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First drive: Mazda MX-5 30th Anniversary Edition. Image by Mazda UK.

First drive: Mazda MX-5 30th Anniversary Edition
The Mazda MX-5 turns 30 this year and has gone the full ‘David Dickinson’ on us to celebrate.

   



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Mazda MX-5 30th Anniversary Edition

4.5 4.5 4.5 4.5 4.5

Mazda gives us the fourth 'Anniversary Edition' in the life of the near-legendary MX-5, this one celebrating the fact the rear-drive roadster has reached the big three-oh. But with a £3,000 premium over its Sport Nav+ source material and a garish orange paint job about the only thing to show for it, is the MX-5 30th Anniversary Edition cause to throw a party or a bit of a damp squib?

Test Car Specifications

Model tested: Mazda MX-5 30th Anniversary Edition
Pricing: MX-5 range from £19,495; 30th Anniversary Edition £28,095 (Roadster) or £29,895 (RF)
Engine: 2.0-litre four-cylinder petrol
Transmission: rear-wheel drive with limited-slip differential, six-speed manual
Body style: two-door roadster
CO2 emissions: 156g/km (VED Band 151-170: £530 first 12 months, then £145 annually thereafter)
Combined economy: 40.9mpg
Top speed: 136mph
0-62mph: 6.5 seconds
Power: 184hp at 7,000rpm
Torque: 205Nm at 4,000rpm
Boot space: 130 litres

What's this?

Thirty years old, eh? It doesn't seem real, but yup - Mazda launched its seminal MX-5 way back in 1989. In the intervening period, it has gone on to become the best-selling two-seater sports car in history; the only sporty vehicle of any shape which has outsold it is the Porsche 911, and that's only because the German has the benefit of an additional 26 years on sale on its side. In short, the MX-5 is a phenomenal success.

We're now onto the fourth generation of the MX-5 and, some might say, the best. OK, enthusiasts are going to argue that the Mazda's lightweight purity has been diluted ever since the pop-ups-toting Mk1 'NA' went the way of the warrior in 1997, but the Mk4 - when launched in 2015 - was said to have gone back to its roots, as evinced by it weighing less than a tonne in 1.5-litre form.

Anyway, whatever the merits of having a long, lengthy and frankly tedious discussion about NA v NB v NC v ND, here we are at the MX-5's 30th birthday. Now, anyone who has followed the MX-5 story will know this is a car which has been turned into more special editions over the years than there have been ropey episodes of The Simpsons since Maude Flanders carked it, but - to MX-5 fans - there are three to covet and they are the Anniversary Editions. Launched in 1999, 2009 and 2014, you can probably do the simple math (MATHS!) that means these were the 10th AE, 20th AE and 25th AE, the first based on a Mk2 and the next two on a Mk3.

The 10th Anniversary Edition was a 1.8i six-speed car finished in Innocent Blue Mica and equipped with various accoutrements, with a limited-build numbering plaque on the driver's side only. There's some confusion over the 20th Anniversary Edition, because a Japan-only version based on the home market RS was launched in 2009 and featured black-and-red Recaro seats to contrast its white exterior, while a watered-down European example (this time a 1.8 SE with cloth seats) appeared in 2010. Finally, the 25th Anniversary Edition was an RC in Soul Red Premium metallic paint, once again fitted with a few choice toys and styling touches. Global build numbers for these were 7,500 of the 10th AE, 2,000 of the JDM 20th AE and 1,000 of the 25th AE, although 750 of the last of these came to the UK, given our rapacious appetite for the MX-5.

Thus, this 30th Anniversary Edition follows the same basic tenets: limited build numbers, unusual colour scheme, build plaque on one side of the body, smattering of extra kit. It comes with the more powerful 184hp 2.0-litre motor only, is available as a Roadster (tested here) for £28,095 or as the RF hard-top for £29,895, and just 3,000 will be made for the entire planet. Of these, 550 will come to the UK, in a mix of 370 Roadsters and 180 RFs. As a soft-top, it is based on the £25,095 Sport Nav+ 2.0 model, to which is added the eye-catching Racing Orange paint (exclusive to the 30th AE), orange detailing liberally applied throughout a cabin sporting a couple of Recaros and lots of Alcantara, a set of 17-inch Rays alloy wheels in gunmetal finish, Apple CarPlay and Android Auto to the MZD Connect infotainment, Brembo front brakes (in orange, natch, complemented by Nissin rear brakes also in, yes, orange), '30th Anniversary' floor mats and an external build plaque. The price for this little lot, and the AE's dash of exclusivity, is three grand. Worth the extra?

How does it drive?

