Mazda MX-5 Sport Venture review: giant killer still has what it takes

Mazda’s everygreen roadster offers an unrivalled driving experience whether you opt for a special edition or standard model

There is something inherently ridiculous about trying to squeeze a 6’ 5”, 16-stone frame into one of the smallest and lightest sports cars on the market.

The Mazda MX-5 and I are simply not built for each other. In the driver’s seat my legs are crushed and splayed out either side of the steering wheel, my elbows rub the door cards and I have to hunch down to see beneath the windscreen’s edge.

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Yet, every single time I have the opportunity, I put myself through the necessary contortions for even a brief spell at the wheel.

Why? Because, quite simply, there’s nothing else like it on the new car market. From the wind-in-your hair thrills of the roofless experience to the sheer playfulness of the chassis, it’s guaranteed to put a smile on your face. More than anything else for the money.

Okay, so the Ford Fiesta ST is 70bhp more powerful and has a trick differential, and the Hyundai i20N has the Mazda beaten for straight line performance but neither has quite the directness or feedback that the tiny roadster offers.

The communication through the perfectly sized wheel and the way the car seems to pivot around the driver’s seat mean the relatively meagre 130bhp doesn’t really matter. Find a good stretch of B road, build up the revs of the wee 1.5-litre and the MX-5 will carry its speed magnificently as it weaves its way along, its tiny footprint meaning you’ve plenty of road to play with.

Snick through the peerless six-speed transmission properly and you’ll quickly forget that this is a sports car with less power than a diesel VW Golf.

Of course, if you want a little more pace - and, admittedly there are a fair few family SUVs that are quicker to 62mph - there’s the 181bhp 2.0-litre engine to add a touch more vigour (and weight) to proceedings.

However, that’s not an option with the Sport Venture car tested here.

A special edition model for 2021, it’s limited to just 160 examples, all of them fitted with the smaller engine and all of them soft-tops.

Setting the £27,615 Sport Venture apart from other MX-5s is its Deep Crystal Blue Mica paint matched to a grey fabric hood and silver door mirror trims and roll hoops. 16-inch bright alloys complete the exterior look. Inside, the Sport Venture’s features Nappa leather seats finished in an attractive “light stone” Nappa leather. Like all 2021 models, wireless Apple CarPlay is now standard.

It’s hardly a revolutionary approach but it’s in the vein of previous limited run MX-5s which have enjoyed success (including a 2014 Sport Venture edition), offering a degree of exclusivity to what is, in sports car terms, a mainstream success.

Another special edition, the R-Sport, launched last year is also still on sale. It too is powered by the 130bhp 1.5-litre and features Polymetal Grey Metallic paint and grey soft-top hood combined with 16-inch RAYS gunmetal alloy wheels. Inside, burgundy Nappa leather seats with silver stitching offering an eye-catching alternative to the Sport Venture’s more subdued finish.

The two special editions sit alongside the regular model range, which offers four standard trim levels and two engine choices across convertible and hard-top RF variants.

Each spec brings its own unique touches and extra features but every version offers the same core MX-5 values. Stretching back to the very first NA models in it has always been about simple lightweight fun. Massive power, ridiculous bodykits and fancy engineering are of lesser importance than a pure, involving driving experience that keeps you coming back for more, no matter how awkward it is.

Mazda MX-5 Sport Venture

Price: £27,615; Engine: 1.5-litre, four-cylinder, petrol; Power: 130bhp; Torque: 112lb ft; Transmission: Six-speed manual; Top speed: 127mph; 0-62mph: 8.7 seconds; Economy: 44.8mpg; CO2 emissions: 142g/km