Review: the Mazda MX-5 Icon edition

Is this a Mazda MX-5 special edition?

Got it in one. The car with 5,632 special editions at the last count* has gained another, in the shape of the new MX-5 Icon.

Admittedly, it’s only the second special of the latest, mk4 Mazda MX-5, and the first time the littlest 1.5-litre version has received the stickers’n’plaques treatment.

It’s your only engine choice in a car that is limited to 600 units in the UK, and which costs £20,995. That’s an £800 rise over the spec level it’s based upon.

And what do I get for that?

The obvious additions are its red spoilers front and rear, its questionable red decals on the side (complete with oddly dull font) and a set of 16in gunmetal alloy wheels.

But the biggest chunk of that extra cash goes on some nice stuff beneath the surface, namely leather seats, parking sensors and automatic lights and wipers.

Arguably quite superfluous on a back-to-basics, driver-focused sports car, we’ll admit. But equally, they all soothe the process of driving nicely, and ought to make the wee Five even easier to live with than normal.

Do they?

To be honest, you never give those extras a blind bit of notice. You’ll be having far too much fun for that. The 1.5-litre MX-5 is a rare thing, an entry-level sports car that’s just as enjoyable as the range-topping model.

The slightly smaller lungs of its engine simply do a very good job of goading you to drive it as hard as you dare from the moment you get in. And given this engine revs a little higher than the 2.0 that sits above it, it’s a pleasure to do so.

It does without turbos, and thus its peak outputs will not set anyone’s heart alight: 129bhp and 111lb ft are not stocky numbers, but then neither is its 1050kg kerb weight.

An 8.3sec 0-62mph time and 127mph top speed are entirely adequate, and the MX-5’s uncanny knack of just being big enough to seat two adult humans heightens the sensations of those numbers anyway.

So it’s up for a laugh…

Yep. Without wishing to delve into the well-thumbed book of MX-5 Road Testing Clichés, everything just feels set up to put a smile on your face. The suspension could be considerably more tied down, and Mazda could surely find endow the Five with a lot more grip. But both of these things would make it a more serious car, with higher limits.

As it comes out of the factory, this is a car that feels super eager and is a doddle to have fun in, regardless of your sports car experience. Its short, sharp little manual gearchange remains a standout feature. And you can always flick through aftermarket parts catalogues if its Tigger-like bounciness starts to frustrate.

Is it small inside?

I’m five foot nine, and I feel about right in there, roof up or down. Those above six foot might want an extended test drive to ensure there’s enough room.

The boot is big enough for a couple of squashy bags, and there are a few neat storage solutions inside the cabin, but there’s not endless practicality to match its absurdly low running costs (owners report 50mpg-plus being within very easy reach).

Sounds like you’re a fan.

Yup. It’s not the last word in performance car precision, the MX-5, but its balance between cheapness and cheerfulness is as good as you’ll find anywhere in the car market right now.

Our only qualm? For a mere £95 more than this 1.5-litre Icon, you can have the ‘full fat’ 158bhp 2.0-litre MX-5, with its addition of a limited-slip differential. The seats are cloth and there’s a distinct lack of shiny red jauntiness outside, but there’s extra performance and sharper handling beneath.

I’d pick that. But that’s because I quite like trackdays, and away from those, the 1.5 really is just as much fun.

The ultimate conclusion? Buy any MX-5, this Icon included, and you’ve made a jolly good choice. And if you don’t like red, there’ll be another special edition along anytime soon.

*Some minor exaggeration may have been applied here. But the actual number is still around 40, which puts even the Bugatti Veyron to shame…

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