As orange is indeed the only fruit when it comes down to how the 30th Anniversary Edition looks, whether or not you like this MX-5's gaudy appearance is going to be the biggest driver as to whether you feverishly lap it up or deem it to be a missed opportunity. That AE MX-5s tend to be sought after by collectors later in life is probably neither here nor there, and we could easily make the point that maybe the grand occasion of the car's 30th year should have been enough to prompt Mazda to go to town on its sports-car icon and give it more power/notable mechanical upgrades as its star birthday presents.

This might sound like we have something of a downer on the 30th AE, but we can assure you that we don't. Its enormous saving grace is that, underneath it all, it's a 2.0-litre Sport Nav+ MX-5 Mk4... which means, as modern sports car go, that it's utterly, utterly brilliant to drive. Yes, yes, it is precisely no more nor no less brilliant to drive than the £3,000-cheaper Sport Nav+, of course, but it is a limited model and the interior does feel rather special and, dammit, we adore the Racing Orange paint - even if, as you might otherwise suspect, it has nothing to do with a certain Renown-liveried Le Mans racer from 1991 (hint: look up '787B').

As we said last time we drove this updated 184hp 2.0-litre engine, it once and for all settles the debate over which motor is the best for the Mk4. As wonderfully sweet and free-revving as the 132hp 1.5 is, this bigger unit is an absolute gem and now the no-brainer selection for the ND MX-5. It revs almost every bit as smoothly as the 1.5 but it layers on top serious urgency in the acceleration stakes; snick your way through the first three ratios of the quite glorious six-speed manual (tight throw, perfect weighting, lovely mechanical action, aided and abetted by pedals which make heel-and-toe downshifts nearly impossible to mess up) and take it out to the 7,500rpm redline, and you're greeted with hot-hatch pace and a terrific normally aspirated soundtrack.

It also handles like any self-respecting MX-5 should, which is to say magnificently. Even on the Sport's tougher Bilstein dampers and with a strut brace under the bonnet, the Mazda is still reasonably softly set-up but the pitch, dive and roll it presents are all ideally judged to let the driver know precisely what the chassis is up to at any given moment. Nice bite from the front Brembos (these anchors being a first on UK MX-5s) makes stopping power seem a bit over-specified for a car which weighs a scanty 1,124kg, while the steering is wonderful - not too light, not to heavy, accurate and darty, and possessed of some genuine feel too. It all adds up to a car which you can either row along at maximum revs, revelling in the engine's hard-edged voice and pull and the chassis' fabulous balance, or one which you can short-shift in the mid-range to remain reasonably brisk on straights while carrying as much speed as you dare through the bends, or a vehicle in which you can just kick back, because relaxed driving with the hood down is almost as rewarding as full-bore attack. Drive a machine as complete and rounded as the MX-5 30th Anniversary Edition and you'll understand that sports cars are rarely as talented, likeable and excellent as this.

Verdict

Look, the 30th Anniversary Edition is a £3,000 styling exercise with a soupcon of possible future collectible status mixed in; we can't give it full marks overall because, with our sensible financial heads on, there are better-value Mk4 MX-5s in the line-up. And beyond this, you might lament the fact that Mazda didn't do more with it to celebrate the MX-5s illustrious 30th birthday. You might prefer the 1.5-litre engine. You might think orange is a ghastly colour choice; it isn't, of course, but we understand why you might be that way inclined. But if none of these things bother you too much, then this is, quite simply, a majestic sports car and a little piece of motoring history, all bundled up into a distinctive and sub-£30,000 package. Hard to resist when it's put like that, eh?

4.5 4.5 4.5 4.5 4.5 Exterior Design

4 4 4 4 4 Interior Ambience

3.5 3.5 3.5 3.5 3.5 Passenger Space

2.5 2.5 2.5 2.5 2.5 Luggage Space

4.5 4.5 4.5 4.5 4.5 Safety

4 4 4 4 4 Comfort

5 5 5 5 5 Driving Dynamics

5 5 5 5 5 Powertrain


Matt Robinson - 23 Jul 2019



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2019 Mazda MX-5 30th Anniversary Edition. Image by Mazda UK.2019 Mazda MX-5 30th Anniversary Edition. Image by Mazda UK.2019 Mazda MX-5 30th Anniversary Edition. Image by Mazda UK.2019 Mazda MX-5 30th Anniversary Edition. Image by Mazda UK.2019 Mazda MX-5 30th Anniversary Edition. Image by Mazda UK.

2019 Mazda MX-5 30th Anniversary Edition. Image by Mazda UK.2019 Mazda MX-5 30th Anniversary Edition. Image by Mazda UK.2019 Mazda MX-5 30th Anniversary Edition. Image by Mazda UK.2019 Mazda MX-5 30th Anniversary Edition. Image by Mazda UK.2019 Mazda MX-5 30th Anniversary Edition. Image by Mazda UK.








 

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