Even though it's getting on in years, the ND Mazda MX-5 still offers one of the purest and most joyful driving experiences out there.

Since the early 1990s, the Mazda MX-5 has been the synonymous affordable sports car that offers all the drop-top thrills you need, and that’s still very much the case today in 2023. Four generations deep and still timelessly popular, it doesn’t take long behind the wheel of one to see what all the fuss is about.

Any opportunity I get to drive one is easy to say yes to, and even with an update around the corner, I couldn’t turn down a go in this MY23 base model, although referring to it as a base model is perhaps a disservice since there’s not really such a thing as a lesser MX-5 these days.

The G20 Roadster you see here comes in at $39,060 before on-road costs and after eight years on sale and multiple updates scores most of the features any other model has, along with featuring the larger 2.0-litre engine after the cheaper 1.5-litre variants were killed off a few years ago.

The updates MY23 models score are quite minimal, it must be said, with the Zircon Sand paintwork of my tester being the most obvious. Factor in the worthwhile addition of wireless Apple CarPlay to its admittedly very dated 7.0-inch infotainment screen and it’s otherwise much like last year’s model. 

That means 17-inch black alloy wheels, automatic LED headlights, automatic wipers, a semi-digital instrument cluster, an auto-dimming rear-view mirror, and automatic climate control are all standard features on this entry-level variant. 

Do note also that 2024 models will feature some more prominent upgrades in the form of a new infotainment system, new headlights and taillights, new wheels, and optional Aero Grey paint and tan leather interior colours.

Of course, the Roadster variant also features a traditional manually-retractable soft-top rather than the powered targa roof arrangement of the RF models, but the soft-top is easily the pick of the two if you plan on regularly dropping the roof down. Sure, it’s considerably noisier on the freeway with the roof in place, and even more so in a rainstorm, but it’s so much faster and more convenient to operate – not to mention lighter as well – that the cost savings make it well worth it. 

Beyond those basic interior features, the base model is otherwise somewhat pared-back inside, with its basic manually-adjustable cloth seats and extensive plastic trim feeling a generation behind Mazda’s newer models – perhaps no surprise given the MX-5’s age. Mind you, the seats are somewhat waterproofed and the plastic is easy to clean after being exposed to the elements with the top down.

The MX-5 is unsurprisingly on the small side when it comes to practical considerations as well. There’s no glovebox or door pockets, although there is a decent lockable cubby between the seats and some basic movable cupholders, while the boot is just 130 litres with no spare tyre on any model.

But measuring the MX-5 by its luxuries or practicality would be like determining the best sprinter by throwing them all in an octagon to fight it out – it’s missing the point. With a naturally-aspirated 2.0-litre four-pot producing 135kW at 7000rpm and 205Nm at 4000rpm, a six-speed manual gearbox, rear-wheel drive with a limited-slip differential, and an overall weight of merely 1058kg, this is a car built purely for larking about in. Do note: if you opt for the six-speed automatic, there’s no LSD fitted, so even more reason to stick with the manual.

The sense of purity that an MX-5 delivers to you behind the wheel is simply unmatched among other cars these days – even its nearest rivals, the Toyota GR86 and Subaru BRZ twins. Light, quick, and nimble, it’s the sort of car that dances its way down the road. Its steering might not deliver the strongest amount of feeling, but there’s no denying that the weighting of it is ideal and there’s a clear knowledge that when you turn the wheel, you’ll know what not only the front wheels are doing but what the entire car is doing.

Unlike many sports cars, the suspension isn’t rock hard but instead soft and pliable. Not only does this make it superbly comfortable but it also allows a degree of handy body roll through the corners. While a car remaining spirit level flat through the bends can be an advantage at times, in this you can use the weight transfer to your advantage – especially when it comes to getting the tail-end to step out which it will happily and confidently do. 

While it’s not the last word in speed, the 2.0-litre is still the ideal engine for it. There’s easily enough in the way of accessible torque and top-end power for a car this light, while it’s so understressed it uses next-to-no fuel either. I saw a return of just 6.8L/100km over the course of 749km which is undoubtedly impressive for a sports car. Between that, the comfortable ride, and its diminutive proportions making it so easy to park, it makes for a great daily driver so long as you don’t require more than two seats. 

Like all other Mazda models, the 2023 MX-5 is covered by a five-year unlimited kilometre warranty. It’s also covered by lifetime capped-price servicing, with 2023 ushering in a lengthened 12-month/15,000km service interval for petrol Mazdas. Expect to pay $2114 in total ($423 average) over the course of the first five services.

Ultimately, it’s hard not to love Mazda’s plucky little convertible. There are few driving experiences out there these days that feel this pure and joyous, and for the money you won’t find thrills like this elsewhere.

Sure, it’s getting a bit old at this point and next year’s refresh is well overdue, but as it stands the MX-5 still feels like the classic British roadster throwback it was always intended to be. I challenge you to get behind the wheel of one of these and not smile – trust me, it’s impossible.

2023 Mazda MX-5 G20 Roadster Manual List Price: $39,060
  • 7.5/10
    Performance - 7.5/10
  • 8.5/10
    Ride & Handling - 8.5/10
  • 7/10
    Tech & Features - 7/10
  • 7/10
    Practicality - 7/10
  • 8/10
    Value for Money - 8/10

Pros: Joyous driving experience, comfortable and pliable ride quality, affordable and economical, you’re not missing out on much by getting the base model
Cons: Outdated cabin feel and interior technology, outclassed by the GR86/BRZ when it comes to performance, there’s a facelift right around the corner

In a nutshell: Mazda’s affordable British roadster throwback is still just as joyous to drive as it ever has been. Ignore the score on this one – the MX-5 gets a 10/10 for its fun factor.

Full Disclosure: The vehicle tested here was provided by Mazda Australia for one week with a full tank of fuel. All additional fuel costs were covered by the author.

Patrick Jackson
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