2021 Mazda MX-5 GT RS Review
Our independent 2021 Mazda MX-5 review in Australia, including price, specs, interior, ride and handling, safety and score.
The Mazda MX-5 has been updated for 2021 with two new track-focused MX-5 GT RS models the highlight of the updated range.
Offered in both soft-top roadster and also retractable fastback (RF) bodystyles, the MX-5 GT RS models feature tuning tweaks to deliver a more engaging drive and a more rewarding track day experience.
The Australia-specific GT RS updates add new Bilstein gas shock absorbers and strut brace to improve grip, feedback and steering response. Also added to the GT RS is a new Brembo brake package featuring aluminium calipers and a high-performance brake pad which Mazda says improves fade resistance by 26 per cent.
Rounding out the sporty extras are lightweight forged BBS alloy wheels fitted with Bridgestone Potenza tyres.
The GT RS models headline a light refresh for the entire MX-5 range representing the first updates to the ND MX-5 since 2018.
How Much Does It Cost?
The addition of the MX-5 GT RS models expands the Mazda MX-5 range to 12 individual models.
While over 90 per cent of buyers opt for the more powerful 132kW 2.0-litre petrol engine a handful choose to drive home in the affordable 97kW 1.5-litre engine, priced at $36,090 plus on-road costs for the manual or $38,090 for the six-speed automatic transmission.
The remaining ten models are all powered by the more-sprightly 135kW SKYACTIVE-G 2.0-litre, four-cylinder engine, an upgraded motor which was first introduced to the Mazda MX-5 range in 2018 as part of a range of mid-cycle improvements.
Entry to the 2.0-litre club starts at $44,020 for the Roadster GT with self-shifting gearbox while the range tops out at the MX-5 RF GT Black Roof with automatic transmission. Black Roof models, while missing out on the extra track chops of the GT RS, add some extra glamour to the MX-5 range with the addition of Pure White nappa leather upholstery.
Mazda MX-5 GT RS models are priced at a $3000 premium to the standard GT models.
Mazda MX-5 model line-up and pricing (all prices plus on-road costs):
MX-5 Roadster GT
MX-5 Roadster GT
MX-5 Roadster GT RS
MX-5 RF GT
MX-5 RF GT
MX-5 RF GT RS
MX-5 RF GT Black Roof
MX-5 RF GT Black Roof
What Does It Cost To Own?
Like all the major players, Mazda now offers a five-year unlimited kilometre warranty on the MX-5, however even though the GT RS is being presented as a track-focused toy, there’s no track warranty such as that offered on the Hyundai i30N. Mazda says its customers simply haven’t asked for one.
The Mazda servicing schedule is set at 10,000kms/12 months and transparent servicing pricing is available on the Mazda website. If you choose to service your Mazda MX-5 at a Mazda dealer, expect to pay $332 in years one, three and five, and $377 in the second and fourth years. Mazda also recommends a brake fluid change every 2 years ($101), and an air filter at 60,000kms or three years at an additional cost of $89.
What’s the Exterior Like?
The exterior remains unchanged from the original ND design introduced in 2015 barring a new paint option. New Deep Crystal Blue paint finish lines up alongside Snowflake White Pearl, Jet Black, Machine Grey Metallic, Soul Red Crystal Metallic and Poly metal Grey Metallic.
While not available on the GT RS models, the highest spec Mazda MX-5 RF GT Black Roof adds (you won’t be surprised to learn), a black hard top. Black-finished external mirror caps are added to all models as a subtle differentiator.
What’s the Interior Like?
The Mazda MX-5’s interior has always been a model of efficiency. It’s a compact cockpit so there’s not much room up front for stowing bits and pieces but there’s decent room for stashing a phone and wallet in the lockable console located between the two seat backs.
The only real change inside the 2021 MX-5 is the addition of Pure White nappa leather on the Black Roof Models.
How safe is the MX-5?
The Mazda MX-5 has a five-star ANCAP safety rating awarded in 2016. While it does not offer full autonomous emergency braking at all speeds, it does include Mazda’s Smart City Brake Support, which applies the brakes in the event of a potential low-speed collision.
Traffic sign recognition, blind spot monitoring, lane departure warning, rear cross traffic alert and a reversing camera are all standard on the MX-5 but there’s no lane keep assist, adaptive cruise control or the more up to date safety tech, as the ND architecture begins to show its age.
What’s the Infotainment Like?
All models now feature wireless Apple CarPlay which operates in conjunction with the 7.0-inch touchscreen, making it one of few vehicles on the market to offer this seamless iPhone integration.
Access to CarPlay and Android Auto are also available via plugged in connection.
Due to the limitations of the 7.0-inch touchscreen, the MX-5 does not allow for the updated Mazda Connect infotainment system being rolled out across vehicles including the new Mazda CX-9, so it features the older, yet perfectly functional MZD system.
What’s it like to drive?
The Mazda MX-5 has always been a fun vehicle to pilot and the updated GT RS models offer drivers the same level of fun and track-focus without compromising on its refined sportscar characteristics.
Mazda elected to launch the MX-5 GT RS at the Broadford motorcycle circuit in Victoria, a tight circuit with short straights perfectly matched to the MX-5’s handling characteristics and power outputs.
In a direct comparison to the non-RS models, the Mazda MX-5 GT RS is clearly improved in key areas. Steering feels lighter and more direct, so there’s good feedback from the wheels and it was easy to place the car through Broadford’s corners. There’s convincing grip from the Bridgestone rubber while the Brembo package delivers confident braking performance, corner after corner, lap after lap.
Mazda promises 26 per cent less brake fade from the new set up, so anyone planning on regular track days shouldn’t need to think about carrying out their own upgrades.
Like the Mazda MX-5 we know and love, the GT RS is agile through cornering and well-balanced, making it the perfect track toy for both the track novice or the experienced weekend racer. Its sports set up is accessible without being too harsh so it will acquit itself as well on tarmac as it does on track.
The Mazda MX-5’s engine and six-speed manual gearbox are well paired, the GT RS model spending most of its time on the tight track in its long third gear. While the MX-5 doesn’t have the walloping power of a turbo or the raucous encouraging note of a sports exhaust, it still delivers an understated punch that equals smiles for miles. Thanks to its compelling ride and handling balance and well-matched drivetrain it’s an enjoyable challenge to progress through more and more laps to get the most from its sophisticated package.
What are the alternatives?
If you’re considering a rear-drive manual then there’s a few alternative options available but none are a really a direct competitor to the Mazda MX-5 GT RS. The Toyota 86 and Subaru BRZ each offers a higher output engine at a more affordable price point than the MX-5 but neither offers the drop top option, while the BMW Z4 entry model has a soft top with manual gearbox but at pricing which is near on double that of the MX-5 GT RS models. Also check out the Nissan 370Z which should be available in a variety of run out guises before its replacement arrives in 2022.
Check out our list of rear-drive manuals here.
The Bottom Line
Mazda says sales of the MX-5 were up last year as some buyers sought to reward themselves during a tough year.
Now that track days are back on for 2021, those buyers can get even more reward by tracking their car. Truth told, most novice track drivers will get as much out of the standard GT as they would the GT RS but for those drivers looking for more serious track chops, the Mazda MX-5 GT RS at its $3000 premium is definitely worth considering.