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Driven: Mazda MX-5 RF 2020MY. Image by Mazda UK.

Driven: Mazda MX-5 RF 2020MY
Mild tweaks for the 2020MY on what remains a thoroughly smashing, affordable sports car.

   



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Mazda MX-5 RF 184 2020MY

4.5 4.5 4.5 4.5 4.5

Good points: the ND MX-5 is stunning in almost all formats, provided you avoid the autobox

Not so good: not sure how you tell a 2020MY car from a 2019MY car

Key Facts

Model tested: Mazda MX-5 RF 2.0 184 Sport Tech
Price: MX-5 2020MY range from 23,795; RF 184 Sport Tech from 30,305, car as tested 31,095
Engine: 2.0-litre Skyactiv-G four-cylinder petrol
Transmission: six-speed manual, rear-wheel drive with limited-slip differential
Body style: two-door folding-hardtop roadster
CO2 emissions: 155g/km (VED Band 151-170: 540 in year one, then 150 annually thereafter)
Combined economy: 40.9mpg
Top speed: 137mph
0-62mph: 6.8 seconds
Power: 184hp at 7,000rpm
Torque: 205Nm at 4,000rpm
Boot space: 127 litres

Our view:

Tweaking and tinkering - that's what Mazda likes to do. Not for this singular Japanese company is the usual model cycle of seven years, with perhaps one big facelift in the middle and maybe a few new engines or interior trims here or there during said period. Instead, it seems to update its cars almost every six months. Which is only odd because, by and large, Mazda makes some cracking vehicles that don't really need much remedial work doing to them in order to get them 'right'.

And so, here's the 2020 model year version of the redoubtable Mazda MX-5, arriving on the scene five years since the fourth-generation ND debuted. Don't be expecting wholesale, sweeping changes, though; in fact, in terms of the structure of visual features, nothing has been altered at all and neither have the two drivetrains. That means there's a 1.5-litre engine to choose and also this fabulous 184hp 2.0-litre, which was introduced for the 2019MY cars (along with a reach-and-rake adjustable steering column).

What Mazda has done is tidied up the range hierarchy. There are four trim grades, which run SE-L, Sport, Sport Tech and then GT Sport Tech, the last of these being the 'new' specification for 2020. You can only have the 1.5-litre motor in the SE-L and Sport cars, and similarly the 2.0-litre powerplant is wedded solely to the Sport Tech and GT Sport Tech variants. The Convertible MX-5, irrespective of engine size or trim grade, comes only with a six-speed manual gearbox; the Retractable Fastback, as driven here, can be optionally specified with a six-speed automatic on the 2.0-litre derivatives. Although, having driven a German-registered 184 RF automatic at Mazda's 100th anniversary heritage drives event in late summer, we would advise you to steer clear of the two-pedal MX-5. It's not a bad car, as it goes; it's just that it's not as exceptional to drive as a manual.

So, back to the 2020MY changes. Go for a GT Sport Tech and you get 17-inch BBS alloy wheels, plus attractive Burgundy Nappa leather upholstery. Meanwhile, across the whole range, there's a new body colour available (Polymetal Grey metallic), and every car from Sport grade upwards has an enhanced suite of safety-assist systems, the roster reading Front Smart City Brake Support, Lane Departure Warning System, Rear Smart City Brake Support, Traffic Sign Recognition and Driver Attention Alert at a minimum. Step up to the Sport Tech or GT Sport Tech models, and items such as a Blind Spot Monitoring System with Rear Cross-Traffic Alert, Adaptive LED headlights and a reversing camera are all loaded in too. Finally, i-Eloop kinetic energy recovery and i-Stop automatic stop-start technology are now standard-fit across the board.

