2014 Mazda MX-5 Roadster Coupe 2.0i Sport Venture Review – Fun Motoring Since 1989

An absolute joy to drive, brilliant handling, time-tested reliability, good price

High wind and road noise at motorway speeds, very little storage space

Mazda MX-5?

The Mazda MX-5 (or Mazda Miata in the USA, and Mazda Eunos Roadster in Japan) has now been on the go since 1989, and is officially the best-selling two-seater sportscar in the world.

The Mazda MX-5 (or Mazda Miata in the USA, and Mazda Eunos Roadster in Japan) has now been on the go since 1989, and is officially the best-selling two-seater sportscar in the world with an impressive 940,000 sold to date (May 2014). It’s easy to see why Mazda sell so many of their dinky sportscar;

just ask any owner of any model and they’ll happily tell you that not only is it one of the best-handling cars around, but that the engine is utterly reliable, they’re cheap to run and maintain and they’re also a bargain price too. We were sent the 2014 Mazda MX-5 Roadster Coupe 2.0i Sport Venture to review and find out whether this little car is as good as they say…

Exterior. Butt ugly or beauty?

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I’ve always liked the MX-5, and the first generation version is truly beautiful in form, with all the character and allure of a small Italian or British sportscar (albeit with reliability). The original dimensions were 3,970 mm (156″) in length, 1,675 mm (65.9″) in width, and 1,235 mm (48.6″) in height, and while many cars have bulked up massively since their original versions, Mazda had to be very careful when modernising their MX-5, as keeping the excellent power-to-weight ratio, near-perfect 50/50 weight distribution and loveable appearance was highly important.

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Sticking to the original design philosophy, even with this 2014 model, Mazda have added just 50 millimetres to its length, 45 mm to the width and 10 mm to its height so it’s still a very small car. For 2014, the MX-5 appears more powerful and muscular than the original, with flared wheel arches, a prominent power bulge in the bonnet, a wide, grinning grille and low chin spoiler plus bigger front light clusters.

My personal favourite angle of the MX-5 is side-on. Roof up it looks good, but drop the top and you can see it has absolutely perfect dimensions. While I really like the design overall, each and every time I see it from the side I go all misty-eyed; I am utterly smitten. Bellissima! The rear is still highly similar to the original though, and it’s a beautiful derrière from whichever angle you view it. It’s simple, uncluttered.

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We tested the Roadster Coupe version with the folding hard top, and as I’m not a huge fan of rag-top convertibles this version suits me just fine. You’ve the best of both worlds, as it’s likely to offer more rigidity to the frame than the fabric-roofed version, plus it’ll be quieter, safer if it turns over and finally you’re not going to get the dreaded jealously-driven vandal slashes in it. The Sport Venture edition MX-5 we tested gets its own colour choice (of two), 17-inch bright-finish alloy wheels and silver-coloured wing mirrors.

The 2014 Mazda MX-5 is a car with a true-blood sports design. It is enticing, and simply taking in its curves and lines conjures up visions of what it would actually be like to drive. In short: for myself, and many others, the MX-5 fully encompasses the essence of what a sports car should look like.

Interior. Neat or nothing special?

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Peak inside the cabin of the MX-5, and you’ll notice there’s a sea of grey and black coloured trim to contend with. Aside from the occasional piece of satin-finished aluminium surrounding the air vents, door handles, driver’s instruments, gear gaiter, and a couple of controls, it’s very much dark in there. Strangely though, this look seems to suit the MX-5. After all, this is a drivers car through-and-through, and the less distraction the better. It’s almost like Mazda is stating that you don’t need blingy bits, as you should be staring out of the ‘screen at the road ahead.

While Japanese-designed car interiors tend to be utterly devoid of any soul, weirdly for all the slightly bland grey and black trim the MX-5’s cabin still managed to give me a warm, fuzzy feeling each time I slid behind the steering wheel. It’s a snug little place, but not claustrophobic or stifling and neither is it unlikable or bad to look at, regardless of the lack of colour. With the MX-5 Sport Venture Edition, you do get a little coloration though, in the form of some rather lovely-looking (and surprisingly comfortable) ‘Stone Leather’ seats which actually make the car appear more expensive than it is. Several people guessed well above the MX-5’s asking price, but more on that later.

