Car Reviews

2019 Mazda MX-5 30th Anniversary review

MAZDA MX-5 30th ANNIVERSARY IN A NUTSHELL: Thirty years on, Mazda’s MX-5 remains faithful to the original recipe of its success. This 30th Anniversary has some very special parts, but it’s unobtainable for just about everyone in Australia, which only reinforces the value elsewhere in the lineup. A pearler of a sports car to drive.

What is the Mazda MX-5?

Mazda’s first-generation ‘NA’ MX-5 roadster rolled down the line in 1989 and was billed as the perfect sports car at unbeatable value. Not much has changed, and the naming of this 30th Anniversary edition should be self-explanatory.

However, while four generations later the ‘ND’ delivers the characteristics that were the NA’s raison d’être, there were some hiccups along the way. The second-gen NB grew slightly and, subjectively, was not such a good looker. It did, however, spawn the coveted turbo SP edition, which was a hoot. Then the third-gen NC grew even bigger, a little bulbous in look and feel, and the lack of punch from the non-turbo motor in the heavier body hurt performance.

So what happened with the ND? For a start, it’s the shortest MX-5 in history, yet also the widest. And it also looks good, particularly the RF with a hard lid on it. However, and importantly, it’s lighter than both the NB and NC, so it’s much closer to the original recipe that made the NA so special.

This 30th Anniversary is based on the recently updated MX-5 GT, which has a bigger motor and makes the most power. In fact, this is the most powerful naturally-aspirated MX-5 yet.

But there are only 3000 of these special orange machines being built for the world, and just 30 of those – all individually numbered on the badge next to the driver’s door – will make it to Australia.

And to think the right-hand drive but damn dreary-weathered UK gets 550 of them…

What does the Mazda MX-5 30th Anniversary cost and what do you get?

This model will cost you $49,990 plus on-roads, but you can’t buy one because they are all sold. That doesn’t matter much, because, at a fantastic discount, the MX-5 GT which is just about every bit as good as this car (if not so special) costs $43,320 plus on-road costs. That’s seven grand in your pocket to spend on sunscreen and hats.

Standard equipment on the GT includes LED headlights and DRLs, keyless entry with push-button ignition, heated leather-trimmed sports seats, 7.0-inch infotainment system with Apple CarPlay, Android Auto and DAB+ radio, nine-speaker Bose sound system, automatic wipers and a reversing camera.

The 30th Anniversary comes in this bright Racing Orange paint, has lightweight RAYS forged alloy wheels finished in black and engraved with ‘30th Anniversary’, orange brake callipers, Brembo front and Nissin (not Nissan-related) brakes, Recaro sports seats with partial leather, orange stitching and interior elements, and Alcantara trim on the doors and dash. Given the quality of additional components and inflated price of previous anniversary MX-5s on the used market, the value is pretty good for those lucky 30 buyers.

And of course, under the bonnet is the GT’s 2.0-litre naturally-aspirated engine, which recently received a slight upgrade in power and torque.

What’s the Mazda MX-5 interior like?

While many bang on about how good the MX-5 is to drive (and we’ll get to that), it’s also the interior that’s better in the ND. Sure, the anniversary edition is bright with all of that orange piping, stitching and trim elements stuck around it, but the layout and functionality are great for such a small two-seater. Also, the Alcantara is a unique addition that elevates the sporty feel over any other MX-5, and the Recaro seats are terrific for both support and comfort. And they’re heated, which is great for a winter solstice drive, or living in Melbourne.

The steering wheel adjustments aren’t huge, but they’re good enough to find a decent position with a seat that slides a long way back. Behind that is a basic but classic three binnacle cluster layout with the tachometer front and centre. There’s also a little LCD there that shows the current gear selection if you’re not paying attention.

Perhaps most important to this roadster’s pedigree is that the soft-top roof still folds down easily, and very quickly given just one lever locks it into place.

How much space is there in the Mazda MX-5?

Of course, where it suffers is for room. There isn’t space for a traditional glovebox, so it sits in the bulkhead behind the occupants, which is accessed via a small door. In front of that are the two cupholders which can get in the way of the elbow when moving down a gear; they’re detachable. There are no door pockets, and there’s not too much in the way of storage, you just cram it all into the bulkheadbox thing behind you.

And the boot is specified at a tiny 130-litres, though in reality, you could fit a couple of overnight bags into it. Underneath the boot floor is the inflator kit as there’s no space-saver spare.

What’s the Mazda MX-5’s infotainment like?

