Mazda MX-5 (ND) | PH Used Buying Guide

The ND was a return to glory for the MX-5 – but not without its problems. Find out how to spot them here

By Tony Middlehurst / Sunday, April 18, 2021 / Loading comments

Key considerations

  • Available for £11,000
  • 1.5- or 2.0-litre 16v inline four petrol, rear-wheel drive
  • Lighter, shorter
  • Fast in corners rather than in a straight line
  • Steel-roofed RF doesn’t add much to the MX-5 legend
  • Some gearbox issues

Search for a used ND Mazda MX-5 here

OVERVIEW

The MX-5 is easily the world’s best-selling two-seat roadster, with over a million new ones bought since they breezily bounced onto the market in 1989, and it’s not hard to see why. It took the idea of a small, fun to drive roadster that had been conceived but imperfectly executed in the Austin Healey Sprite and the Lotus Elan and added two key ingredients: reliability and low running costs. 

The fourth ND version of the MX-5 that arrived in 2015 was heavily promoted by Mazda as a return to the good old days of the first NA. That marketing approach wasn’t lost on those who thought that the preceding NC, and to a lesser extent the NB before it, had lost some essential MX-5-ness somewhere along the line. For a more considered view on the relationship between the NA and the ND, why not take a squint at our Matt’s excellent piece on that very subject. 

Whatever your view on it, there was no arguing about how successful the ND was in repackaging and refining the MX-5’s most appealing core attributes. The ND was shorter, and not just than the NC either. It was 55mm stubbier than the NA while somehow feeling more spacious than any other MX-5. It was simple, and it was light. Indeed, in something of a turnaround from normal automotive practice, it was actually lighter than its predecessor. The NC was hardly lardy, but Mazda’s weight-saving ‘gram strategy’ which left no component unscrutinised stripped a whopping 100kg from the ND. We’ll shortly get on to the drivetrain’s part in trimming the fat, but elsewhere in the car the use of aluminium for the front knuckle and upper and lower suspension arms knocked 12kg off on their own. The cloth roof was 3kg lighter and even easier to deploy.

The sheet metal was reworked, always a tricky operation in such a well established and well loved car, but Mazda pulled that off well, giving the ND a distinctive, shaper-edged new identity. The interior was a clever adaptation of Mazda’s corporate design at that time, taking a lead from the Mazda3 from which the new MX-5’s base 1.5-litre ‘SkyActiv’ engine was also taken. With new cam timing, new intake and exhaust systems and a new crankshaft, the ND version of that 3 engine put out 129hp at 7,000rpm and ran on to 7,500rpm. The 1.5 engine was 14kg lighter than the old 1.8. Another SkyActiv engine, the 2.0-litre four, was given the same breathing mods to produce 158hp plus better torque at low and mid revs. It was 8kg lighter than the previous iteration. Both of the new engines wore an aluminium cover to evoke the original MX-5’s exposed twin-cam head. The ND’s new manual gearbox was 7kg lighter than the NC’s. 

Whichever drivetrain you chose, all these weight reductions allied to the lowering of the car’s centre of gravity played a big part in creating an MX-5 that was both faster across the ground and more economical than the equivalent NC and, in the eyes of many, a friendlier and more dynamic everyday driving prospect. The 2.0 was 25kg heavier overall than the 1.5 but all 2.0 models had a limited slip diff and bigger brakes, while the higher-spec Sport and GT models received a front strut brace and Bilstein dampers to reduce roll and keep the turn-in sharp.

Our spec table is for the entry level 1.5 as it’s arguably the purest model if you subscribe to the notion that the MX-5 is a dish best served without too many trimmings. A year after it came out, however, while the MX-5 was being voted World Car of the Year, Mazda complicated things by releasing the steel-roofed RF (Retractable Fastback) model. To be pedantic, the MX-5 RF should really have been a MX-5 T as it was a targa. The rear buttresses were fixed, with just the top panel folding away. 

The RF was kicked off in the UK by 500 £28,995 ‘Launch Edition’ cars in Soul Red or Machine Grey with BBS alloys, a rear spoiler and Recaro seats. To start with it could only be had with the 158hp 2.0 engine. Post-Launch Edition cars could be ordered with the 1.5 unit but then you needed to consider the performance ramifications of the RF’s extra 40kg, which added around 0.2-0.3sec to the soft top’s 0-62mph time.

For 2019MY cars the 2.0 engine was uprated from 158hp to 181hp at 7,500rpm, with 151lb ft of torque, lowering the soft top’s best 0-62 time to 6.5sec.

