- Fantastic chassis with sublime balance
- Grunty yet efficient engine
- Best manual gearbox on the market
- Lack of interior storage
- No digital speedometer
- Road noise thanks to weight saving
The Mazda MX-5 is one of the only small, affordable, rear-wheel drive roasters on the market today. We’re big fan of it, even in its sixth year on sale in its current ‘ND’ generation. But age hasn’t stopped Mazda Australia adding more to the MX-5 range, and the 2021 Mazda MX-5 GT RS is a new model that makes the already brilliant MX-5 a little more hardcore and focused. Sitting at the pointy end of the MX-5 range, the 2021 Mazda MX-5 GT RS competes with the likes of the 2020 Subaru BRZ, Toyota 86 GTS and indirectly the current crop of hot hatches.
The legendary Mazda MX-5 has been on sale globally since the early 1990s and it’s been a sales phenomenon, having sold over one million units so far. Known for it’s ‘smiles per miles’, the MX-5 has always been a cheaper way of giving driving thrill without going silly speeds on public roads, as well as one of the most communicative chassis’ in modern cars. We see if the new 2021 Mazda MX-5 GT RS remains as engaging and fun to drive as its predecessors.
Price & Equipment: 8/10
The 2021 Mazda MX-5 range starts at $36,090 plus on-road costs ($40,011 drive away in NSW) for the entry-level 1.5-litre six-speed manual (the six-speed auto is $2,000 more expensive) – go through the 12 individual MX-5 variants and the top-spec 2.0-litre RF GT Black Roof is priced at $51,120 ($55,656 drive away). We tested the new MX-5 GT RS soft top, which retails for $47,020 plus on-road costs ($51,350 drive away).
Standard kit on the entry-level MX-5 1.5L roadster includes 16-inch alloy wheels, LED lighting, auto lights and wipers, single-zone climate control, a leather-wrapped steering wheel and gearknob, a limited-slip differential (manuals only), cloth upholstery and a 7.0-inch touchscreen with wireless Apple CarPlay, wired Android Auto, satellite navigation and digital radio.
The entry-level RF hard-top uses a 2.0-litre engine and adds LED front and rear daytime running lights and 17-inch alloy wheels. It’s priced at $45,990 (the auto is $47,990) drive away.
Standard safety kit includes four airbags, auto emergency braking (AEB), blind-spot monitoring, rear cross-traffic alert, traffic sign recognition, tyre pressure monitoring and a reversing camera.
GT variants (roadster: $48,200 drive away, RF: $53,000 drive away) add LED front and rear daytime running lights, bright-finished 17-inch alloy wheels, Matrix LED headlights, heated mirrors, leather upholstery with heated seats, an auto-dimming rear view mirror, keyless entry and start, rear parking sensors with auto braking, driver attention monitoring and a 203-watt nine-speaker Bose sound system.
Those interested in the RF can go a spec above the GT to the GT Black Roof (from $54,076 drive away), which adds a black roof and Nappa leather upholstery in either burgundy or white.
The GT RS we tested adds 17-inch BBS wheels, Bilstein dampers, Brembo front brakes, a front suspension tower strut brace and piano black mirror caps. The GT RS is manual-only as it is the more focused and hardcore MX-5.
Performance & Economy: 9/10
As mentioned before, the 2021 Mazda MX-5 GT RS comes with the brand’s 2.0-litre four-cylinder petrol engine producing 135kW of power and 205Nm of torque. These don’t seem like huge numbers but keep in mind the MX-5 GT RS weighs only 1,052kg, meaning it has a better power-to-weight ratio than an Audi S3 convertible at 135.8kW per tonne (verses 127.5kW per tonne for the Audi).
Accelerating in the 2021 Mazda MX-5 GT RS is exhilarating, it pulls fantastically no matter what gear you are in. Even in sixth gear the engine still has enough torque to get the car going. The gearbox is also a treat to use, slotting the MX-5 into gear is a rewarding experience with a reassuring thud as you choose the gear and it is a smooth and fluid operation. The engine feels lively and like it is always egging you on and wanting more from you. It also gives off a really great throaty note too with the standard stainless steel exhaust system when you’re really on it.
The just-superseded Toyota 86 and Subaru BRZ twins came with 152kW of power and 212Nm of torque, which is more than the MX-5, but they also weighed more than 200kg more and it really shows – the MX-5 feels positively effervescent in comparison. The 86/BRZ twins didn’t have the same sense of urgency that the Mazda has and they feel a little sluggish too, especially low in the rev range. The MX-5 hits 100km/h from rest in just over 6.0 seconds, and hits 220km/h at the top end.
