2015 Mazda MX-5 Review

This is my review of the new Mazda MX-5 and is based upon a loan of the car by Mazda UK. It's not going to be like most reviews you will read on the Internet (apologies in advance), because it's focussed on my family's requirements and it includes a lot of my own personal opinions. I'm also going to talk about it in the context of other cars that I've owned and currently own.

In particular, I've previous owned a Lotus Elise S1. The current Lotus Elise is considerably more expensive than an MX-5 and is much more track biased. I've always considered the Lotus Elise the perfect car for both road and track day use though. It provides superb driver involvement and feedback and I really regret selling mine.

I currently own a Fisher Fury R1, which I built myself to basically be more fun, more involving and a lot faster than my Lotus Elise was. It is basically a minimalist road-legal race car. It is very quick, very loud and very impractical, which I can live with as it is a third car. It has about 165bhp from a Yamaha R1 bike engine with a red line at 12,000rpm. It weighs just 450kg with half a tank of fuel, which is less than half the weight of this MX-5 (which weighs 975kg according to the brochure). It's not really comparable but it is my benchmark for just how much fun a car can be.

First of all, a bit about engine locations ...

Front mid-engined
The mk 4 MX-5 is front mid-engined. The engine is located at the front of the car but it is behind the front wheels. There is much debate about the best location for the engine in a sports car but I'm fairly agnostic. So long as it sits between the front and back wheels I don't really care. Front mid-engined often provides a better weight distribution and my Fury R1 is a perfect example of this with a 50:50 weight distribution, providing perfectly balanced handling. My Lotus Elise was rear mid-engined and slightly rear heavy, resulting in some interesting lift-off oversteer when provoked.

From what I've experienced, the MX-5 is very well balanced. With the traction control off, it doesn't understeer and (just like my Fury) you feel the rear start to gentle break away as you push harder into a corner.

Specification & Features

Engine
This car has the 1.5 litre 131ps (129bhp) engine. The other engine option is a 2.0. Both are normally aspirated, 4-cylinder petrol engines.

This particular car comes fitted with very nice 16" alloys fitted with 195/50R16 tyres. I'm glad to see that Mazda resisted the temptation to fit larger wheels and lower profile tyres (though 17" rims are an option), which often have a negative impact on ride and handling. Higher profile tyres also provide a bit more protection for the alloy wheels.

The lights on the MX-5 are all LED, including the headlights. From my experience these provide good night time lighting and a good beam pattern. There is a slight purple fringe to the headlights, which can only really be seen when following another vehicle.

This car features a key-less entry system. To be honest this is a feature I've tried to avoid on all my own cars. I just prefer to have a key in my hand. It does work well though but there are times where I'd just like to power up the car without starting the engine. It's just harder without a key.

First Impressions

  • It looks good! This latest design is a much meaner looking MX-5 and I like it. The front of the car is better than the rear, which looks a little bit BMW. The clever use of LED lighting is a big part of the improved looks in my view.
  • It's a lovely compact car. I like small cars because it means less mass and they are easier to position correctly on the road.
  • The simplicity of the roof is just genius. I would have loved a roof this simple on my Lotus Elise!

Living With It

Access

Getting in and out of the MX-5 is quite easy to do but, only if you can open the doors far enough to swing you legs in or out. In car parks this can be a challenge if you have long legs like me.

Even my son commented that it is quite a long drop down into the low seat. This is good though, as the low seating position is a key ingredient of the way the car feels when going around corners. A low centre of gravity is good. In the Fury I sit below the wheel centres which means you get pushed down into the seat by the cornering forces. It's one of the defining features of a good sports car.

Roof / Soft-Top

The soft-top is completely manual but this also good in my view. It means no complex, expensive or heavy hardware is required. It's such a quick and easy process to raise or lower this roof. You don't need motors to do it for you! There is just a single lever to pull to release the roof and then you just lift it up and over your head. It can all be done easily whilst sitting in the car. There is then a single catch to clamp it to the top of the windscreen. Again this can also be done with one hand whilst in the car.