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The layout of the interior has clearly had a good amount of thought put into it as all controls are driver-oriented, and within easy reach without getting distracted from the job at hand. Considering the very reasonable price of the MX-5 Sport Venture, it sports luxuries such as leather seats with 5-stage heating, air conditioning, an auto-dimming rear-view mirror plus heated electric side mirrors, a 6.1 inch touchscreen Mazda satellite navigation and multimedia system (which includes an auxiliary input and USB slot), as well as Bluetooth for calls and music – which sound good through the six speaker system.

The system is user-friendly and the satnav is decent, although the graphics for that looked slightly outdated.

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Although the cabin is only small and hence storage capacity limited, Mazda have been innovative with the room available by dotting handy little storage areas around the cabin, putting proper-sized cup holders in the doors and including a little cubby hole between the rear seats, which has enough space to hold a couple of baseball caps and a couple of pairs of sunglasses, which are needed once you drop the roof and the sun blazes down.

WIth just 150 litres of boot space, it doesn’t look like there’s a lot of room on inspection. However, it’s fairly deep and you tend to become an expert at packing gear in there, and it’s surprising how much stuff you can actually get in it. There’s certain space for a couple of large weekend bags or rucksacks plus a couple of pairs of hiking boots, and you may even be able to squeeze in a medium-large suitcase (on its own).

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Note-worthy is that every panel, trim piece and any switchgear was constructed really well. Nothing rattles or feels overly cheap or downmarket in the MX-5, and yes it may be a tad bland overall, but what you do get is an interior that’ll last the test of time very well. It all adds up to give confidence that Mazda have been through in making sure everything in the MX-5 cabin works exceptionally well each and every time.

Something I absolutely love are the exceptionally cool old-school silver-on-black analogue dials. A large rev counter and speedo dominate, with  three smaller dials for fuel, water temp and an oil pressure gauge at the top between the two larger ones, which flicks and dances merrily during times when you’re on and off the accelerator hard. Their simple design harks back to the days of classic sportcars, and they’re definitely my favourite feature in the MX-5 cabin.

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Dropping the roof of the Mazda is an easy affair:  pull a lever in the front centre of the roof to unlock it, then push a button on the dash and it’ll folds down into place in a quick 12 seconds. It’s an impressive display as an entire rear panel lifts directly up to allow the roof to pack itself in neatly, before dropping back into place to hide it all. My only wish is that it would do that whilst travelling, like the Jaguar F-Type Convertibles does, rather than having to stop completely.

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A final point: Safety-wise, the MX-5 features front and side airbags plus the body structure has Mazda Advanced Impact Distribution and Absorption System (MAIDAS) engineering, and on the exterior the MX-5 has an active bonnet system which rises on impact with a pedestrian to have a degree of cushioning and lower the severity of an injury. With the EU constantly throwing ever-more strict legislation at manufacturers regarding pedestrian safety, these types of systems show Mazda are already on the ball with it.

Engine & gearbox

The MX-5 is offered with two petrol engines: a 1.8 or 2.0 litre engine. Both are lightweight all-alloy units with four-cylinders (in-line), DOHC (double overhead cam) and are naturally-aspirated . The soft-top MX-5 is available only with the 1.8 version and a 5-speed manual transmission. Output is 126 horsepower at 6,500 rpm with 123 lb ft (167 Nm) of torque at 4,500 rpm and the 0 – 62 mph run is done in 9.9 seconds. While these aren’t exactly earth-shattering figures, the 1.8 is apparently an extremely fun car to drive thanks to the ability to thrash it hard without going anywhere near licence-losing speeds.