The other benefit to its lack of weight is that it also returns good fuel economy. The claimed average for the GT RS soft top is 6.8L/100km, although we achieved with some highway driving an average of high 5’s – excellent for a sports car. In comparison the 86/BRZ twins have an average of 8.4L/100km.
Ride & Handling: 9.5/10
Because the 2021 Mazda MX-5 GT RS rides on new Bilstein dampers, you would be forgiven for thinking that it’s too harsh to live with on a daily basis. But thankfully that is not the case as the ride is surprisingly compliant when commuting but also engaging and firm when you want it to be.
Compared with the Toyota 86 and Subaru BRZ, the Mazda feels more nimble and razor sharp where as the other two do corner well but don’t feel as direct or as nimble as the MX-5. The MX-5 can’t help but put a smile on your face as it corners flat due to its lack of weight and low centre of gravity.
The steering is perfectly weighted as it’s not too light and gives off a fantastic amount of feel for such a small and manoeuvrable car. One great addition a few updates ago was tilt and telescopic steering adjustment, which makes the driving position much better. It also gives the driver a stronger connection to the car and the road, and that is what the MX-5 is all about.
The only downside to the 2021 Mazda MX-5 GT RS is – thanks to its weight-saving measures – its high road noise levels, which can be annoying on motorway journeys. Thanks to its excellent aerodynamics, the road noise is actually lower with the roof down – more reason to drive it topless, in our opinion!
Interior & Practicality: 7/10
The interior of the 2021 Mazda MX-5 GT RS is definitely snug – there isn’t too much room for activities but it is fit for purpose. The lovely bucket seats (although not Mazda Japan’s Recaro bucket seats) keep you in place when cornering and the sweeping dashboard is a lovely compliment to the interior.
Centre of the 2021 Mazda MX-5 GT RS’ cabin is Mazda’s ageing MZD Connect infotainment system. It is still good for its age and intuitive while on the road, but could use an update. There is Wireless Apple CarPlay and Android Auto as well as inbuilt satellite navigation but surprisingly, no live traffic updates.
The infotainment system is a touch screen but only up to 7km/h – when on the move you have to use the rotary dial in between the seats. We would love to see the implementation of Mazda’s new ‘Connect’ system which is in the Mazda CX-30, Mazda 3, and the new Mazda CX-9. Another negative point about the MX-5’s cabin is that there’s no digital speedometer, which is especially annoying in a speed camera-obsessed country like ours.
One of the 2021 Mazda MX-5 GT RS’s let downs is the lack of interior storage on offer – there is no glovebox and only a small centre console and storage compartment in between the front seats. There is nowhere to store a phone or wallet, which is quite frustrating. The boot isn’t huge either to make up for it as it comes in at just 130-litres, which is roughly 100 litres smaller than the Toyota 86 and Subaru BRZ. There is no spare wheel in the ND series MX-5, nor even a repair kit either.
The materials used in the MX-5’s cabin are good. The dash is not soft touch unfortunately, but the seats are very comfortable and the leather is a good quality. It’s a very ergonomic cabin with all the controls and buttons within close reach of the driver.
The roof on the 2021 Mazda MX-5 GT RS is very clever – although it is a manual unit to save weight, it’s very easy to use – just undo the clamp and push it back whenever the mood takes you. And don’t worry if it starts raining either, as it’s just as easy to pop it back up again.
Service & Warranty: 8/10
Like all other Mazda products, the 2021 Mazda MX-5 GT RS comes with a five-year/unlimited kilometre warranty, which is on par with what other brands are offering. The MX-5 also has five years of roadside assistance, which is five years more than what Toyota offers with the 86.
Servicing the 2021 Mazda MX-5 GT RS comes around every 12-months or 10,000km, which is better than Toyota’s nine-month/15,000km service intervals for the 86, though still relatively short in today’s age. It will set you back $1,044 to service the Mazda over three years/30,000km while it would only cost $800 to service the Toyota over the same time period, although you would need an extra service in the 86 due to the shorter time intervals.
2021 Mazda MX-5 GT RS DiscoverAuto rating: 8.3/10
Excellent driving dynamics, great fuel economy and looks to die for. What more could you want from an affordable sports car? The 2021 Mazda MX-5 GT RS really is the perfect weekend cruiser that can also get you through the daily commute. The additions of the RS such as the BBS wheels and Bilstein suspension probably aren’t needed for the daily commute but just parking in the office carpark and looking back at them really makes the extra spend worthwhile.
Although the interior isn’t the most spacious on the market and there really isn’t anywhere to store your phone and wallet, it is still a nice place to spend time. The 2021 Mazda MX-5 GT RS does also still have the spirit of the previous generations, which makes it a true driver’s car despite offering significantly more standard equipment and technology. It’s a wonderful car – one that everybody should experience at least once in their lives.