What is it?
The 2019 Mazda MX-5 is a revamp of the soft and hard-top roadster, principally adding more potency to the 2.0-litre engine.
Engine upgrade, new range-topping hardtop version, reach on the steering wheel
To many, the fourth-generation Mazda MX-5 has exceeded the revered Mk1 as the go-to fun-to-drive small sports car.
Now with more power from its 2.0-litre engine, the only truly significant upgrade from this first facelift, the car adds a new level of bite, a layer of performance that will, without doubt, make it even more popular.
While the standard 1.5-litre MX-5 is truly great, the new 2.0-litre version is even better.
Iconic is an over-used word but suits the Mazda MX-5 – without doubt the world’s best-known and likely most loved roadster. Mention of the car conjures up a picture of a soft top that looks far too cute to produce the sheer driving pleasure that it offers.
When the fourth-generation MX-5 arrived in 2015, it attracted much praise including from The Car Expert. After a somewhat innocuous third incarnation, this was widely regarded as a car even better than the revered original of 1989.
Three years on and it’s time for an update – to both the soft-top and its RF sister, which was launched as recently as February 2017 with a folding metal hard top (and which some may be surprised to hear Mazda sells a lot more of than the traditional soft top variant).
The updates run across the usual formula of slightly revamping the cabin and adding extra technology, particularly in the area of safety. But by far the most significant change is the arrival of a more potent 2.0-litre engine – answering the demands of those for which the previous version was just not powerful enough.
From the outside, the only way you will distinguish the revised MX-5 is to look at the registration plate. To Mazda, and thousands of buyers (particularly in the UK, which takes half of all European sales) the MX-5’s visuals are practically perfect in every way, and certainly not worthy of change for change’s sake.
Buying and owning a Mazda MX-5
The MX-5 retains the basic grade structure from when the Mk4 version made its debut, but with an extra range-topper added. GT Sport Nav+ is currently only available on the RF models, and adds more safety tech, scuff plates and bespoke leather interior trim.
The entry-level SE+ trim is restricted to the convertible and the 1.5-litre engine. It and the 2.0-litre can also be bought in SE-L Nav+ and Sport Nav+ grades.
If safety’s your thing, you will want to avoid the lowest grades. Under the revamp Sport Nav+ cars and above have added a suite of driver aids, including autonomous emergency braking, a lane departure warning system, traffic sign recognition and a driver attention alert.
An option on these models, but standard on the top GT variant, is an extra safety pack adding a blind spot monitoring system with rear cross-traffic alert, adaptive LED headlights and a reversing camera.
Convertible prices start from £18,995, buying the 1.5-engined car in SE+. More power, in other words the 2.0-litre version, will cost from £22,495 and that’s in SE-L Nav+.
To get the extra safety kit of the Sport Nav+ costs another £2,500 (on 2.0-litre models) but you do also get 17-inch wheels instead of 16-inch, sports suspension, auto wipers and headlights, heated electric mirrors, leather trim, keyless entry and a Bose nine-speaker sound system.
The RF variant starts from £22,595 (1.5) and £24,095 (2.0) with SE-L Nav+, Sport Nav+, and GT Sport Nav+ versions available, the latter two offering the option of an automatic gearbox.
Inside the Mazda MX-5
We’ve always liked the way the MX-5’s cabin swallows up the occupants and makes them feel part of the car. This is especially true of the driver, the low stance of the MX-5 giving an impression of being directly connected to the road through the sharply-acting steering wheel and short, direct gear lever (you can buy an auto MX-5, but who would want that?).
Of course, the MX-5’s low-down profile does make it anything but elegant to get in and especially out of. Once you are in, the long bonnet stretches ahead of you and the well-built cockpit still wins points for its quality fit and finish, especially the way the door metal merges into the front fascia.
One major plus point – at long last one can adjust the steering wheel for reach, not just for rake. It will move back and forth by 3cm, ensuring that no longer do the length of one’s legs govern comfort in the driver’s seat.
The ‘plonked on top’ navigation/infotainment screen remains, but it all works very well, and the only real drawback is the lack of storage areas in the cabin. Two cup holders can be placed between the occupants at knee level, or at shoulder level. But they are flimsy and there isn’t really room for them – on the launch event our hosts placed bottles of water in them which we had to move to avoid bashes on our shoulders every time we went through a corner. Moving meant on the floor – there was nowhere else…
Driving the Mazda MX-5
The new 2.0-litre engine is the latest produced to Mazda’s SkyActiv technology, which favours making drivetrains as efficient as possible rather than downsizing the powerplant. The four-cylinder engine produces 184hp, compared to the 160hp of the previous 2.0-litre.
It’s not a massive power hike, but enough to change the car’s characteristics. Notably, the rev counter red line jumps from 6,800 to 7,500rpm, emphasising that impression of more potency, increased urgency despite only cutting the 0-62mph time by eight-tenths of a second to 6.5 seconds. That, by the way, is on the soft-top version – the RF shaves 0.6 of a sec with a manual transmission, 0.5 with the auto.
It’s good news in terms of efficiency too. While the 40.9mpg and 156g/km CO2 emissions do not sound that impressive in today’s market, they are measured to the new and stricter Euro 6D temp standards, are improved over the previous less powerful 2.0-litre model, and we are talking a sports car here.
The introduction of stop-start tech on 2.0-litre models helps with the efficiency but Mazda could still do some work here. Our test MX-5 did rather shudder into life when required to, not quite as smooth and glossy as the car’s general image.
On the road, the 2.0-litre equipped MX-5 broadcasts its extra potency. That extra 700rpm is where all the fun happens – keep the needle up there while taking on a challenging series of bends and the MX-5 loses none of the grip and fine balance its rear-wheel-drive chassis has always been so renowned for. But it also adds a real sense of high performance, amplified by an evocative engine note.
Cruising in the convertible at any speed, such as on the motorway, and there is another noticeable noise, that of the wind, with roof up or down. But in all honesty it’s not that intrusive, just part of the MX-5’s so admired DNA.
While we are here we should mention that the 1.5 engine has also been breathed upon, and now produces 132hp (up a whole horsepower!), together with a modest torque increase.
Our reviewer would quite happily drive home in a 1.5-litre Mazda MX-5. Its grip, its fine balance, its sheer fun factor wins him over every time. But the new 2.0-litre model adds a healthy layer of extra icing.
With the new engine, the MX-5 transforms from fine, cute, fun-to-be-in sports car to something that has all that, but also a bit of extra bite, a slightly darker, more exciting side.
Yes you struggle to get in and out of it, yes there’s nowhere in the cabin to put anything but who cares? You don’t buy an MX-5 for such middling practicalities – you buy an MX-5 for the sheer fun of driving.
|Make & model||Mazda MX-5||Fiat 124 Spider||Toyota GT86|
|Specification||SE-L Nav Convertible||Lusso||standard|
|Engine||2.0-litre petrol||1.4-litre petrol||2.0-litre petrol|
|Power||184 hp||140 hp||200 hp|
|Torque||205 Nm||240 Nm||205 Nm|
|0-62mph||6.5 sec||7.5 sec||7.6 sec|
|Top speed||136 mph||134 mph||140 mph|
|Fuel economy (combined)||40.9 mpg||44.1 mpg||36.2 mpg|
|CO2 emissions||156 g/km||134 g/km||196 g/km|
|Insurance group||TBA (29E pre facelift)||26E||30|
|Euro NCAP rating||Not yet tested||Not yet tested||Not yet tested|
|TCE rating||8.4 / 10||8.6 / 10||Not yet tested|