First UK Drive: Mazda MX-5

We test the latest Mazda MX-5 and see if it's still as good to drive and live with as all its predecessors have been for the last 28 years.

What is it?

The fourth-generation Mazda MX-5 has been with us for two years now, and it's nearly three decades since we first saw the MX-5 hitting our roads. Since that 1989 launch, the original recipe hasn't changed, but has been tweaked.

This has lead to the car becoming a global success, and this latest model's looks will increase the demand. Our test model was a top-of-the-line Sport Nav model, and made use of Mazda's 2.0-litre, four-cylinder SkyActiv-G engine.

What's under the bonnet?

Underneath the bonnet of our test car lay a very punchy 2.0-litre, naturally aspirated four-cyclinder petrol engine that produces 157bhp, goes from 0-60mph in 7.1 seconds, and propels the car onto a top speed of 133mph.

It is surprisingly frugal too, managing up to 51mpg or an average of 41mpg. It also emits 161g/km of CO2.

There is also a 1.5-litre engine available, although it lacks the responsiveness of the 2.0-litre and isn't that much more economical either, only managing 7mpg more according to Mazda.

What's the spec like?

Although Mazda also offers a 1.5-litre MX-5 from as little as £18,795, the basic
2.0-litre SE-L Nav model will cost from £21,595 but is well worth the money not just for the extra power, but also extra goodies such as satellite navigation, DAB radio and Bluetooth connectivity as standard.

Our test car was the top of the range Sport Nav model, costing from £24,195. That extra couple of thousand pounds will get you heated seats, 17-inch gunmetal alloys, a premium Bose sound system and rear parking sensors among other features. While the Sport Nav is a fair bit more expensive than the standard 2.0-litre car, those heated seats will almost justify the extra asking price alone on a cold day.

Any rivals?

The closest rivals for the MX-5 are the Fiat 124 Spider and Toyota GT86. The Fiat is actually based upon the MX-5 platform but doesn't use the same engine and because of this it doesn't feel as punchy or exciting to drive as the Mazda, nor does it have the same sharp steering.

The GT86 is a fantastically competent car, but lacks the exhilaration you get with the roof down as it comes in coupe form only. Despite the differences between all three, however, they are all similarly priced, but the MX-5's interior feels just that little bit better.

What's it like to drive?

With the roof down on a sunny day, the MX-5 is tough to beat for pure driving
pleasure. It isn't a particularly fast car, but what it lacks in speed it makes up for in grip through the bends – it's brilliant. The steering is fairly light, but very communicative.

One of the highlights is the gearbox, however. It is a super-slick six-speed manual and is fantastic fun to use, especially with the 157bhp engine, which loves to rev.

The MX-5 feels competent on most roads, but feels at its best on a long and twisty country road – this is where it shines. The feedback through the steering wheel is superb – excellent handling, great grip and a fun engine all combine to make the MX-5 a proper driver's car.

AOL Cars Verdict

The Mazda MX-5 is a fantastic little car. It looks good, feels excellent to drive and will be utterly reliable too if Mazda's reputation is anything to go by. More importantly it has a pedigree that spans back more than 25 years and has been the convertible of choice in that time for a million motorists. It appeals to those wanting fun in the sun for under £25,000 and on that basis there isn't much else that can touch it.

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