Today, the newly midlife-refreshed 2021 MX-5 exits the showroom at prices starting from £24,055 for the ragtop and £25,955 for the RF, but we’re not interested in them. Not when you can find used NDs for £11,000 or less, and damaged/repaired cars at under £9,000. £11,000 is less than what some dealers are asking for mint, low mileage NCs. On that basis, depending to some extent on what you think about NCs, you may think that an ND sounds like excellent value. We do. But are they a good value ownership proposition? Let’s drop our tops and have a look.

SPECIFICATION – MAZDA MX-5 ND 1.5 (2015-on)

* Figures for 2.0

Engine: 1,496cc inline four 16v normally aspirated
Transmission: 6-speed manual, rear-wheel drive
Power (hp): 129@7,000rpm (*158@6,000rpm)
Torque (lb ft): 111@4,800rpm (*148@ 4,600rpm)
0-62mph (secs): 8.3 (*7.3)
Top speed (mph): 127 (*133)
Weight (kg): 1,050 (*1,075)
MPG: 47.1 (*40.9)
CO2: 139g/km
Wheels: 6.5 x 16
Tyres: 195/50
On sale: 2015 – now
Price new: £18,995
Price now: from £11,000

Note for reference: car weight and power data is hard to pin down with absolute certainty. For consistency, we use the same source for all our guides. We hope the data we use is right more often than it’s wrong. Our advice is to treat it as relative rather than definitive. 


ENGINE & GEARBOX

129hp might sound about as exciting as a wet weekend in Bridlington but don’t knock it till you’ve tried it in the MX-5 1.5. When a car is light enough, as the ND most certainly is, you’ll quickly see that turbocharging isn’t a pre-requisite for a good balance of economy and performance. This normally-aspirated titch does a fine all-round job. It sounds good while it’s going about its business and has an official average fuel consumption figure of 47mpg. Better yet, you’ll be surprised how close you can get to this number even when you’re hammering it.

Some cars built between May 2015 and April 2017 had an issue with their i-ELOOP stop-start systems which, in the worst case scenario, could result in an unseemly conflagration. Make sure that any car you’re thinking of buying has had the remedial works carried out. Engine mounts can fail on harder-driven cars. Some faulty throttle body modules have been reported.

Transmissions? Hmm. You could get an automatic gearbox for the ND. They do exist in the UK but they are extremely rare. If you find one built between Oct 2016 and Nov 2018 make sure it doesn’t downchange into a lower gear when you’re not expecting it to. If it does do that, it needs a software reflash. 

Who cares about any of that though when the MX-5’s manual gear change is one of shortest-action honeys anywhere, reputedly rivalled only by the Honda NSX-R? Well, you might care about it if you’re one of the ND owners who have experienced gearbox problems or even total failure. Some of these failures have been on trackdayed cars, but more gently driven low-mileage cars with full service histories have exhibited problems with 1st to 2nd gear selection, and/or 3rd to 2nd, sometimes with under 2,000 miles on the clock.

This may or may not be relevant, but the ND’s ‘SkyActiv-MT’ six-speeder transmission had to be adapted for use in the MX-5’s longitudinally-mounted, rear-wheel drive layout because it was designed for transverse applications. Also of interest is the apparent absence of similar issues in the NC-boxed Abarth 124 version of the ND. Several transmission revisions have been put forward by the factory, and quite a few first-generation ND gearboxes have been replaced under warranty. One PHer who tracked his car a lot had four gearboxes in 2,200 miles. At least one motorsport outfit in the UK has developed gearbox updates for its own use and for interested owners.

If your gearbox is sound, then there’s a superb action to enjoy even if MX-5 performance is not spectacular if you go strictly by the numbers. The 2.0 needs 7.3 seconds to cover the 0-62mph sprint, and the 1.5 takes a second longer than that. Thing is though, if you’re driving properly on the right roads you won’t notice any shortfall unless you’re used to driving high-horsepower vehicles.

First service bills should be under £200, or somewhat less if you score a discount through membership of the Owners’ Club. The range can vary between £160 and £230 depending on random elements like location. You could get a three-service deal from Mazda for £650 which may work out cheaper as some services involve more work and cost. The ND is on a fixed annual servicing plan (12 months/12,000 miles) rather than on intervals determined by mileage/use. The oil recommended by Mazda – OW-20 Supra Skyactiv – is £36 a litre.

CHASSIS

Anyone coming to an ND as their first MX-5 after (say) a Toyota GT86 might wonder what all the fuss is about. Compared to the 86, the ND does feel quite soft and roll-y, but that very much suits the character of the car. The ND’s lack of overall weight and its optimal front-rear distribution means that it can manage perfectly well without overly stiff suspension.

