An asteroid is coming for most of motoring’s dinosaurs.
Naturally-aspirated engines are in the firing line, and we’re already seeing the V12, V10, and V8 engines in supercars become turbocharged, hybrid units with small displacements and smaller official emissions numbers.
Petrol sports cars are expensive to develop and don’t carry the credibility they used to, and convertibles are falling victim to rampant range rationalisation.
The Mazda MX-5 is one of very few cars bucking that trend. It’s a small, two-seat sports car with a naturally-aspirated petrol engine and rear-wheel drive, so it’s not exactly what you’d call modern, but sales have been strong since COVID struck.
There’s no sign of the MX-5 slowing down, either. Reports suggest the next one will retain rear-wheel drive, and Mazda executives say the drop-top sports car is “always treated very specially” internally.
A quick drive is all you need to understand why.
The MX-5 Roadster manual on test is the cheapest member of the revised 2022 range, with a sticker of $37,990 before on-road costs.
Opting for the automatic adds $2000 to the price; the RF with its electrically-operated targa-style top is $4310 more expensive than the equivalent Roadster and its simpler, manual cloth roof. A full price list is published below.
The cheapest Subaru BRZ is its nearest rival, with a $40,290 before on-roads sticker price. The new Toyota 86 hasn’t been priced for Australia yet, but should play in a similar price bracket.
2022 Mazda MX-5 pricing:
MX-5 Roadster soft-top
- 2022 Mazda MX-5 Roadster manual: $37,990
- 2022 Mazda MX-5 Roadster automatic: $39,990
- 2022 Mazda MX-5 Roadster GT manual: $44,620
- 2022 Mazda MX-5 Roadster GT automatic: $46,620
- 2022 Mazda MX-5 Roadster GT RS manual: $47,620
MX-5 RF hard-top
- 2022 Mazda MX-5 RF manual: $42,300
- 2022 Mazda MX-5 RF automatic: $44,300
- 2022 Mazda MX-5 RF GT manual: $48,700
- 2022 Mazda MX-5 RF GT automatic: $50,700
- 2022 Mazda MX-5 RF GT Black Roof manual: $49,720
- 2022 Mazda MX-5 RF GT Black Roof automatic: $51,720
- 2022 Mazda MX-5 RF GT RS manual: $51,700
Prices exclude on-road costs
It’s not a big car, that’s for sure. If you’re taller than around six-four you’ll need a shoehorn to get in, but for such a small car there’s a reasonable amount of space.
If there’s not enough room, you can always drop the top. It’s a one-handed job, and you’re able to raise or lower it without too much hassle at up to around 80km/h.
The slim, simple seats drop down nice and low, and the steering wheel telescopes to create more space for gangly legs thanks to a recent update. Once you’re in it’s possible to spend long stretches behind the wheel, and what space there is has been smartly used.
All the fundamentals are excellent. The gear knob is just the right size, the slim-rimmed steering wheel is trimmed in quality leather, and the seats are trimmed in what feels like hard-wearing cloth. A bit more bolstering would be nice, though.
In front of the driver is a simple analogue gauge cluster, dominated by the central tachometer. The speedo is analogue only, and there’s a basic black-and-white trip computer off to the left for information about your fuel consumption.
A digital speedo would be nice, but the cluster is perfectly in keeping with the classic vibe of the MX-5.
The MX-5 isn’t meant to be a tech showcase, but its infotainment system is disappointing nonetheless. The screen is little, and the MZD Connect system has been superseded in most of the Mazda range.
It’s slow to start up, features graphics that feel basic, and looks washed out in direct sunlight.
At least it has wireless Apple CarPlay, although you can’t touch the screen and instead need to use the rotary controller on the transmission tunnel.
Storage space is a mixed bag. The cupholders can be mounted between the seats at the rear of the cabin, or on the passenger side of the transmission tunnel. It’s an elegant solution that makes maximum use of the limited space, as is the storage bin behind the cabin.
The lack of a glovebox and the bin-less doors are less than ideal, however. Although you’ll get coins or parking passes in the slot beneath the central armrest, you won’t fit much more.
Boot space is better than you’d expect of such a small car. Pop the tiny boot lid and you’ll find a deep space which holds 130L worth of stuff, which is enough for a couple of overnight bags or a decent haul of groceries.
The 1.5-litre entry-level engine option has been axed from the MX-5 range for 2022.
All models are powered by a 2.0-litre naturally-aspirated four-cylinder petrol engine making 135kW and 205Nm. The MX-5 is rear-wheel drive, and buyers can choose between a six-speed manual or automatic transmission.
The manual on test here features a limited-slip rear differential.
Claimed fuel economy is 6.8L/100km on the combined cycle for the base Roadster manual on test. The MX-5 has a 45L fuel tank, and drinks 95 RON premium unleaded as a minimum.
