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Mazda MX-5 1.5 (ND) | PH Fleet

The new MX-5 experiment has run its course - is 1.5 or 2.0 the one to have?

By Matt Bird / Sunday, June 30, 2019

Of course this was going to happen. Running an MX-5 of some kind from September to the spring would always mean that we'd be denied any time with them in the best weather, but prior knowledge hasn't made the realisation much less irritating. With the weird June conditions now replaced by sunshine and scorching temperatures, it's hard to think of much that would make better company than either of the MX-5s.

A Mini Convertible is apparently the best-selling Mini out there, and available for similar money, though as a driving experience there's no contest. A TT is less fun. A Boxster is a worse sounding four-cylinder sports car. A Z4 is automatic only. A Caterham is tremendous, but will make you hot and bothered. A new 718 Spyder is going to be a delight, of course, but how much is getting into one of those going to cost? There's not much else like an MX-5.

Alright, perhaps a Spyder comparison is going a bit far. Some sort of point stands, though: to have a rear-wheel drive, naturally aspirated, lightweight roadster with a manual gearbox feels a rare privilege in 2019; that it's actually very good is almost just a bonus. As manufacturers have deserted the junior sports car idea, so those remaining deserve more attention.

To be honest, we knew the MX-5 was a well sorted car from previous experience and Sam's first drive. What's become apparent in the previous few months with the 2.0-litre RF and 1.5 Roadster, though, is just how good they are as vehicles to live with. Sounds stupid, but everything makes sense - and it's remarkable how many cars don't, and how irritating that can be. The ventilation controls are where you want them and operate logically, the infotainment is great, the keyless option was flawless, there are some clever storage ideas... It feels well thought out and intelligent, proof that modern tech can be incorporated into a cabin without making it needlessly complicated.

So which is the one to have - a 1.5 Roadster, or 2.0-litre RF? Well, the engine truest to the MX-5 ethos is really the 1.5; there's a sense of equilibrium, of the power and torque being the perfect match for the braking, grip and traction available. A little less weight over the nose made its steering a little less 'sticky' than the bigger car, too. As I've said before, it feels like a new sports car with the sensibilities of an old sports car, and that's quite charming.

But it won't surprise you to learn that the ideal combo is probably the more powerful engine with the lighter roof solution. The ability of the 2.0-litre to be slightly too much is more endearing; perhaps it's a yobbish observation, though the ability with the extra power and LSD to slightly manipulate the car on the throttle feels a worthwhile gain for me. That and additional revs now available make for genuinely exciting performance.

As for the roof choices, I'd go for the soft-top - it's so simple to use, looks better (to me) than the Retractable Fastback and saves money. The hard top did deliver some extra refinement, though not a huge amount, and the ability to only do 6mph when raising or lowering it was a pain. That said, the previous RC was the best-selling Mk3 MX-5 variant, and there are plenty of RFs around, so make of that you will.

The more general observation to note is that the MX-5, despite its diminutive size and seemingly modest output, is absolutely a viable (and very likeable) everyday proposition. If the space and seat issues can be tolerated - a big ask, granted - it's proved a more entertaining car to live with than a hot hatch. Plus the fact there are now BBR kits, to make a good car even better. The MX-5 might be shorter of rivals than at any point in the past 30 years, but I'm not sure anything could be much better for the money - it really is that good.

2018 Mazda MX-5 1.5 Skyactiv-G SE-L Nav +
On fleet since: February 2019
Run by: Matt
Mileage: 6,442
List price new: £20,795 (as standard; price as tested £21,585 comprised of £790 for Soul Red Crystal Metallic)
Last month at a glance: Autumn and winter with MX-5s have been great; imagine what the summer must be like!


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