Front roof catch
Putting the roof down is just as easy but, I do find that getting it to lock into the down position is much easier when you are outside of the car. It requires a bit more weight to be applied to get it to click into place. It can be done though. You simply undo this catch at the top of the windscreen, sliding the safety button first.

Engine Start

This car features key-less entry. I'm not really a fan of this technology. You still have to carry this key fob around with you and use it to remotely unlock and lock the car. Not putting it in an ignition lock means that it has to be stored somewhere else in the car. You can't just leave it in a bag as you need to use it to lock and unlock the car. I got used to it but I still don't like it. As if to prove my point, it also hides a physical key inside it.

Starting the engine is just a matter of pressing down the clutch and pushing the 'start' button. It sounds good! I love the way the engine blips slightly when you press the 'start' button:

Gears

I've got a 6-speed gearbox in my Mazda 6 so this doesn't take much getting used to. The action is more firmly sprung (or it may just be the shorter lever) so you have to concentrate more when selecting the required gear. A nice digital indicator tells you what gear you are currently in and will also recommend when you should shift up. It quite often recommends going straight from 4th to 6th. It's got a nice feel and is fun to use. It doesn't have the intimacy and speed of the (direct cable linkage) paddle shift in my Fury R1 but that's connected to a 6-speed sequential gearbox.

The 6-speed gearbox has a tall 6th gear, making motorway travel a much more bearable experience. There is a lot of low down torque from this engine. It's happy to cruise at revs and gears I'd more normally associate with my Mazda 6 turbo-charged diesel. It does pay to drop down a few gears if you want to make progress though.

Steering

The steering is power assisted and therefore lighter than that of my Fury R1. It's well weighted though and provides pretty good feedback. Not as much as the Lotus Elise though and some way off the intense experience of the Fury R1, which assaults your senses and hooks you up completely with the road surface. My Fury R1 does become tiring quite quickly though and the MX-5 hits a better balance for this type of car, enabling it to cover a wider range of roles.

Storage

There is very little storage space in the cockpit. There is no glove box. There is a tiny covered compartment between the seats but I could even fit my DSLR camera in this. You could store a few things behind the seats but I found the best driving position for me was with the driver's seat almost fully back.

There is also a storage 'bag' behind the passenger seat, but this is also quite small.

Fortunately the boot is a reasonable size and quite deep. I find myself using this a lot. As well a remote opening capability, there is a hidden button under the rear 'bumper' which can be used to open it.

This car came with two removable cup holders that fit on the centre console, just in front of the rear bulkhead. I took these out and put them away.

Instruments

The instruments are nice and clear and basically split into three large dials. I like the fact that they are plain white on a black background and not the multitude of colours found in some cars. Simple and clear is good! My wife's current car has a dash like the Starship Enterprise :-(

In the above photo, you can see there is a blue warning light which is lit when the engine is cold. This goes off quite quickly, quicker than I'd normally allow for an engine to warm up fully. I'm not sure if it just me imagining it but the engine feels slightly restricted when this light is on.

The rear view mirror is quite large but it gives a really clear and wide field of view. It also has an auto-dimming capability, which is always useful in a car this low to the ground. The side mirrors are electrically adjustable.

Phone Integration & Entertainment

The centrally mounted display provides access to the navigation, entertainment and various setting of the car. It faces straight backwards and the first thing I tried to do was swivel it towards the driver. It doesn't swivel. It also doesn't appear to be possible to switch it off either. A bit of a shock after the Fury R1, where there is nothing to distract you from the road ahead.

Joystick
The display is touch sensitive but only at speeds below 5mph. Above these speeds you need to use the rotating joy-stick, which has a push button on the top. This is actually quite easy to use once you get used to it and provides access to everything from the satnav to the audio controls.

In front of it are some buttons to provide quick access to the music controls, the home screen and the integrated satnav.

Behind it is a smaller rotating button for volume control and toggling the sound on/off (by pushing the top).

A lot more to come on this soon.

