While I call it the second generation, I must acknowledge that Mazda MX-5 purists call it the third generation known as the NC. While having many detail differences, the first two known as the NA and NB were both virtually the same car to me, having owned both a 1990 and 2003 model.
That said, the design of the Mazda MX-5 we have today is far removed from the original which appeared 25 years ago in the details but is immediately recognizable as its offspring. Thankfully, when Mazda crafted this one, it only grew an inch or two in size.
Fender flares give it a more muscular look and larger wheel openings allow for a slight upsize in tires and wheels than before. While simple in its form, the Mazda MX-5’s design is saying a lot to the eyes, though in a very subtle language.
Our Grand Touring tester had the upgrade of the power retractable hard top, a device I thought at first to be a bit much for this car. After discovering how well it works and how simple its 12 second folding action is I became a believer.
It’s almost a $2,000 add to the MX-5, but winning me over was the fact that it takes absolutely zero space from the trunk, which is already sacred real estate in these cars.
The cockpit while designed many years ago remains fresh and up to date in terms of material quality, fit and finish, and the expected creature comforts. While it looks small, it feels much roomier and more substantial from behind the wheel than the original.
The cabin is comfortable with the seats being a welcome place to sit for long periods of time. I actually had to push the seat forward a bit in this Mazda MX-5 where in previous generations always had to have it back all the way.
At speed with the top down, the interior is commendably quiet with the side windows up or down. You can hold a conversation with your passenger without shouting or listen to the audio system without having to have it at top volume.
The Spicy Mocha leather seating and trims in our tester were a nice contrast with the black trim, but I did find the material to really pull the sweat out of me in the heat, more than most hides. Though I love this look, I’d probably stick with cloth here in Arizona.
Center stack controls and the audio system remain old school which I prefer in a car like this as it’s in keeping with the simplicity theme. There aren’t any fussy touch screens, console control pucks, or menus to complicate your life with.
Storage space and daily life features like usable drink holders are surprisingly better than expected. The doors each have water bottle holders, the center console too, and a large lockable storage box resides between the rear seat backs.
At the heart of all this fun is the Mazda MX-5’s rather ordinary 2.0 liter DOHC four-cylinder engine. Producing 167 horsepower and 158 lb-ft of torque it isn’t outright muscle by any means. It is however just what the doctor ordered in terms of sound and feel for this car.
This engine is incredibly willing and eager to please. It loves to rev to its redline and sounds delicious doing it. Revving through the gears becomes a game you want to play every time you get behind the wheel.
While I didn’t get to test measure for 0-60 times, published reports put the MX-5 in about the low to mid six second range. Numbers in this case miss the point as the car is so fun and enjoyable to flog, you forget things like …. math.
Handling in this generation is much improved with a double wishbone front suspension and a multi-link rear. Our tester also had the optional Suspension Package with a more aggressive spring tune, Bilstein dampers, and a limited slip differential.
Though it’s been around for a while, the chassis is as stiff and solid as you can ask for in a topless roadster, the experience on back-roads is sublimely civilized when the pavement is less than smooth. And while the heaviest MX-5 at 2,593 lbs, it’s remarkably light by today’s standards and responds as such.
Steering benefits from this older platform in that it remains hydraulically power assisted. This means it offers up a level of communication and information through the steering wheel we long miss from many new cars which have electric power steering.
While talking about fuel economy in this context feels out of place, the EPA does rate the MX-5 at 21 mpg city, 28 mpg highway and 24 mpg combined. We achieved exactly that, 24 mpg combined during our testing.
While it has a six-speed manual transmission, the low 4.10 to 1 rear axle ratio still has the engine buzzing at a relatively fast 3000+ rpm at highway speeds. If the gearing scenario was such that the engine settled in at 2000-2200 rpm on the highway, that mpg might be considerably higher.