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Mazda MX-5 RF: PH Fleet

Time might be up with our 2.0-litre MX-5, but the replacement is here already...

By Matt Bird / Friday, February 01, 2019

It hopefully says much of the latest Mazda MX5's abilities that the departure of VX68 HFO has left a real void, as much emotionally as it has physically. This from someone hardly enamoured by the prospect of MX-5s before October, finding the current ND generation a little underwhelming; with hot hatches as good as they now are and an obsession with the Toyota GT86, it was hard to see how the MX-5 could compete for my affection.

Not for the first time, I've been proven wrong. While niggles still exist, this refreshed MX-5 has addressed many of the problems that plagued the Mk4 MX-5, while still feeling true to everything that the car is meant to represent. Crucially as well it offers something different; once upon a time the MX-5 would have faced affordable, rear-drive roadster rivals from MG, Toyota, Honda and so on; now the only true adversary is the 124, which of course owes its entire existence to the MX-5. As cars continue their seemingly inexorable path towards a homogenous, uninviting norm, Mazda deserves credit for sticking with its formula and delivering on the promise.

A significant part of that is in the engine; with every single hot hatch beyond the pricier M140i and RS3 now offering some form of transverse, front-drive (or Haldex 4WD), four-cylinder powertrain, to be in a rear-drive roadster with an atmospheric engine that genuinely thrives on revs - peak power is at 7,000rpm - is as refreshing as it is relevant. Because while the world has turned to turbocharged alternatives, Mazda has proven the traditional methods can absolutely still work. If a car is made light, then it doesn't require a complicated downsized engine to meet targets - this MX-5 revs to 7,600rpm, yet has delivered very nearly 40mpg with us and has an official CO2 of 156g/km. Win-win.

The joy of this particular MX-5 has been in its ability to combine those attributes with a tremendously enjoyable, usable, fairly practical overall product. Despite changes, it's not all about the engine; the interior tweaks have improved the driving position; the roof-up refinement is really good; keeping the car small makes it a cinch in town; and the manual gearbox is fabulous at any speed.

Moreover, even allowing for the additional technology now included - CarPlay, heated seats, electric roof, sat-nav and so on, which has all proved its worth over the past few thousand miles - the MX-5 most definitely feels like an MX-5. That was demonstrated in our Christmas twin test with the original, both cars feeling light, fizzy and really good fun. It's hard to think, in fact, of a recipe that's stood the test of time quite so well as the MX-5's.

Problems? It still isn't the most accommodating car, but those over six foot can just about be squeezed in. By the same token the boot is fine for smaller, squishier bags, you will struggle with anything long - my hockey bag doesn't fit, for example. Still, the laws of physics can't be entirely defeated; the MX-5 is 25mm shorter than a Ford Ka, let alone a Fiesta, and so you just need to be realistic about what can be jammed in and what can't.

For me, it would still be nice to have less float to the handling, as there's still a little more slack to direction changes than is really ideal. Handily BBR has a set of performance springs that should sort the problem, while also improving the slightly top-heavy stance - £600 very well spent, I'm sure. Beyond that, I honestly wouldn't change a thing - this MX-5 RF has been absolutely brilliant. Along with everything above, it hasn't used a drop of oil, any air or required any attention - just petrol and screenwash.

To be sure of just how brilliant it is, though, the replacement is already here in the form of a 1.5-litre MX-5 roadster, also in updated form. The smaller engine was typically regarded as the more exciting one before the facelift, so it'll be interesting to compare the two experiences as the spring nears. For now, with winter very much in force, the (far simpler) roof will certainly be staying up...

2018 Mazda MX-5 2.0 Skyactiv-G RF GT Sport Nav+
On fleet since: November 2018
Run by: Matt
Mileage: 4,690 (delivered on 1,721)
List price new: £27,795 (as standard; price as tested £28,815 comprised of £350 for Apple CarPlay and £670 for Machine Grey Metallic paint)
Last month at a glance: A fond farewell to the MX-5, and a happy hello to another

Images: Olgun Kordal

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