Satellite Navigation

The screen is used for the integrated satnav capability. Like all satnav systems it takes a bit of familiarisation but seems to do a good job. Slightly odd is the way you have to select 'Town' to enter a postcode and then select 'Town Centre' to start navigation. It provides good warning of speed cameras. There is one feature missing that I can't seem to find though, which is the ability to display GPS measured speed on the display. I find this particularly useful on stretches of road with speed cameras, because modern car speedometers always under read.

It requires a subscription for the live traffic updates.

Diary

9th October - Collection

Collecting the car involved driving it around the M25 and up the A12. Fortunately it was a beautiful sunny day, so this journey was done with the roof down. I'm used to driving my Fury R1 with ear plugs, so I actually found this a louder experience than I expected. With the side windows up, there is little wind buffeting and you can easily drive listening to music, etc.

I love the view over the bonnet. It has the outer extremes marked by the bulge over the wheels and lights, with a gentle curve in between to give a better view of the road ahead. Very much like my Fury R1 in this respect. These help position the car on the road and provide clear boundary markers, essential when negotiating narrow country lanes.

I took a minor detour on the way home as the sun was out. A couple of photos parked up near the Orwell Bridge on the outskirts of Ipswich.

SBall gown test
This evening I did a simple practicality test. I took my daughter to a charity ball in this dress. She made me put the roof up, so as to not mess up her hair but we stopped just outside and lowered to roof for our arrival :-)

10th - October

I didn't get much opportunity to drive the MX-5 this Saturday, as I was supporting my daughter at an event in Framlingham.

11th - October

I made an effort to get up early this Sunday morning, to drive a route to Orford that I often do in my Fury R1. This was my first opportunity to really drive the car properly on familiar twisty B-roads and it was a lot of fun. The MX-5 doesn't have the insane acceleration of my Fury R1 (0 to 60mph take <4s and 0 to 100mph <10s) but the steering is well weighted and grip levels high. It's a bit silly to compare it to what is essentially a race car but the MX-5 provides about 85% of the fun and involvement in my view, whilst also providing everyday practicality. This is hugely impressive for a car like this. My Fury is not a car you can ever relax in, the MX-5 certainly is.

Along the twist B-roads through Tunstall Forest on the way to Orford, the MX-5 was a real pleasure to drive. Keeping the rev happy engine towards the top end of its range using 3rd and 4th gear provided a great sound track too. The little 1.5 litre engine really does like to rev and its sounds great whilst heading all the way up to the 7000rpm rev limiter. This is largely down to the rorty exhaust system which comes alive above 3500rpm.

My favourite route is is full of corners, some quite extreme 90º bends at the ends of long straights. It's a real test of a cars braking system. There are plenty of dips and rises and some quite rough patches of road in places which makes it a great test of the suspension too. And a real test of the driver in the wet. Fortunately it was nice and dry this morning, so I could really see what this car is capable of.

The brakes were well up to the test. The suspension is impressive too. Very little body roll with a nice firm, yet compliant ride. It very much reminded my of my old Lotus Elise. It doesn't have the feedback of my Fury's setup and also lacks a little of that feeling of being completely connected to the road. For a road car like this, I'd say it hits the perfect compromise though. Simply a car that both I and my wife can enjoy.

Orford Castle
Parked up on Orford Quay. One of my favourite places in the world and a place where I relax and come down from the adrenaline hit that follows my usual drive to here :-) Too early for the sun to have broken through the cloud unfortunately.

Orford Castle
Orford Castle is deserted at this time of the morning and makes for a great backdrop.

Orford Castle
The sun wasn't quite out enough to do this colour real justice.

Woodbridge Tide Mill
I had to stop off at Woodbridge Tide Mill on the way home. I simply can't reach this in my Fury R1 due to lack of ground clearance. This photo was taken on my iPhone 6s using the Pro HDR app.

Woodbridge Tide Mill
Also taken at Woodbridge Tide Mill on my Nikon D3200.

Ipswich Waterfront
The sun came out in the afternoon, so I headed off down to the Ipswich Waterfront to give my son a break from his homework. Honestly! ;-)

12th October

I took the MX-5 into work today, to show some interested friends and colleagues. I took a few of them out for a drive to experience the car.