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The more powerful 2.0 litre ‘MZR’ engine in the Roader Coupe Sport Venture is the one we had, and boasts a load of techy engineering to achieve rev-happiness regularly without it breaking, including a ‘forged crankshaft, fully floating pistons with higher pin-boss reliability, revised valve springs that suppress valve high-rev bounce, and higher-durability materials for the connecting rod bearings‘. You can have the 2.0 litre MX-5 with either a 6-speed manual or six-speed ‘Powershift’ automatic with paddle shifters.

Power from the two litre unit is quoted as 160 bhp at 7,000 rpm, and 139 lb ft (188 Nm) of torque at 5,000 rpm, and you’ll hit 62 miles-per-hour from zero in a respectable 7.9 seconds before going on to 136 mph. Official EU Fuel consumption stats (in UK mpg) are: urban: 25.9, extra urban: 46.3 and combined: 36.2. CO2 emissions are 181 g/km, which is fairly high for a comparatively small-engined car with modern tech, but with Mazda rolling out their Skyactiv tech across the range soon, that figure will no doubt drop with the next model.

Ready to roll? Let’s drive!

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The Mazda MX-5 is all about the drive. And it drives brilliantly. Turn the key in the ignition (no push-button nonsense here) and the 2.0 litre engine fires into life without hesitation, ticking over quickly as it warms. The revs drop, I select first gear using the stubby shifter, release the light-but-positive clutch pedal and we’re off, the MX-5 instantly feeling eager and ready to play from the moment it pulls away.

I think the MX-5 made me smile quicker than any other cars I’ve tested, bar none, as by the time I’d got into third gear I was already grinning from ear to ear. For starters, shifting gears is a joy as the travel between them is short, and changes are precise and slick as you click from gear to gear. The ratios are short and looking back I thought you’d have to work the engine hard and shift gears a lot in city traffic to get anywhere, but the opposite is true. Thanks to the short ratios the car accelerates decently even at lower revs and it’s perfectly well behaved at low speeds, making travelling in heavier traffic no problem at all.

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Stuff the city. The MX-5’s stomping ground is out on country roads. It needs to breath some of that fresh country air and stretch its legs on narrow bands of winding tarmac. Accelerating out of the town limits I floor the accelerator and am greeted by that wonderful noise that only a naturally-aspirated car can produce. Mazda state that the ‘surge tank, intake ducts and the exhaust system [have been] engineered to act as sound-creating elements‘ plus other stuff to make the sound it sound sweet, but either way there’s the sound of many mechanical bits working hard as I push the MX-5, the rev counter climbing up and up, before I drop the clutch, shift up a gear and re-boot the accelerator to do it all again.

Looking at the speedometer you’ll see the acceleration isn’t exactly mind-boggling, but because you’re sat so low to the ground it actually feels much faster than reality – a bit like when you drive a classic Mini. While you may may be thinking that because it ‘only’ has 160 horsepower it’ll be slow, it’s actually not. Remember the Mazda is a small, light car with a kerb weight of just 1,173 kilograms (2,586 lbs) minus the driver, so there’s not a whole load of power needed to get the little thing moving at a decent pace.

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Fun only begins to describe the experience of driving the Mazda MX-5! Heck, we haven’t even described the handling yet. And what handling! The MX-5 feels utterly awesome through the bends. Because there’s not a huge amount of power, you can plant the accelerator hard without the fear that you’ll end up flying off into a ditch. The MX-5 sticks to the road like glue, and there’s the most glorious feeling as I aim the Mazda’s nose around a long corner, pushing the throttle further and further towards the floor, rewarded only with ultra-direct and accurate feedback from the steering wheel, and with the car gripping the road beautifully I fly out of the bend whooping with joy. Of every car I’ve tested, this humble little MX-5 is one of the most rewarding I have ever driven.

Why is it this good though? For starters there’s a perfect 50:50 weight distribution, alongside a front-engined, rear-wheel-drive setup that sports a limited slip differential. The chassis is super-stiff too, with framing in the transmission tunnel that forms a rigid connection between the transmission and rear differential, suppressing chassis deformation during hard driving. The double-wishbone front and multi-link rear suspension system is really well set up, and while of course there’s a degree of firmness over bad road surfaces, it flows well over humps and bumps while also allowing the MX-5 to be pushed hard through the bends.

