courtesy of the on-board trip computer).
Minimum fuel requirement is 95RON, and the tank holds 45 litres, which at our average consumption rate translates to a real-world range of around 550km.
What's it like to drive? 9/10
The late 2018 improvements to the MX-5’s 2.0-litre engine added 17kW, with the maximum number (135kW) now arriving at a dizzying 7000rpm. But the more significant change for day-to-day driving is an extra five Nm of torque (up to 205Nm) with the peak coming in 600rpm lower at 4000rpm (-600rpm). The rev ceiling has also been elevated from 6800rpm to 7500rpm.
That translates to a claimed 0-100km/h 6.5 seconds, which is entertainingly rapid, and there’s now even more punch in the lower mid-range. But straight-line speed isn’t the point of this little roadster. At 1080kg the MX-5 is a modern day featherweight, and it’s the overall dynamic response that makes it such a buzz to drive.
Body control when driving through quick twisting sections is impressive.
The ND MX-5 is the perfect example of Mazda’s ‘Skyactiv’ engineering and design philosophy. Add lightness, optimise aero performance, and wring every last drop of efficiency from the engine and drivetrain.
A double wishbone front, multi-link rear suspension set-up keeps the car planted and predictable, and steering feel is a particular highlight, the wheel in your hands providing a feelsome link with the rubber-shod pair under the front guards. And the rorty exhaust note adds to the entertainment.
The manual gearbox retains the same 40mm shift stroke that’s been carried through all MX-5 generations swapping through its six ratios just feels right. And for old-schoolers the pedal set is perfectly aligned for a bit of the old heel ‘n’ toe on downshifts.
Steering feel is a particular highlight.
Body control through quick twisting sections is impressive, and ride comfort is better than you’d expect for a car this focused.
The grippy 17-inch (205/45) Bridgestone Potenza S001 rubber is a perfect match for the taut and nimble chassis, while a limited-slip differential ensures drive is going to the rear wheel that can use it most.
Brakes don’t need to be dinner plate size for a car in this weight division, and the MX-5’s ventilated front, solid rear discs deliver progressive and secure stopping power.
Other things worth a shout-out are the ultra-simple soft roof, which in the spirit of Skyactiv does without electric assistance and is light enough to put up or shut away with one arm from behind the wheel. Reminds me of NASA’s drive in the 1960s to develop a pen that would write in zero gravity while Russian cosmonauts just used pencils.
And the standard Recaro seats are like wearing a pair of perfectly fitting Goldilocks gloves. Not too tight, not too loose, but just right.
Warranty & Safety Rating
5 years / unlimited km
ANCAP Safety Rating
What safety equipment is fitted? What safety rating? 8/10
In terms of active safety the MX-5 features ABS brakes, electronic brake force distribution, forward and reverse 'Smart City Brake Support' (Mazda-speak for AEB), blind spot monitoring, 'Traffic Sign Recognition', 'Driver Attention Alert', lane-departure warning, rear cross traffic alert, dynamic stability control, traction control, reverse parking sensors, a reversing camera and a tyre pressure monitoring system.
And if contact is unavoidable front and side airbags for driver and passenger are on-board to help minimise injury.
ANCAP awarded the MX-5 a maximum five-star rating when it was assessed in mid-2016.
What does it cost to own? What warranty is offered? 8/10
The MX-5 is covered by Mazda’s five year/unlimited kilometre warranty, with roadside assistance included for the duration.
Scheduled maintenance is due every 10,000 km or 12 months (whichever comes first), and Mazda’s Australian website allows owners to enter their vehicle's VIN and calculate ‘base’ service pricing out to 160,000km. It also details ‘additional’ maintenance costs like fluids, filters and spark plugs.
The MX-5 is covered by Mazda’s five year/unlimited kilometre warranty.
For this MX-5, the first five years of the 'Mazda Service Select' capped price serving program breaks out as - $310 for the first, third and fifth visits, and $354 for the second and fourth, for annual average of $328.
For thirty years, the Mazda MX-5 has maintained its single-minded focus on driving enjoyment, and this 30th Anniversary Edition is a fitting tribute to that ambition. The searing Racing Orange paint won’t be for everyone, but despite that, this is a car collectors will be arm-wrestling over for the next three decades, and beyond.