13th October

I took the MX-5 into work again today, via a rather long route :-) The plan being to go for a drive at lunchtime. It is getting quite cold but I still drove with the roof down. The heating system is powerful and will keep you cosy in pretty much any weather. There are even heated seats in this car! Positively luxurious compared to my Fury R1 which doesn't even have a heater.

The weather turned cooler and foggy over the morning, so I had to drive the car with the roof up for the rest of the day. This photo was taken on my iPhone 6s:

14th October

Up early to take my daughter to a charity event at her college. I was not allowed to drive with the roof down (messes up her long hair) but it was only 7ºC this morning. That didn't stop me on the way back to work though :-)

Boot
Had to get two bags, a box of bits and some charity collecting buckets in the boot this morning, which was covered in a heavy dew. The clever design ensures that you don't end up with a boot full of water when you open it in this state. The boot is conveniently quite deep.

Seckford Hall
Popped out for another drive at lunchtime as the sun was shining but, a huge storm was looming. This was taken parked up at Seckford Hall just as the rain hit, hence its a bit dark. Shot on my Nikon D3200.

With a storm looming on the horizon, I'd be getting anxious in my roof-less and screen-less Fury R1. No such worries in the MX-5 though as putting up the roof takes just a few seconds. Rain drops started appearing on the windscreen as I left Seckford Hall.

This led to my first drive of the MX-5 in torrential rain. The soft-top does a good job of insulating you from the noise of the rain and not a single drop made it into the cabin. I headed away from the storm towards Felixstowe and the coast, hoping to find the sunshine again.

Felixstowe
Found the coast to be cloudy but dry. This is Old Felixstowe shot on my Nikon D3200.

Felixstowe
Also shot at Old Felixstowe on my Nikon D3200.

Felixstowe
Also at Felixstowe, shot on an iPhone 6s (mounted on a tripod) using the Pro HDR app. The use of a tripod still didn't keep the camera quite still enough though.

Filled the car up with fuel on my way home from work as the dash was telling me I had just 18 miles left. I put in 36.5 litres. The brochure says the tank holds 45 litres. I will work out my average mpg figure soon. For what it's worth, my Fisher Fury R1 averages about 26mpg with a similar mixture of driving.

Total darkness
Tonight, I decide to test out the car again with some night time driving. When I left home it was dark and raining hard. I started off with some dual-carriageway driving and then headed out to my favourite B-roads, to get into the heart of rural Suffolk and away from all the man-made light pollution. In places like this you step out of the car into pitch darkness.

The first thing I wanted to do was switch off that large central display. When I'm driving at night like this, I want to concentrate fully on the road and just want essential information back from the car. The three dials are excellent in this respect. I'm happy to report that switching the display off is really easy to do through the 'Settings' menu option. Now I could just focus on the driving. You can also adjust the display brightness and set it to day or night mode. There is also an automatic mode, which I'm assuming is driven by the clock. All the other phone and music controls work still with the display switched off.

The car is really easy to drive in the wet, though you still have to respect the road conditions and drive accordingly. It feels planted and well connected, even with the odd patch of standing water. The wipers work well and the dipped main beam lights are impressive. They light up the road a long way. This really is an all weather car. The auto-dimming rear view mirror ensured I was never dazzled by cars behind me, despite the low seating position. I would have no problems driving long distances through the night in this car.

As I headed out into the narrow country lanes I got to use the full beam LED headlights and these are excellent. They light up the road better than any car I've owned before, apart from my Subaru Impreza Turbo to which I had fitted an additional pair of 120W PIAA driving lights. This allowed me to drive confidently at night, with a nice long view of the road ahead. My main worry on these roads like these are deer though I didn't see any tonight. I did come across an owl in the middle of the road at one point though. As I got closer to Orford the rain eased off, eventually stopping completely :-) This gave me plenty of time to experiment with my camera.

Orford Quay at night
Parked up on an empty Orford Quay. It's very dark here. I had to use a torch to set up and control my camera. The MX-5 is lit here by a single street lamp and this was a 25s exposure on my Nikon D3200. I've left it colour cast by the sodium street light. The distant glow on the horizon is Felixstowe docks.