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While having fun is what the Mazda MX-5 is focussed on, it also cruises well too. The seats are comfortable, there’s a decent stereo system and the engine doesn’t struggle at all with the higher speeds, the cruise control making long journeys even easier. My only gripe is that there’s quite a lot of wind and road noise at motorway speeds, but it’s nothing too unbearable and it’s a small price for such a great car. Should it rain hard, you’d be right to be concerned driving a rear-drive car, but the Mazda has some good computer tech to keep it pointing straight: ABS, electronic brakeforce distribution (EBD), dynamic stability control (DSC) with traction control (TCS) are all included.

There’s nothing more to say about the way the Mazda MX-5 drives, other than it is absolutely outstanding. I don’t think it needs any more power or torque as the balance is spot-on, and whether you’re in slow city traffic, plodding down a motorway or charging down your favourite stretch of twisting tarmac the MX-5 does it all really well. ‘Nuff said? I think so.

Price

(Prices as of June ’14) The MX-5 starts at just less than £18,500 and goes up to £23,700 for the MX-5 Powershift. Strangely enough, the highly-spec’d Sport Venture 2.0i manual is well over a £1,000 less. Either way, whichever of the models you can afford you’ll still end up loving it, and I think it’s really well priced and you get a lot for your money. People who went in our Roadster Coupe Sport Venture version were guessing the price as £26,000+, showing that it doesn’t look or feel cheap inside or out.

The MX-5 doesn’t really have any convertible rivals within its price bracket.  The closest are the BMW Z4 Roadster starting at £27,700, and the Mercedes-Benz SLK-Class for just over £33k for the base model.

Mazda MX-5 Roadster Coupe 2.0i Sport Venture verdict & score

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The MX-5 has earned its well-deserved stripes over the past twenty-five years as being one of the most pure and undiluted two-seat sports cars around. It’s survived the test of time well, and as well as hundreds of thousands of very happy owners who’ll happily praise the car to the max for its drive and handling, it also has a brilliant record for bulletproof reliability.

If you love driving in its purest form, and want a car that’ll give you the maximum of smiles per mile at a comparatively low price, then the Mazda MX-5 is what you’ll want. Personally, I love the MX-5 and it’ll take something rather special to beat its fun factor.

Do you own a Mazda MX-5? What are your views on it, and what are the best and worst points? Share your thoughts and leave a comment below!

Exterior  8
Interior  6.5
Engine  7.5
Gearbox  8
Price  8
Handling & ride  9
Drive  8
Overall Score  8.0 / 10

Specs

Model (as tested)  2014 Mazda MX-5 Roadster Coupe 2.0i Sport Venture
Spec includes  17″ alloy wheels, powered retractable roof, cruise control, climate control, stone leather 5-stage heated seats, front & side airbags, ABS EBD, TCS, DSC,  6.1″ Alpine touch-screen navigation with bluetooth. See website for more info
Options you should spec  Sebring sports exhaust: £411, rear diffuser: £212
The Competition  N/A
Price  (June 2014): £22,695
Engine  All-alloy 2.0i litre naturally-aspirated petrol, in-line 4-cylinder, DOHC
Power, Torque  160 bhp @ 7,000 rpm | 139 lb ft (188 Nm) @ 5,000 rpm
Drive, Gears (as tested)  Rear-wheel drive | 6-speed manual
Top Speed, 0 – 60 mph, Euro NCAP  Max speed (limited): 136 mph | 0 – 62 mph: 7.9 seconds | Euro NCAP rating: New model not tested yet
Fuel economy (UK mpg), CO2  Urban: 25.9, Extra urban: 46.3, Combined: 36.2 | CO2: 181 g/km
Weight (kerb)  (Includes 75kg driver) 1,248 kg’s (2,751 lbs)
Websites  Mazda UK, Mazda USA, Mazda global

Words: Chris Davies | Photography: Chris Davies, Matthew Davies

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