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Recently Driven

2020 Mazda MX-5

By: Ron Corbett, APA Staff Writer      

Photos by: John Raymond


Clean lines of the MX-5 impart a feeling of dynamic tension

The first-generation MX-5, which evoked the spirit of vintage British roadsters, but with Japanese reliability, debuted for the 1990 model year. The second-generation MX-5 came out as a 1999 model and was in production until the end of 2005 A third-generation MX-5 was sold from 2006 to 2015. W
hile all previous-generation MX-5s reprise styling themes dating back to the original, the current model introduced for 2016 is totally new and a break with the look that began in 1990. The RF, with a retractable targa roof, arrived for the 2017 model year.

Model mix
Two versions, a manually-operated soft top convertible, and an electrically-driven targa roof, marketed as the RF, are offered. Only one engine, a 181 horsepower, normally-aspirated 2 L four, is offered. Power reaches the rear wheels via either a six-speed manual transmission or a six-speed automatic.

 Vehicle tested 2020 Mazda MX-5 RF GT with Grand Sport package
 Body style Two-door targa-roof convertible
 Engine 2L-4 (181 horsepower)
 Transmission Six-speed manual
MX-5 base model MSRP $33,100 (GS convertible)
 Price as tested $46,950 (GT RF GT with Grand Sport Package and Polymetal gray paint
NRCan combined fuel economy rating 8.1L/100 km
Observed fuel economy 8L/100 km

The current MX-5 is a clear break from its predecessors, that displays a compact, muscular look.
As with other current Mazda’s, clean flanks convey a sense of surface tension, and details like the grille and the lighting at both ends, are artfully rendered. A Pininfarina designer once said "you have to know when to lift the pen” to render a good design. All recent Mazdas look like they have followed that styling dictum, and the firm from Hiroshima could be giving master classes in car design.

Like the exterior, the cabin of the MX-5 is a designer’s tour-de-force. The driver faces a traditional analogue gauge package that is crisply marked and easy to scan. The top-centre of the dashboard is dominated by a free-standing screen that employs Mazda’s first-generation infotainment system controlled by a console-mounted rotating wheel and three buttons. It works well after you get acclimated to it, and can be easier to use on the go than a touchscreen. Three, chunky, rotating rings, with buttons within their perimeters, make manipulating the climate controls easy. All controls move with precision. The cabin finish on our test car, a combination of dark red and black with convincing faux-alloy accents, is assembled from attractive components and looks timeless.

While it has an abundance of style, interior space is lacking; in that regard, this generation is a step backward compared to the previous model. There is enough legroom for most people up to about six feet tall, but taller or larger people, and those with long legs, will feel cramped. The seats are quite comfortable, even on a long run. Small door bins and a shallow console-mounted storage bin combine with a lockable console behind the front seats to provide less storage that is ideal. Cupholders are detachable frames that slot into the centre console but are not that useful when driving. The trunk, even in the targa RF model with an elaborate, electrically-retractable top, is adequate for so small a car, especially if you fill it with soft-sided bags that can be squished into the space. Unlike early MX-5s, there is no spare. 

The centrally-mounted tachometer highlights the fun-focussed nature of the MX-5  

The cabin is elegant, practical and carefully finished  


The trunk has enough space for a weekend; you'll need soft-sided luggage

The 181 horsepower 2L four looks unremarkable on paper, but it is a delight on the road. The normally-aspirated four spins with enthusiasm, delivers linear power, and emits a soundtrack that is stirring but never annoying. Fantastic. Acceleration is lively, and the engine rewards exploration of the upper limits of the rev range.

The MX-5 is rear-drive; a six-speed manual transmission allies a light, progressive, clutch with a precise, deliciously mechanical, short-throw gearchange. The manual is such a delight and so easy to drive that it's one of very few vehicles left where an automatic is not the default choice.

Steering is almost cerebral, with perfect weighting, quick gearing and tactile road feel. The suspension combines impressive grip with a ride that is surprisingly compliant for a car with such phenomenal handling. The Brembo-branded brakes on our test car responded to driver inputs with a firm pedal, no lost motion and astonishing stopping power.

On days when it is bordering on too hot for alfresco motoring, putting up the windows and turning on the air-conditioning allows occupants to enjoy the sun but also stay surprisingly comfortable. Top-down motoring is relatively serene up to about 80 kilometres per hour, growing noisier after that. Wind eddies in the car can be reduced by raising the windows, but this actually creates more noise than when driving with the windows down. If it is raining, or when, like during our last day with the car, weather is too hot endure, the electrically-operated targa roof can be run through its balletic action plan to turn the MX-5 into a fully closed car.

The Bose-branded audio system delivers very good sound quality in the MX-5. Cellphone hookup is easy and in-bound calls are heard through speakers in the driver’s headrest.  

The MX-5's nomally-aspirted 2L four spins enthusiastically and emits an infectious exhaust note  

Brembo-branded brakes have fierce stopping power  

MX-5 pricing starts at $33,100 for the GS convertible, but our GT RF with the Grand Sport Package and Polymetal Gray paint, topped out at $46,950.

The automatic and manual transmission versions of the MX-5 are priced the same. With air-conditioning, alloy wheels, the iOS-Android cellphone interface, Keyless Go, as well as blind spot and rear cross traffic monitors, the base GS convertible is very well equipped. The manual-transmission version of the GS-P adds a wealth of features but looks overpriced. The range-topping GT upgrade features leather upholstery, a lined convertible top, navigation, adaptive headlamps and a variety of comfort and convenience equipment, but is expensive. Buyers can swap their black soft top for grey or brown for $400 and GT intenders can move past the standard black or tan leather seating and opt for red Nappa leather for $400 extra. The RF (retractable targa roof), available in GS-P and GT trims, costs $3000 more than the soft-top MX-5. The GT Exclusive package adds Nappa leather seating and a contrasting colour hard top for a reasonable price. The GT Grand Sport option group adds Brembo-branded brakes but looks expensive. The MX-5 is an exceptional lease deal.

The MX-5 has historically been a very reliable machine and there have been no complaints regarding the current-generation car that debuted for the 2016 model year. Like other Mazdas, the basic warranty is for three years, with the powertrain covered for five years. All coverages offer unlimited mileage.


The RF may be even more stylish than the convertible

The current MX- 5 is an exquisite, jewel-like vehicle that really is in a market segment all of its own. It is stylish, with an enthusiastic engine, precise transmission and fantastic handling dynamics, and is one of the most engaging driver’s cars available at a quasi-affordable price. The fact that the MX-5 has traditionally been reliable and held together very well, is a plus for those who are looking for a dedicated fuss-free sporting car.