An appreciable upgrade to all 2019 MX-5s is Apple CarPlay and Android Auto on the infotainment system. That brings an operating system for Apple and Android phone users that’s very familiar and works very well. At Practical Motoring we don’t use Bluetooth if there’s CarPlay/Auto available unless the stock operating system is very smart without it. (Mercedes-Benz’s MBUX is nearly a notable exception here.)

The 7.0-inch screen size is, however, a touch small compared to the new 8.0, 9.0 and even 10-inch screens in most modern cars, but given the compact nature of the cabin, it fits in nicely enough. Connectivity is via two USB inputs. There’s also an old school aux input and 12v socket too.

What’s the Mazda MX-5 engine like?

Powering the roadster is a 2.0-litre naturally-aspirated DOHC ‘Skyactiv G’ petrol engine producing 135kW and 205Nm. Compared to last year’s model, power for this engine has gone up 17kW, achieved 1000rpm higher in the rev range at 7000rpm. But this isn’t a reflash of the ECU to increase revs, as engine components have been changed, such as lighter pistons.

The result is a syrupy smooth four-pot that has a hard-hitting throatiness on full throttle without sounding boisterous. It’s punchy, moving the roadster from a standstill to 100km/h in 6.5 seconds and reacting excitedly to throttle input.

A welcome upgrade, the extra grunt is salient, and the 1.5-litre engine available elsewhere in the range is improved too. But it remains a charming though less athletic choice to the 2.0L.

Connected to our tester is a six-speed manual, with a nice short throw and predictable clutch engagement, and great for heel and toe given there’s no automatic rev-matching.

Mazda claims a combined fuel consumption rating of 6.9L/100km that we couldn’t match, recording 8.1L/100km with plenty of spirited driving and some highway kays.

What’s the Mazda MX-5 like to drive?

While the world moves onto to complex all-wheel drive split-bias diffs and throttle mapping traction control, the MX-5 proves why the simple formula of less is more still holds up. Light in weight with good grunt and a manual transmission connected to the rear wheels, there’s not much that can challenge the MX-5 for fun factor or the old bang for your bucks formula.

Lacking the ferocious focus of turbocharged sports cars, it’s easy to hop in and just enjoy the sweet, simple handling and precise steering on offer. The extra grunt doesn’t go astray, however, and is something we were left wanting previously, but before, where carrying momentum through corners was a trick to master, the extra acceleration on corner exit provides flexibility and is forgiving if you get on the anchors to hard. And the big Brembos upfront provide more than enough stopping power.

Grip is fantastic, the relatively wide 205/45 Bridgestone Potenza S001s clawing the front into corners, though the rear can be a little playful when wanted, a trait that feels predictable with the mechanical limited-slip differential fitted between the rear axles.

And ride comfort is good. The dampers don’t have to resist much more than a tonne of weight, so the softened attitude benefits compliance over mid-corner bumps and around the city when commuting.

How safe is the Mazda MX-5?

The MX-5 was awarded a five-star ANCAP rating in 2016.

It is fitted with AEB, lane-departure warning, blind-spot monitoring, rear cross-traffic alert, traffic sign recognition, reverse parking sensors, reversing camera, dynamic stability control, traction control and tyre pressure monitoring.

What are the Mazda MX-5 alternatives?

Mazda’s crosstown rival is the Toyota 86 and its more expensive Subaru BRZ step-sibling, which are both a bit more engaging in terms of attitude into corners though none can be had without a roof. And the coupe’s boxer engine isn’t nearly as sweet to row through the gears with.

The Fiat Abarth 124 spider couldn’t be closer in comparison, given it’s mostly a Mazda MX-5 underneath the sheet metal. It’s fitted with a fiery 1.4-litre turbo engine that makes a racket with the optional Monza exhaust, but the Italian’s handling isn’t as natural and balanced as Mazda’s effort. And the power gap has been closed with this update.

There’s also the Nissan 370z roadster, which is more expensive by about $10,000 and a larger contender, but more comfortable for big drivers.

2019 Mazda MX-5 30th Anniversary Edition pricing and spec

Price $49,900+ORC Warranty five-years, unlimited km Safety 5 stars Engine 2.0-litre petrol four-cylinder Power 135kW at 7000rpm Torque 205Nm at 4000rpm Transmission six-speed manual Drive rear-wheel drive Dimensions 3915mm (L) 1735mm (W) 1235mm (H) 2310mm (WB) Kerb weight 1087kg Fuel tank 45L Spare inflation kit Thirst 6.9L/100km claimed

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Editor's Rating

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Alex Rae

Alex Rae