Got all that? Good. And now you're wondering what these changes mean for the way the MX-5 Mk4 2020MY goes about its business. The news, and you can take this as good or bad if you want, is that the alterations do precisely nothing of note to the Mazda sports car. Which is to say it is as sublime as it ever was, especially in 184hp guise as tested here, 'our' RF being a Sport Tech with a useful bundle of equipment and a price tag just drifting beyond 31 grand (metallic paint being the only option, at 790). Frankly, looking at the news release on the 2020MY MX-5s put out by Mazda UK, we could probably have had a guess at how the revised car drove, but when you're invited to have a 2.0-litre MX-5 for a week of blisteringly hot, sunny weather, it'd be kind of rude to say 'no', wouldn't it?

Yes, we suffer for our art. Ahem. Anyway, this 2020MY Sport tech was every bit as edifying and wonderful as the last 184hp RF we drove. Like any 2.0-litre MX-5, it has a front strut brace, the limited-slip differential on the rear axle and a set of Bilstein dampers, all of which make it feel sharper and more hunkered-down than a 1.5-litre model. That wondrous, crisp, zingy, rev-happy 184hp motor also continues to delight, as it fizzes round to 7,000rpm oh-so-happily and has no trouble shifting the 1,169kg mass of the RF. You also get the excellent soundtrack and the stronger performance too, this enhanced model running 0-62mph six-tenths of a second quicker than the previous 160hp range-topper, with a 6.8-second sprint all-in.

But speed and power aren't the MX-5's forte; rather, it's the sublime chassis balance and the spectacular ease-of-use that the Mazda brings to the sports car party. Show the 2020MY MX-5 RF the right road, and it will thrill and delight you as the driver in equal measure, with just enough suppleness in the suspension to let it breathe with lumpen surfaces, without it ever feeling too soft and wallowy in the process. Also, never forget the Mazda has one of the best manual gearbox shift actions in the business - it's an absolute jewel of a thing that positively invites you to make multiple needless changes, simply to revel in its positive, mechanical feel. And yet, on a motorway or steady dual-carriageway cruise, the MX-5 RF feels every inch the mini-GT. It can lope along quite happily and comfortably in such circumstances, and it even returned a quite astonishing 49.9mpg best economy figure with us - while 33.3mpg across 190 miles of testing is more than commendable for a nat-asp 2.0-litre that was, um, being enjoyed on a frequent basis.

So no, the 2020MY changes don't really change much about the MX-5. About the easiest way to make the Mazda stand out immediately as the latest model is to go orange with it, but even that doesn't quite work because the 30th Anniversary was a 2019MY car. You see? Always tweaking. Always tinkering. It's sometimes hard to keep up with all of Mazda's multitudinous model updates. But one thing constantly remains the same: the Mazda MX-5 is one of the finest sports cars of any shape, size or price that's currently available. Blinding.

Alternatives:

Abarth 124 Spider: you can have the Italianised, turbocharged version of the MX-5 if you want... except for the fact that, due to slow sales, FCA is no longer producing the 124 in any form. Oh. Damn.

BMW Z4 sDrive20i: BMW's 2.0-litre roadster is a lot more money, doesn't look as nice, has a far less charismatic engine (albeit, it's a more powerful one) and a chassis which lacks the finesse of the MX-5. So, er... stick with the Mazda, then. Yes.

Toyota Supra 2.0: there's a 2.0-litre version of Toyota's revived Supra on the way and, as production of the Big T's more-affordable first-gen GT86 is now at an end, the four-pot Supra is about as close as you'll get to an MX-5; minus the folding roof, of course. But it costs 46k. Yikes!


Matt Robinson - 3 Jul 2020



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2020 Mazda MX-5 RF 184. Image by Mazda UK.2020 Mazda MX-5 RF 184. Image by Mazda UK.2020 Mazda MX-5 RF 184. Image by Mazda UK.2020 Mazda MX-5 RF 184. Image by Mazda UK.2020 Mazda MX-5 RF 184. Image by Mazda UK.

2020 Mazda MX-5 RF 184. Image by Mazda UK.2020 Mazda MX-5 RF 184. Image by Mazda UK.2020 Mazda MX-5 RF 184. Image by Mazda UK.2020 Mazda MX-5 RF 184. Image by Mazda UK.2020 Mazda MX-5 RF 184. Image by Mazda UK.








 

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