Mazda MX5 Review

Robert Farago
by Robert Farago
mazda mx5 review

The new Mazda MX5 is the sports car I always wanted. It's a small, sexy, sure-footed thrill machine that easily and completely outwits all those huge, over-embellished, slow-witted American muscle cars. The only problem is, I wanted the MX5 way back in '75. Things have moved on since then. There's a wide range of well-balanced sports cars vying for the enthusiast's attention. Some of them are even American. And none of them are as dangerous as Mazda's diminutive roadster.

Endless reviews praise the MX5's purity of form, clarity of purpose and banquet of sensations. None mention the pint-sized roadster's lack of "compatibility". In other words, when the MX5 collides with something, the something's driver gets out and says "Dang!" whereas the MX5 driver… doesn't get out. No wonder the website's safety section begins with "Beyond the safety benefits of having a car that allows you to react quickly to avoid hazardous situations…" and touts "systems that help make it easier to avoid accidents in the first place."

Of course, Mazda's right: the best way to survive an accident is not to have one. There's no question that [what my two-year-old called] "the baby car" is supernaturally maneuverable– as you'd expect from a balanced two-seater that weighs less than half a Lincoln Navigator. Although there was nothing wrong with the way the last MX5 danced the light fantastic, the new rag top offers sharpened everything: chassis, brakes, engine, steering, suspension, gearbox, the lot. You can nip, dart, cut, thrust, hang a Louie and generally thrash the car some 25% faster than you could previously.

If you can't drive this puppy fast, you can't drive. But I challenge any enthusiast worth his Sparco shoes to drive it slow. For one thing, the MX5's 2.0-liter four-pot buzzes all the way from the basement to the penthouse, with genuine shove lingering at the top of the rev range. Why wouldn't you cane it? For another, the steering is ponderous at the straight ahead. When you fling the MX5 into a corner, the helm springs to life, providing handful after handful of delicious feedback. Why wouldn't you dice? The brakes are game for a laugh: strong, fade, free and progressive. Why wouldn't you slip into grin mode at every opportunity?

Why not indeed? My time with the MX5 gave me a profound respect for its owners. Where I once saw MX5 drivers as lifestyle victims in search of cutesy-tootsie street cred, I now see them as irredeemable throttle jockeys risking life and limb for the sheer joy of clipping an apex or avoiding an SUV making a left turn from the right hand lane. In this, the MX5 is an ideal partner: ready, willing and able to squirt through the tightest of spaces into the mystical hidden lane. In fact, the highway is the only place where the roadster doesn't shine, but buying a Mazda MX5 for long-distance cruising is like buying a Honda Odyssey for track work.

Mazda has wandered into borderline OCD in their attempts to eliminate any other reason NOT to buy an MX5. Visually, the artist formerly known as Miata has traded suppository chic for a more sophisticated and aggressive appearance. The MX5's flared wheel arches and post-modern power dome are perfectly judged addenda to the basic bathtub shape. The MX5 has such a well-judged form it creates an optical illusion; you think you're still ten yards away when you bump into it. And apologize. While the car's slightly more generous but still teeny weeny proportions maintain its position as an automotive gay icon, it's now more like the Village People's construction worker than, um, the leather one.

Inside, Mazda has opted for the Audi funeral parlor look, minus the high quality plastics. The fake piano wood running across the dash would jar on a Fischer Price keyboard, and the faux aluminum steering wheel surrounds and rollover hoops are less convincing than Fritz Saukel's Nuremberg defense. But the overall effect is dignified and refined: an exponential improvement over the previous car's cabin in both look and feel. The MX5's audio system is the only major letdown; it makes FM radio sound like AM. The aural assault is an unforgivable technological lapse for a vehicle in which fun is Job One.

Aside from the tinny radio, the 16-year-old MX5 challenges the 911 as the world's most highly evolved automobile. That said, unlike potential Porsche ownership, it's best to approach MX5 possession by asking yourself the question Henry V asked his troops: "Do you want to live forever?" The truth is, if someone had handed me the keys to an MX5 when I was a teenager, I couldn't have written this review.

Join the conversation
  • CEastwood Seven mil nitrile gloves from Harbor Freight for oil changes and such and the thicker heavy duty gripper gloves from Wally World for most everything else . Hell we used to use no gloves for any of that and when we did it was usually the white cloth gloves bought by the dozen or the gray striped cuff ones for heavy duty use . Old man rant over , but I laugh when I see these types of gloves in a bargain bin at Home Cheapo for 15 bucks a pair !
  • Not Previous Used Car of the Day entries that spent decades in the weeds would still be a better purchase than this car. The sucker who takes on this depreciated machine will learn the hard way that a cheap German car is actually a very expensive way to drive around.
  • Bullnuke Well, production cuts may be due to transport-to-market issues. The MV Fremantle Highway is in a Rotterdam shipyard undergoing repairs from the last shipment of VW products (along with BMW and others) and to adequately fireproof it. The word in the shipping community is that insurance necessary for ships moving EVs is under serious review.
  • Frank Wait until the gov't subsidies end, you aint seen nothing yet. Ive been "on the floor" when they pulled them for fuel efficient vehicles back during/after the recession and the sales of those cars stopped dead in their tracks
  • Vulpine The issue is really stupidly simple; both names can be taken the wrong way by those who enjoy abusing language. Implying a certain piece of anatomy is a sign of juvenile idiocy which is what triggered the original name-change. The problem was not caused by the company but rather by those who continuously ridiculed the original name for the purpose of VERY low-brow humor.