Mazda MX-5 Sport Nav+ 2.0-litre 17 | 09 | 2018Scotcars rating

    Mazda's MX-5 has always been a class leader; now it's finally got the engine it deserves

    WE’VE ALWAYS KNOWN the Mazda MX-5 is THE roadster to have. Ever since its UK launch in 1990, it’s been the ‘go-to’ soft-top for those who love to feel the wind in their hair, the delight of a nimble engine, and prefer to enjoy their thrills on a budget which slots well under the ‘stupidly expensive’ cabriolets. Now there’s even more good news: the MX-5 has just become even better! Mazda has introduced an upgraded 2.0-litre SkyActiv engine. (Roadtest: Mazda MX-5 RF 2.0 SE-L Nav)

    It remains the super-compact, lightweight sportscar which still keeps the driver on his or her toes as the power is delivered via the rear wheels. Push too far too quickly, and you’ll praise the kick-in of the electronic stability control. Stick within its parameters, and you’ll enjoy a brilliantly engaging driving experience. (Roadtest: Mazda6 Range 2018 facelift)

    There’s absolutely nothing else like the MX-5 on the market, and the sensations are further heightened by one of the best manual gearboxes in the industry. Nothing else comes close to the precise, taut, wrist-flick action of Mazda’s stubby wee manual gearshift. (Related: Roadtest — Mazda MX-5 1.5 Sport Nav)


    Two-litre models also benefit from a limited slip differential which is fitted as standard, and if your MX-5 has ‘Sport’ in its title, it’ll also come with uprated Bilstein suspension. That means much tighter body control and the body leans less in corners. This in turn allows you to push on more, resulting in faster progress and an even bigger smile.

    Engines? Sure, the 1.5-litre engine remains in the range. In fact, at the launch of the current MkIV shape, I preferred the 1.5-litre to the more powerful 2.0-litre. Now though, that’s changed.

    Why? Because Mazda has breathed additional life into the larger SkyActiv powerplant. Not only does it rev to an additional 700rpm, but horsepower has been increased by 23bhp to 181bhp.


    Thankfully, while most the manufacturers prefer to go down the turbocharging route, Mazda eschews the technology and sticks proudly with its naturally-aspirated approach. And the result is an absolute delight.

    Before we indulge ourselves in the the improvements which made my near 400-mile drive across Northern Ireland such a pleasure, let’s address a few of the other tweaks to what Mazda calls an ‘evolution’ of the MkIV, rather than a facelift.

    Visually there’s no real difference; the latest model looks exactly as the MkIV did at its launch in 2015. What it does benefit from though is a whole load of new tech; most of it is either safety or emissions related.


    But let’s be honest, commendable as it is, that’s not really going to set the heather alight, nor really alter the fun driving experience of being behind the wheel of an MX-5. Worth highlighting too that only particularly high-spec cars get the all new safety kit — including lane departure warning, blindspot monitors, AEB front and rear, traffic sign recognition and a slightly irritating driver fatigue monitor — as standard. The new 2.0-litre also now gets stop-start. As a result of all this, kerb weight has been increased by 30kg.


    The range now also includes a new range-topping trim. Badged GT Sport Nav+, it’s fitted with all the bells and whistles you’ll love — including adaptive LED headlights — especially if you want to impress the neighbours or your mates. Personally, I’d stick with the previously top-spec Sport Nav+.

    And while these tweaks may sound like small improvements, it proves Mazda has sensibly listened to customer feedback because … the latest version now has reach-adjustable steering! I know, I know … what an innovation! But it certainly makes a huge difference to the driving comfort.


    There’s also new, smoother technology which aids the seat adjustment and door-opening mechanism, plus — and I’m not kidding — Mazda says the cupholders are ‘more substantial’. Right.

    But it’s the engine which has seem the biggest and most important improvements. Without getting too bogged down in the tech, this 2019 model gets a stiffer crankshaft; revisions to camshafts, valves, ports, piston rings, fuel injection, throttle body, air intake and exhaust; lighter pistons and con-rods; plus a new dual-mass flywheel.

    If you’re still with me, the result is the engine now redlines to 7500rpm rather than the previous 6800, and produces 181bhp instead of 158.


    And the package all results in more performance. The soft-top knocks 0.8secs off the 0-62mph time, now stopping the clock at 6.5s. With its heavier folding hardtop, the RF shaves 0.6s with the manual gearbox, taking it to 6.8s. For those few who opted for the auto, the improvement is 0.5s, meaning a time of 7.9s.

    Sticking with the soft-top, even with the new WLTP fuel economy testing standards, Mazda quotes 40.9mpg. CO2 emissions have also dropped, mainly thanks to the addition of stop-start.


    Darting over the often narrow, single-track roads east-to-west towards Enniskillen, the updated MX-5 felt more pointed, planted and enjoyed a crisper, sharper turn-in. And it was a  view shared by most journos. But, bizarrely, Mazda hasn’t made any changes to the chassis set-up.

    The engine improvements to the 2.0-litre also mean the MX-5 gains useful extra shove, especially in the higher reaches of the rev range. There’s also substantially more torque.


    Oh, remember the 1.5-litre? There’s been a very minor upgrade to it: in fact, power has been increased by only 1bhp, up to 130bhp. As for performance. 62mph comes up from standstill in 8.3s. Not surprising then that Mazda only brought the 2.0 for us to play with … I mean, drive and evaluate.

    So, is the 1.5 still the pick of the burn? On the latest evidence, no. If it was my choice and my money, it would definitely be the 2.0 Sport Nav+ … it’s a hoot. List price on-the-road is £24,795, but the test car was fitted with just two options, the £800 safety pack and the ‘must-have’ Soul Red Crystal Metallic paint at £790.


    Despite my initial preference for the 1.5, Mazda tells me it was outsold almost two-to-one by the 2.0. Now sales of the smaller powerplant are likely to plummet even further, and I’m not surprised. The latest improvements make the 2.0 an absolute belter, and a no-brainer when it comes to choosing which engine.

    Ok, there’s a £1500 premium if you opt for the bigger engine, but what price do you put on happiness, fun, enjoyment, pleasure and exhilaration? Believe me, spend the 1500 quid: it’ll be money well spent.

    Related: Mazda gives its CX-3 a facelift

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    Jim McGill

    Quick Stats
    Price OTR/As Tested £24,795 / £26,385
    Engine / Power: 16v 4-cyl, petrol with 6-spd manual / 181bhp
    How fast?: 6.5sec / Max 136mph
    How big/heavy?: L3915mm W1735mm (excl mirrors) H1230 / 1030kg
    How thirsty/CO2?: 40.9mpg combined / 156g/km CO2
    InsGP/Road tax: n/a / n/a
    Alternatives: Fiat 124 Spider, Mini Roadster, Toyota GT-86

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