Orford Castle at night
I then moved on to the nearby Castle as the opportunity to take a photograph at night was too good to miss. This is similar to my shot from a few days ago. Again the castle is lit but a single street lamp as you can see from the long shadows. This was a 30s exposure on my Nikon D3200 in monochrome.

I did the return leg home with the roof down. 10ºC outside but cosy in the MX-5 with the heater on. The MX-5 definately sounds better with the roof down, you get to hear more of the exhaust's contribution to the overall sound track. This is a journey I simply couldn't make in my Fury R1 in this kind of weather. Even at night and in the rain, this was a really fun drive, the return leg even more so. This new MX-5 is a hugely impressive all-round, all-weather fun car. It's really growing on me now and I'm going to miss it when the time comes to hand it back.

15th October

The MX-5 looks filthy this morning. Last night was mainly muddy country lanes and roads. It shows.

I've taken enough photos. I've now installed my Contour+ video recorder and will focus on capturing some video footage of the car in action.

Video camera mount
After trying lots of different mounts and locations, the best video was captured using a suction mount onto the dash mounted display screen. This has a really thick front 'glass' that doesn't flex and has a lovely smooth surface. This means a suction mount will easily fit and there is no chance of any damage to the screen. I initially used my Contour+ camera (720p/50fps) as it has a wide (125°) field of view. I also have a Mudder iPhone mount that fits this suction clamp and will be recording video on this in both 4K/30fps and 1080p/60fps. My iPhone 6s only has a 73° field of view though.

16th October

A rubbish day for driving and capturing videos. It is really overcast and it has been raining all day :-(

This is the view over the bonnet. Shot on my Contour+ camera at 720p/50fps.

This is the view over the bonnet. Shot on my iPhone 6s at 1080p/60fps. It doesn't quite have a wide enough field of view for this type of application but the video quality is really good.

My wife took the MX-5 out for a drive this evening. She finds the driving position a bit low but she is used to a Ford Fiesta. Compared to my Fury R1 it is quite a bit higher, maybe as much as 8-10cm. It's interesting how you experience cars differently from the passenger seat. The suspension feels firmer and the ride a bit more jiggly over the road surface than before.

17th October

Drifting
Up early this morning for a 70 mile drive up to the Adrian Flux Arena in Kings Lynn, Norfolk. My son was keen to watch some drift cars and it's not a form of motorsport I've ever watched before. After a bit of research on the Internet, I joined a local drift club group on Facebook and they recommended this venue to me.

It's quite a unique sport as far as the cars go. Locked diffs and front wheels that steer to some amazing angles. Hydraulic handbrakes on large (button-less) levers to help get the back out. Lots of power seems to be a key requirement and who can argue with that! :-) It looked like a lot of fun!

The MX-5 was great again. It was fairly cool and mostly dry trip so we went with the roof down and the heater set to 25ºC to start with. I noticed that even though the cockpit was snug, your head gets cold because of the breeze coming over the top of the windscreen. My son is 6' 2" and was affected even more than me. I can see why people often wear hats in these cars now. I've yet to find a hat that I look good in though, so after an hour I put the roof up :-)

Use the full rev range and the MX-5 has got decent overtaking ability. It's in 'warm hatch' territory (just) on my scale of performance cars. The Mazda brochure says 0 - 62mph takes 8.2s. You can pick off the cars on these A-roads, one at a time but, you need to plan ahead and make sure you've got the right gear and enough momentum when needed. A couple of times I forgot I wasn't in the Fury and had to abandon what would have been a perfectly safe overtake in the Fury R1. My Fury R1 would pass 2, 3 or maybe even 4 cars given the same time on the other side of the road.

A few things I've noticed today. The floor hinged throttle pedal isn't as nice as a top mounted one but you kind of get used to it. The lane departure warning system is not something I'd ever want or use in a car. You can switch it off but this leaves and orange warning light lit on the dash. Oddly it sometimes flashes on, even when the system isn't switched off. The in-built satnav works really well.

