Mazda MX-5 1.5 (ND) | PH Fleet

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: Β£20,795 (as standard; price as tested Β£21,585 comprised of Β£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!

Previous reports:
Does less power equal less fun?
Back to basics is best!
Belgium or bust for a Spa spectacular
Read the 2.0-litre RF reports here

Inspired? Search for a Mazda MX-5 here


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Comments (17) Join the discussion on the forum

  • Nerdherder 30 Jun 2019

    Some genuine letdowns & upsides, first hand driving experiences and reports about wear and tear (including response to rust issues!) would be highly appreciated. The article is nice as it stands, but is a genetica comparison of the models traits in various configs and adds nothing about YOUR particular experience or any added dimension of running it long term..

  • simonsaunders 30 Jun 2019

    I think you had the car in the *best* months for this type of car. Stolen moments with the roof down are actually nicer than being blazed on for hours. A RWD chassis and not much power a way more fun in the cold and wet rather than the summer.

    My old mx5 always made me smile more over the months that you had yours...

  • stanglish 30 Jun 2019

    Feels a touch incomplete as an article as mentioned. Very little detail on the actual differences. What about real world economy, noise, drivability at both commuting and fun speeds etc?

    In particular it would be really good to have more detail on how the lack of a diff on the 1.5 affects things on the road rather than the track.

    The problem I guess many like me will face is that we'll be buying used, and the original 'ND1' 1.5 vs 2.0 is the target of our comparison, not the *new* 'ND2' 1.5 vs 2.0.

    Is there an argument that 90% of the fun can be had from plumping for the boggo-spec ND1 1.5 cloth-top and setting a little aside for potential future mods like the Super 160 BBR tune or more serious future packages then thrashing the life out of it?

    Seems to me like the ND1 2.0 creates a more GT-like experience that's probably suited to the RF i.e. more power, less revs.

  • sideways man 30 Jun 2019

    As Stanglish said; more real world comparisons please. Mpg is the biggie, given cost of fuel these days.

  • Sharon-coizu 30 Jun 2019

    After 3 years ownership, I can say that the ND 2.0 SEL NAV is very easy to live with and fun when you want it to be. I found the Sport Nav a little unnecessarily firm and actually worse to drive quickly on road.

    It just manages to accommodate a weekly shop or short break away and the addition of a BootBag has let us take it camping!

    We're getting 43 mpg despite on mainly A roads and often driving a little too enthusiastically! Basically it's just about usable as an everyday car for two.

    The engine has got better with use, it was annoyingly unwilling to rev for the first 2k miles or so and now feels faster than the stats. Overtaking means dropping to third but the gearbox is a delight and there's an addictive kick in the back when you change up at the redline at 70mph. I keep toying with heading to BBR for a few more horses but I probably won't while it's our only vehicle.

    Handling is fun but safe. It will break traction in the wet but the slide us so easy to control. It's not quite as precise as a MK3 MR2 but a lot more comfortable and practical.

    In short it's a keeper! Might be the last car I am able to buy that's Petrol, Manual and doesn't have modes so it had better last!

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