As noted earlier, the ND was shorter than the NC. It was also 10mm lower, and as it had a wider track (a good thing from a driving perspective) it was a fair bit wider than either the NC or the NA, but none of that mattered on twisty roads, where the MX-5 really delivered. The relative softness of the 1.5 was more than compensated for by the friendliness of its chassis. Although the 2.0 gave easier access to tail-breaking power, the 1.5 was great fun in its own way, especially on greasy roads where dabs of oppo were very much on the menu.

Sport/GT spec cars gave you firmer Bilstein suspension and a strut brace on RFs as well as soft tops. These cars didn’t ride quite as sweetly as the normally suspended cars, and some testers found that roll at high speed wasn’t as well controlled as they thought it might be. You could perhaps put at least some of that down to higher expectations not being met, but owners have found that switching to Eibach or BBR lowering springs brings a stronger sense of connection and plantedness.

As standard, the 2020 1.5 R-Sport on lighter 16in Rays forged alloys offered perhaps the best all-round mix of delicacy, comfort and playfulness, with less of the crashiness evident in the heavier 17in wheeled 2.0. In its favour, the 2.0’s LSD indulged the driver who didn’t want excess power to be simply spun away via a lightly-loaded rear wheel, though there can be a fair bit of drivetrain backlash on gearchanges with the LSD cars.

If you were looking for ND driving areas to criticise, steering would probably be one of them. For this new MX-5 the hydraulic power steering system was replaced by Mazda’s new Electric Power Assisted Steering (EPAS) system. Despite the relocation of the steering hardware to a location intended to promote feel, the stiffening-up of the area below the steering column, and the speeding up of the steering ratio, the ND’s helm was a little under-endowed in feedback and a little over-endowed with lightness at the rim. It was a shame really as Toyota had shown on the GT86 that it was possible to have more than decent electric steering. 

ND braking was excellent via ventilated front and solid rear discs (258mm/255mm f/r on the 1.5 and 280mm all round on the 2.0, with some Japanese-spec NDs having the 280s). Brake and hill start assist were both fitted as standard. MX-5 calipers historically have a habit of seizing and the rear ones on the ND can produce a knocking from movement in the slider pins that you might mistake for suspension noise. Aluminium replacements are available on the aftermarket.

Hub carrier bush failure has been an issue for some ND owners and this is not cheap to put right as a complete new hub is required. Spring coils were known to come together on bumps. The factory fix of a C-shaped piece of plastic fitted to the second coil from the top appeared to solve this.

BODYWORK

It’s not that easy to place an ND in tight spots because you do sit quite low. Bumper damage can be pricey to fix so the parking sensors that come with the higher spec cars are not as stupid an add-on as you might think for such a small vehicle. The optional safety pack which brought rear and blind spot assist, auto-dipping headlights and a reversing camera is also worth having, especially in the RF.

You shouldn’t expect to get more than a couple of squidgy bags in the 130-litre boot, but how much stuff do two people really need for a holiday? In case you were wondering, the RF has the same boot capacity as the soft top. The RF’s roof mech reduced the size of both the centre console storage space and the cubby behind the passenger seat, and the cubby behind the driver’s seats was lost altogether.

Early 2015 cars were summoned into the dealerships to have the retaining bracket for a textile exhaust shield fixed. Roofs would rub against the roll hoops if they weren’t dropped exactly according to the manual, causing wear to the front section. Some Mazda dealers have looked kindly on replacing these with new roofs.

INTERIOR

The ND’s interior look will strike a chord with anyone who’s been in a 2014 Mazda3, which is no bad thing as Mazda’s quality, design and control actions had reached a very good level by that time.

In terms of trim levels, the base SE had 16in alloys, LED headlights, air con, cloth seats, a single detachable cupholder and a basic radio (with an aux unit, though) which the SE-L Nav bumped up to digital, adding climate and cruise, a second cupholder and a 7in colour touchscreen with satnav and Bluetooth. For leather, auto wipers, rear parking sensors and Bose stereo, you would join many others in getting the Sport. The navigation system was effectively a £600 add-on and only came with three years’ worth of free upgrades. Early infotainment systems weren’t fault-free but have been gradually improved over time.

Compared to the NC especially, which felt a little ‘perched’, the ND’s driving position is (as mentioned in the last section) quite low. Anyone up to six feet tall should be able to find a workable position, but it will be a squeeze beyond that. Heel and toeing is a breeze, as ever. Both the 1.5 and the 2.0 were engineered to emit a pleasantly mechanical noise. On a pottering ear-only test you’d struggle to tell them apart, but the 2.0’s bark between 3,000 and 5,000rpm can give it away. On the motorway, road din tends to dominate the MX-5 experience but you can battle that with a £400 back box from firms like MX-5 Parts. The RF is noisy when the top is in place and there’s too much wind bluster in the cabin when it’s down.