Prod the start button and the MX-5 bursts to life with a gruff bark.
The 2.0-litre engine isn’t the most sonorous unit around, but it’s a willing companion that thrives on being pushed hard. It’s mated with a nicely weighted clutch and slick, short shifter.
Peak power doesn’t come on tap until the 7000rpm redline and peak torque isn’t on tap until 4000rpm, so you need to work it hard to get the most out of it, but that’s no great hardship.
Part of the enduring appeal of the MX-5 is how easy it is to drive daily. The clutch is light enough that traffic isn’t hard work, the engine has enough torque that you can short shift and still keep up with traffic, and the tiny exterior means no parking spot is too small.
Vision over-the-shoulder is average with the roof up, but driving a Miata with the roof up should be criminal in all but monsoonal conditions.
Ride comfort is a strong point in the city. With modest wheels and a soft suspension tune, the MX-5 floats along better than the Subaru BRZ on pockmarked roads, and over sharp-edged speed bumps and potholes. Its tin-top rivals do offer better noise suppression though, especially on the highway.
Away from town, the MX-5 is hilarious to push hard. With light steering and a faithful front end, you can grab it by the scruff of the neck and throw it into corners, at which point the body roll and rear-wheel drive brings the back end into play.
It’s not a drift machine (far from it) but the car feels adjustable, and the way the body moves offers instant feedback from every input.
The stubby little shifter is great when you’re in a hurry.
You’re able to grab gears as fast as your hand can move, and it doesn’t get caught up on cross-gate shifts at full noise. The pedals are perfectly placed for rev-matching when you’re hard on the brakes, and the naturally-aspirated engine responds faithfully when you need a spike of revs.
The fact the MX-5 is still small means you’ve got heaps of room to play with in a normal Australian lane, and the fact it’s not a turbocharged monster means you can get to full throttle and actually stay there without worrying about losing your licence. Maintaining momentum is the name of the game.
You’ll know you’re really pushing when the transmission tunnel gets noticeably warmer. Some sacrifices were made in search of lightness here, but it’s never uncomfortable in there.
If you want tighter body control, Mazda offers the (more expensive) GT RS model with Bilstein dampers. The aftermarket is also chock full of products designed to turn your humble roadster into a road warrior.
MX-5 Roadster highlights:
- Kinematic Posture Control
- Black cloth soft-top (Roadster only)
- 17-inch black metallic alloy wheels
- 7.0-inch touchscreen infotainment system
- Wireless Apple CarPlay
- Wired Android Auto
- DAB+ digital radio
- Satellite navigation
- Six-speaker sound system
- Automatic LED headlights
- LED tail lights
- LED daytime running lights
- Rain-sensing window wipers
- Gloss black powered side mirrors
- Black cloth upholstery
- Climate control air-conditioning
- Cruise control
- Leather-wrapped gearshift knob
- Leather-wrapped handbrake handle
- Leather-wrapped steering wheel
- One-touch down power windows
- Auto-dimming rear-view mirror
- Push-button start
- Limited-slip differential (manual only)
The Mazda MX-5 has a five-star ANCAP safety rating with 2016 date stamp, scoring 35.20 out of a possible 37 against older criteria.
Standard safety features include:
- 6 airbags
- Autonomous emergency braking (AEB)
- Forward 4-80km/h
- Vehicle and Pedestrian detection
- Reverse 2-8km/h
- Blind-spot monitoring
- Rear cross-traffic alert
- Lane departure warning
- Driver attention monitoring
- Reversing camera
- Rear parking sensors
- Traffic sign recognition
- Hill-start assist
- Seatbelt warning
- Tyre pressure monitoring
The MX-5 is covered by a five-year, unlimited-kilometre warranty like the rest of the Mazda range.
Scheduled servicing is required every 12 months or 10,000 kilometres – whichever comes first.
The first five services cost a combined $1755 using Mazda’s capped-price service program.
There’s a reason the Mazda MX-5 is an enduring icon.
It’s not perfect, but even in 2022 its simple, lightweight brand of performance is appealing.
You already knew that, though. Mazda has updated the ND MX-5 a few times since its launch, but the fundamentals remain the same.
The base Roadster is the most pure interpretation of the formula, but it’s not the one I’d buy. Stepping to the GT requires a hefty chunk of cash, but the fact you get heated seats and keyless entry are big drawcards.
The heated seats in particular are a huge draw, because they shave around 10 degrees off the minimum temperature for top-down motoring. Pushing things a bit further, you could argue the GT RS with its stiffer dampers is the better outright driver’s car.
Then again, it doesn’t really matter which model you opt for. It might be an old dog, but the MX-5 still has plenty of tricks up its little sleeves.
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MORE: Everything Mazda MX-5