Mazda MX-5 1.8 RC (2014) review

Published:30 December 2013

Mazda MX-5 1.8 RC (2014) review
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Can the most entry-level of entry-level sports cars deliver the quintessential roof-down experience? Read on for the CAR review.

This is the third-gen Mazda MX-5, which is due for replacement in 2015 by a new model that the Japanese maker is co-developing with Alfa Romeo. In the meantime, our test car could be the best (or worst) of both worlds for the outging version. This RC model (RC stands for Roadster Coupe) uses a two-piece folding hard-top, providing better insulation and security against the UK’s nasty weather than the regular soft roof.


You won’t be outrunning anyone in this MX-5 – here it’s tested with the entry-level 1.8-litre engine, good for 124bhp – not a figure worth bragging about. Yet this model is a good deal cheaper and 10% more economical than the more powerful 2.0-litre MX-5.


Just how fast (or slow) is the Mazda MX-5?


With its 124bhp and 123lb ft on hand at high revs to shift the RC’s (slightly portly) 1117kg, this is not a fast car. Lob the six-speed manual gearshift across the gate (no hardship, admittedly) and you’ll launch to 62mph in 9.6sec, and top out at 121mph.

At that speed, the wind noise either top-up or top-down will be deafening – this MX-5 is getting long in the tooth, and there’s a lot of wind whip around the mirrors and header rail to showcase that age, even if the cabin itself is a snug environment.

That’s to say the cabin is cramped then?

Afraid so. The dash layout and sturdy yet harsh materials used for this refreshed MX-5 can’t hide the fact that this is a product of 2005. There’s not enough reach-adjustment in the steering for taller drivers, and the rear bulkhead prevents sufficient adjustment of the seat backrests to accommodate the loftier members of the populous.

Has the handling also degraded in the MX-5’s old age?

Mercifully not. With so little power and a need to conserve momentum to prevent repetitive strain injury of one’s gearlever hand, it’s a boon that you don’t need to be travelling and double the legal limit to exploit – or enjoy – the MX-5’s rear-drive chassis. Control weights are delightfully judged, and there are enough messages transmitted though the seat base to your backside when the grip levels are (eventually) overcome that the MX-5 gets away with the steering that’s muter than its predecessors’ racks.

It also sounds pleasingly rorty when you pin it too – which you’ll have to, to make decent progress. Back off and you’ll score a real-world average of 33.4mpg – not far at all from Mazda’s manageable 39.8mpg claim.

Verdict

This MX-5 has bags of cheeky appeal, but if you’re hankering after owning one of these two-seater roadsters in the twilight of its life, don’t compromise your car like this test example. Either go for the cheapest one possible – soft-top with 1.8-litre power, and enjoy the financial savings, or go for the 2.0-litre RC, and its brawnier 158bhp. It’s still no firecracker, but with a higher tech-spec to offset the £3100 premium, it’s a smarter choice. Or you could try the 203bhp Jota edition if you want an MX-5 with firepower – pushing this 1.8-litre RC even further down the desirability list.

Specs

Price when new: £19,995
On sale in the UK: Now
Engine: 1798cc 16v in-line 4-cyl, 124bhp @ 6500rpm, 123lb ft @ 4500rpm
Transmission: Five-speed manual, rear-wheel drive
Performance: 9.9sec 0-62mph, 123mph, 39.8mpg, 167g/km CO2
Weight / material: 1230kg/steel
Dimensions (length/width/height in mm): 4020/1720/1255

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