The ND’s seats were specially redesigned to help with roof deployment, the switch to a single central latch doing away with the gut-busting reach across to a second latch. Finding somewhere to put your mobile when you’re driving with gusto can be a problem. It could end up anywhere.

Rear view mirrors and the roof liner above the rear window could come loose, window switches can fail, and ND cupholders have been described as rubbish. They were redesigned for the 2019MY cars but we haven’t read any consumer reports from anyone with one of those so we don’t know if they’re any less likely to result in you spilling boiling beverages across your privates. There have been a few reports of leaking aircon seals and loose door seals.

PH VERDICT

The gen-four MX-5 is a great little car but as you can see from this story it’s not without its problems. None of them are insurmountable but some can be expensive to sort out. That’s a pity given the good reputation built up by previous MX-5s (rusty sills apart obvs, speaking from personal NB experience there). Of course the vast majority of NDs will back up that fine MX-5 reputation by having no problems whatsoever, but it’s as well to be aware of what could go wrong.

As usual with the MX-5, Mazda didn’t hold back on special editions. These do add variety to the ND offering but don’t expect them to greatly hoist used values in the same way as, say, a special edition Bugatti Veyron would. Early on in the car’s career there was the 2.0 Sport Nav-based Recaro edition with a bodykit, Alcantara dash, BBS alloys and, not surprisingly, Recaro seats. They made 600 of those. In early 2016 there was an Icon, also on a 600 run, based on the SE-L nav spec with black leather seats, rear parking sensors, auto lights and wipers  and a choice of Meteor Grey Mica or Crystal White Pearlescent paint with bits of bodywork (including a between-the-arches chequered flag motif) picked out in Soul Red.

At the end of 2016 you could get a 1.5 Arctic in the blue with silver highlights livery that was traditional for that model. Arctics had auto lights and wipers, rear parking sensors and heated leather seats and there were 400 of them. In late 2017 a 300-off Sport Nav-based Z-Sport came out in the Machine Grey paint that had previously been restricted to the RF. Its soft top was in red and its leather seats were beige.

A 30th Anniversary Edition in Racing Orange with forged aluminium alloy wheels and new Brembo front brakes was released in 2019. Remarkably, a 100th Anniversary MX-5 arrived just one year later, but that was the anniversary of Mazda the company rather than of the MX-5. The 100th Anniv came in pearl white with red Nappa leather seats and a burgundy soft top. The roof of the RF 100th was piano black.

2020’s limited edition R-Sport 1.5 that came out in 2020 was an appealing package with gunmetal Rays 16in alloys, Polymetal Grey paint and a special silver fabric for the roof. MX-5 tech had marched on, so by the time this car arrived you had Apple CarPlay and Android Auto phone connectivity through the 7in touchscreen as well as sat-nav, cruise control, autonomous braking, lane-departure and keyless ignition. On top of all that the R-Sport gave you mulberry Nappa leather seating. Tasty. 150 R-Sports came onto the UK market at £27,700 a pop, which sounded a lot for a 1.5 but if you took a historical view on it you would see that MX-5s have actually become more affordable over time. If you corrected the price of 1989’s NA original for inflation, it was 40 percent more expensive than the first 1.5-litre entry-level ND of 2015 at £18,495.

That affordability still holds true today. It’s also true that a clean, low mileage car will sell more easily than a scruffier special ed. Steel-roofed RFs aren’t especially sought after in any format, to the extent that dealers sometimes ‘forget’ to mention in their ads the fact that the MX-5 they’re selling is an RF.

Which drivetrain to go for though, the 1.5 or the 2.0? If you’re going to be doing a few track days the 2.0’s extra 50-odd horsepower is a strong lure and Sport Nav is a good spec, but if you’re secure enough in yourself not to worry about engine size then the 1.5 will provide 95 percent of the 2.0’s measurable ability and probably 100 percent of its driving fun. A 1.5 R-Sport would be a nice pick if you can find one at sensible money, but the smartest choice might very well be the best condition early 1.5 you can find, knowing that you’ll have saved a heap of cash on the purchase price with no noticeable increase in the ownership anxiety that usually comes with older cars that aren’t MX-5s.

What’s available? At the low price end of NDs in the PH Classifieds we find this 22,000-mile 2016 1.5 SE-L Nav in graphite with cloth seats at £11,790. The cheapest 2.0 is another 2016 car, this 38,000-mile Sport Nav in blue with black leather. Powered-up 2.0 cars are more expensive, partly because they’re more recent, and 181hp RFs are more commonly found than 181hp roadsters. Here’s a 7,000-mile Sport Nav+ at £21,990.


Search for a used ND Mazda MX-5 here

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