This year the Mazda MX-5 turns 30. After three decades or refinement, the MX-5 is better than ever. New standard features and some more horsepower make this darling little droptop even sweeter.
The most notable change for this car is the addition of the fastback styling. Sitting atop the MX-5’s rear haunches are a pair of artfully crafted B-pillars. Which actually lift off the car when the power convertible top is let down. No, it’s not a true convertible, more of a Targa top situation, but it’s still pretty cool. You get the sunshine of no-top driving and the convenience of a power top, and it only adds about 115 pounds to the car. Visibility is slightly limited relative to the soft top version. But it’s a small price to pay to look this good.
A redesign in 2017 replaced the soft edges in the body with hard creases and the car got grumpy headlights. It looks a little less bubbly and cute. But it’s still got a face you can’t help but love. Just look at this thing. It’s even more precious now that it’s a little angry.
There’s no way around the fact that this is a small car. But Mazda makes the best use of the modest space available. Even six-footers can find a comfortable driving position in the heated seats. A telescoping tilt steering column, now a standard feature, lets you put the wheel exactly where it ought to be.
At first glance, the interior may look a little spartan, but look closer and you’ll notice amenities like speakers in the headrests that pipe in phone calls. There are also classy touches like an upholstered dash, stainless door sill plates and alloy pedals. Cup holders that pop in and out of specially designed receptacles. Removing them out makes room for the driver’s elbow behind the shifter. There’s even a receiver on the passenger side of the console to keep right-side occupants hydrated.
Plunked down onto the dash is a 7 inch touch screen to control the Bose 9 speaker stereo. It offers all the convenience we’ve become accustomed to; Bluetooth, navigation, etc. The car even comes standard with a backup camera.
In a word, driving this car is delightful. Under the hood is Mazda’s Skyactiv-G 2.0 liter four cylinder that churns out 181 horsepower. That’s up 26 over last year’s MX-5, and makes this the most powerful MX-5 to date. Those ponies gallop back to the limited slip differential through a sweet shifting 6 speed. Winding the 4 cyl up and stirring through the gears is probably the most convincing argument keeping internal combustion engines around.
This car was fun with 155 horsepower, it was balanced and always under control. To make it misbehave you had to wring it out a bit. With the added power it’s easier than ever to get this little two-seater to step out of line. But it’s still so well mannered to whip it back into shape when things get too slidy.
The sounds of the engine working just forward of your right foot, and the gearbox one inches from your right thigh keep you intimately connected with the car. Even with the top up, you don’t necessarily feel isotlated within this car. It feels a little bit like driving a go-cart or riding a bicycle. As though you’re on it, rather than in it. It’s a real treat for all five senses. It’s hard not to use the same beat down clichés that writers have used since Mazda brought the MX-5 Miata stateside in 1989. But it feels like the simple joy felt when riding a bicycle as a kid.
Alright, no car is perfect, so what’s the catch? I’d be remiss if I didn’t mention the hard top. It creaks a bit. But luckily there’s a simple solution. Get the ragtop. Also, it’s tiny. But driving this car is good for your soul. Being so close to the elements reminds you that life fleeting and you automatically drive more defensively. It’s a pleasure to operate which makes even the shortest trips a real treat.
It forces us to check our egos at the adorable tiny door. You can’t take yourself seriously in this ride. Yeah, it’s serious fun but there’s no muscle car bravado or luxury car pretense to the MX-5. These cars start at $25,730 for a cloth top model. The RF starts at $33,335 and as tested this car cost $35,905, which is a good chunk for a tiny car. But who cares, just buy one already!