For those wondering what a drifting session looks like, I shot this short video on my iPhone 6s:

18th October

My wife took the MX-5 out several times today.

Seat belt clip
One thing I noticed is that this 'clip' on the driver's seat doesn't keep hold of the belt. Several times I've had to re-thread it through the slot. No idea why this would be.

Filled the car up with fuel again with just 6 miles left to go according to the dash. I put in 36.9 litres this time, so it must be holding some in reserve if it really does have a 45 litre tank. That's 294 miles on this last tank of fuel, which is more than I'd been expecting. The average of 36.3mpg is good considering my driving style.

19th October

Took the MX-5 into work today. Using the MX-5 to explore a few back roads that my Fury R1 won't get down due to lack of ground clearance. Taken at Levington, Suffolk on my iPhone 6s:

20th October

Took the MX-5 into work again today. Finally the sun is shining again, so I popped out at lunch time to shoot some video and some more photos. Headed off towards Bawdsey, which takes you down some very narrow roads:

This photo was taken at the end of East Lane, which ends with some second world war sea defences:

Summary

I've been really impressed by this car. I expected it to dissappoint after driving my Fisher Fury R1 for the last 7+ years. Not only has it proved to be a brilliant all-round car, but it has also reminded me that fun driving isn't just about speed and acceleration. On the kind of roads that I'm routinely driving this car is a lot of fun and is quick enough 95% of the time. It is also a car that makes that fun more accessible, more of the time. Even more impressive is the fact that this car can also be used every day, thanks to its practical design and all-weather features.

There are certain features of the MX-5 which are brilliant. The roof is one of them, being just so easy to operate. This makes the decision to drive top down so much eaiser, knowing that it will take just a few seconds to put the roof back up again. The LED lights are also very impressive. The little 1.5 litre engine is just perfect for this type of car. It has plenty of low down torque and still revs smoothly to 7000+rpm.

An MX-5 is not going to ever replace my Fury R1. The acceleration and handling are just too intoxicating for the MX-5 to ever fill its shoes. The MX-5 is completely complimentary though and would be the perfect fun, practical car to drive on those many days where taking the Fury is simply not an option or I simply want a more relaxing drive. More importantly it is a car my wife is happy to drive and enjoy. I can't even get her to sit in the passenger seat of my Fury R1.

Disclaimer: I have no connection with Mazda UK other than having a good friend that works there. This is my independent review of the MX-5 and Mazda has had no input or control over its content. I have not been rewarded in any way (excluding the loan of this car) or even encouraged to write this review. All opinions are my own and in no way do they represent the views of Mazda UK.

Would I Buy One?

We are seriously considering buying this new MX-5, to replace my wife's current car.

The 1.5 litre engine is superb and I see little point in adding more weight (about 25kg) or power to a car like this. The model of most interest to us is the Sport because that is the lowest specification that comes with these essential features (to us anyway):

  • Climate control (also on the SE-L)
  • Parking sensors. On the rear of the car only.

The Sport model also comes with these features which are nice but we are less concerned about:

  • Key-less entry system
  • Adaptive Front Lighting
  • Rain sensing wipers
  • 2 passenger headrest speakers
  • Auto-dimming rear view mirror
  • Black leather seats
  • Heated seats
  • Lane departure warning system

Mazda only supply the MX-5 in one colour at zero cost (white). All the other paint colour options cost £520 on top of the base price.

Updates

July 2016

It's kind of ironic that we are now owners of an MX-5. More correctly, my son is now the owner of a 1990 Mazda Eunos 1.6 Roadster (Japanese import). We have bought it for him to get soem 'hands on' engineering experience as he prepares it for track days and drifitng.

Further Reading

Video Reviews

It's interesting to see a lot of my thoughts on the MX-5 backed up by some of the mainstream car magazines:

Car Magazine review: Mazda MX-5 vs Toyota GT86 track battle twin test (2015)

Autocar review: hootout - 2015 Mazda MX-5 vs Mini Cooper S JCW, Renault Clio RS 220 Trophy and Toyota GT 86

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