2013 Mazda MX-5 Review

$47,280 $52,010 Mrlp
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Is a near $50,000 asking price still worth it for this iconic roadster?

The second update to the third-generation Mazda MX-5 marks the final touches to the iconic roadster before an all-new generation hits the market in 2014.

The Mazda MX-5 has been around since 1989, and despite being on the market for more than two decades with essentially the same ‘lightweight fun convertible’ formula, it remains as exciting as ever.

The simple rear-wheel drive, front-engine open top philosophy has been a roaring success for the Hiroshima-based company, with the Mazda MX-5 having won a ton of awards in its time and gaining the status as the best selling two-seater convertible sports car in the world, with over 900,000 sold to date.

Despite all its past glory, times are different now. Since the global financial crisis a few years ago, sales of two-seater convertibles have literally plummeted to lows not seen during the MX-5’s long history. Nonetheless, and in credit to its appeal, the MX-5 has continued to account for at least 50 per cent of its recently shrinking segment.

But what have the Japanese done to entice buyers into the 2013 Mazda MX-5? A lot more than its looks would have you believe. From the outside it’s not all that different. The happy smiling face has been given a talking to, making it more edgy up front and the front licence plate bracket has been repositioned on a new, thinner and more aerodynamic front bumper – now also featuring more flare.

New alloy wheel designs are available for the base model roadster coupe, which starts from $47,280 ($80 more than before). The rear is pretty much identical while the interior has seen a colour change that has removed the chrome highlights for a darker and more European look that enhances the cabin’s appeal. Nonetheless, so far as facelifts go the 2013 Mazda MX-5 is a mild update over its predecessor.

The four-cylinder 2.0-litre engine continues unchanged, pumping out 118kW of power and 188Nm of torque. Transmission choices remain as six-speed automatic or manual, with the automatic’s gearing ratios allowing it to reach maximum power output at 6,700rpm, 300rpm quicker than the manual.

If you’re wondering what the MX-5’s unique selling point is, and what exactly you get for a near $50,000 two-seater convertible, the answer is lots of fun. The MX-5 can currently get away with its price tag given it remains the most affordable rear-wheel-drive sports convertible on the market.

Its closest rival is the much more powerful and performance-focused Nissan 370Z and if you don’t mind which end the power goes to but still crave something fun, the Mini Roadster is also thrown in to the competitors mix.

There’s no doubt that cars like the rear-wheel-drive Toyota 86 and its Subaru BRZ twin are pushing the MX-5 on performance credentials and fun factor, but neither offers an open-top experience (though we are pretty sure they will soon).

So while Mazda continues to be the dominant player in the two-seater convertible segment, the Mazda MX-5 remains a favourite of ours. It provides two comfortable seats and a well-designed cabin that will set the scene of many fond memories that one can only make in a convertible.

For this update the folks at Mazda have worked extensively on improving the brake and accelerator feel for a refined driving experience. On the manual models the accelerator pedal is now able to distinguish between the initial hard push and the continued effort that follows. The idea is that by being able to distinguish these two inputs into separate categories, the MX-5 can better understand what the driver wants and deliver the required engine output.

On the road, it’s hard to know how much this has improved the driving feel over the previous model, but it’s pretty obvious that, despite the work, it’s still begging for more raw power and torque. The 118kW and 188Nm from the 2.0-litre engine do a good job of moving the MX-5’s 1167kg kerb weight (which is roughly 1kg less than before), but an extra 30kW and 50Nm of torque would turn the MX-5 into a proper sports car and put it in the same league of enjoyment for the enthusiasts as the 86 and BRZ.

Around the mountainous roads of outer Gold Coast, where we reviewed the Mazda MX-5, it’s fair to say the two-seater roadster is a sincerely enjoyable car to steer. Pushed hard into a corner it behaves predictably with little sign of understeer or oversteer.

The brakes, which have a revised vacuum brake booster that help stablise it before a corner, are impressive and showed no sign of fade despite heavy use. The electronic nanny controls hardly come into play unless you’ve really made a fool of yourself and the old-school hydraulic steering system provides ample feedback when needed.

It all adds up to be the sort of car you can own and drive as a daily commuter to and from work and then, at a press of a button, take the roof off and go for an adventure on the weekend. It’s more that you’re buying a lifestyle than a performance convertible when you own an MX-5.

It’s nowhere near as hardcore and precise as an 86/BRZ in its driving feel, but there’s something about it that makes it still more fun to push into a corner. Perhaps it’s the open-air experience or maybe the raw and simple engineering or even the tight chassis that feels unshakable around bends. Whatever that X-factor maybe, it’s pretty obvious the MX-5 has appeal that goes well beyond its power and torque rating and specification sheet.

It does have its downsides, though. The cabin can be rather noisy with the roof in place and the steering wheel has a bit of play dead on centre. Then there’s the lack of technological features, such as Bluetooth connectivity of any kind or the unavailability of a satellite navigation system even as an option, which is unfortunate for a car wearing a 2013 model year badge.

There’s also no USB port, so the best you’re going to get is an old-school AUX input that would do the 1990s proud. Unlike many modern convertibles, the Mazda MX-5 still relies on a manual locking component to its roof but it’s simple and takes little effort.

Overall the Mazda MX-5 is a fantastic car. It’s starting to show its age, particularly on the technological front, but it remains as the most affordable (and most fun) rear-wheel-drive sports car convertible on the market.

If you’ve always wanted to own one and appreciate the look of the current shape, there’s never been a better time. This update puts the final engineering and cosmetic touches on the best MX-5 to date.

Mazda MX-5 Pricing

Mazda MX-5 Roadster Coupe 6-sp manual transmission $47,280
Mazda MX-5 Roadster Coupe 6-sp automatic transmission $49,405
Mazda MX-5 Roadster Coupe Sports 6-sp manual transmission $49,885
Mazda MX-5 Roadster Coupe Sports 6-sp automatic transmission $52,010