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Mazda MX-5 Sport Venture Review (2021 - )

The Mazda MX-5 has always been the spectacular car without the stunning badge – and now there’s another special, limited-edition variant. So is the Sport Venture worth it?

By Tim Barnes-Clay
Oct 25, 2021
£27,615 as tested
Pros:
  • Exclusive
  • Excellent handling
  • Great fuel economy
Cons:
  • Unnecessary premium compared with Sport trim
  • Less practical than rivals, even for a sports car
  • Poor rear visibility with the roof up

Introduction

Mazda MX-5 Sport Venture Review

The MX-5 has always had a unique appeal because, throughout its lifetime, it’s always managed to combine everything in perfect harmony, including the price tag.

Mazda always knew its badge wouldn’t compete with the likes of Porsche for appeal, so it set itself apart from the crowd by being excellent at all the little things that matter.

Likewise, it doesn’t have the growl of a BMW M-car nor the pulling power of Audi’s RS range – but it has plenty else and has won many, many admirers over the years.

The latest MX-5 has continued along the same theme with a superbly enjoyable driving experience.

Now Mazda wants to remind us it’s there by launching this new Sport Venture variant.

Although it’s a special edition, so it stands on its own as far as Mazda is concerned, in real terms, it sits in the middle of the range in comparison to its siblings. It has more to offer than the entry-level SE L and Sport, but slightly less than the top two trims, the Sport Tech and the GT Sport Tech.

On The Road

Mazda MX-5 Sport Venture Review

Performance

The Sport Venture is only on offer with the lower-spec 1.5-litre engine, which produces 132PS and manages 0-62mph in 8.3-seconds, topping out at 127mph.

Only the top couple of trims in the range get the more potent 184PS 2.0-litre engine.

But, while that sounds disappointing for a special edition, the MX-5 has always been about the overall driving experience, not just the acceleration. So, in reality, you don’t need the larger power unit unless the shorter 6.5-second 0-62mph time matters to you.

The important thing is you get rear-wheel-drive regardless, often seen as the car’s party piece.

The six-speed cog-changer is a joy to use, not least because it'll please purists who want a manual (there’s no automatic available at all on the MX-5 except on the hard-top convertible RF version). There's decent power delivery across the rev range, and the gear lever is pleasing to use, shifting smoothly with plenty of precision.

Mazda MX-5 Sport Venture Review

Ride Handling

The cornerstone of the MX-5 has always been its ride comfort and handling.

Despite the low ride height of the sports car, it deals with lumps and bumps in the road well. The 16-inch rims are more comfortable than the 17-inch wheels on the top two trims, but the ride is still sublime.

When it comes to corners, the MX-5 is a joy to drive. It feels light and agile around bends while still providing all the grip in the world. The steering is precise, too – and the combination of this gives you the confidence to throw it into a corner without needing to worry about whether you’ll emerge on the other side.

The 1.5-litre engine comes with a softer suspension setup, so there is more body roll than the higher trims with the larger engine. Still, it does little to dent the enjoyability of the driving experience, especially with the roof down when the weather’s nice.

If you’re looking for a comfortable cruiser that’s nice to sit in, then the Sport Venture is likely to appeal.

In all MX-5s, there's quite a bit of road noise, but this is to be expected with a soft-top. If this is a particular bugbear, then the MX-5 RF is likely to appeal more with its hardened roof.

Mazda MX-5 Sport Venture Review

Styling

The most noticeable thing about the MX-5 is that its mouth has been gradually opening wider and wider over the years, but this hasn't detracted from its good looks.

It goes for more of a cutesy than aggressive appearance. However, it pulls it off well, still managing to appear as though it’s performance-focused without seeming so overfilled with adrenaline that it’s spoiling for a fight.

The body colour on the Sport Venture is called Deep Crystal Blue Mica – which is metallic dark blue – although, in poor light, it is easily confused for a dark grey.

Speaking of grey, you’ll also get a grey roof, which contrasts nicely against the body colour along with silver door mirrors.

With such a combination, it’s certainly more of a head-turner than the standard MX-5.

In The Car

Mazda MX-5 Sport Venture Review

Behind the Wheel

Although you sit relatively low down, as is to be expected from a sports car, the seating position is higher than you might think, so those who prefer to be more or less lying down a millimetre above the road might be disappointed. Nevertheless, you still get a sports car feel to the driving position.

The interior is nice, albeit not spectacular, although Mazda is undoubtedly heading in the right direction with its design. The Sport Venture gets you Nappa leather seats in ‘light stone’ colour – basically light-ish grey – and matching door trims, too.

Keyless entry, cruise control, heated front seats and adaptive LED headlights are all offered as standard.

You’ll also get a seven-inch infotainment screen with Apple CarPlay and Android Auto, DAB radio and Bluetooth. But, alas, the screen is on the small side nowadays, and it’s not the best system, feeling a little clunky and not particularly responsive.

Space & Practicality

Of course, the MX-5 isn’t built for practicality. It’s a two-seater, so just about anything family-oriented is out of the question. Forget sticking the kids in the boot, too, as it’s only got a capacity of 130-litres.

If you're insistent on wanting to make shopping trips in a sports car then, firstly, you must be mad. Secondly, you might want to consider a Porsche Boxster, which offers 275-litres, although this becomes 425-litres when you factor in that it also has a boot at the front.

The BMW Z4 and Audi TT are also in the same area as the Boxster’s rear boot.

The car’s smallness means the rear ‘pillars’ (if you can call them pillars, given it's a soft-top roof) are massive, and this limits rear visibility.

Of course, you can get around this issue by putting the roof down. But then you're reliant on the good old British weather.

Ownership

Mazda MX-5 Sport Venture Review

Running Costs

The 1.5-litre engine produces 44.8mpg – around four miles more per gallon than the larger 2.0-litre engine. Crucially, though, it makes only 142g/km of CO2.

The larger-engined variant, by comparison, produces 155g/km CO2, which moves it into the next road tax bracket, with a hefty price hike for the first year (£555 compared with £220 for the 1.5-litre).

Nevertheless, having a rear-wheel-drive sports car that can do between 40 and 50mpg is impressive, and you'll struggle to find such driving thrills with the same fuel economy without opting for a hybrid.

Mazda MX-5 Sport Venture Review

Quality & Reliability

Another big selling point of the MX-5 has been its reliability. Many sports cars are so performance-focused that their components are pushed to the limit, meaning parts wear out more quickly.

The MX-5, though, has always been famed for its inability to break down, while general maintenance costs are similar to the average family car.

It's traditionally the top-performing sports car for reliability and this, along with its ride and handling, is why the MX-5 is held in such high regard.

Mazda MX-5 Sport Venture Review

Safety & Security

The current iteration of the MX-5 has been around since 2015, which is when it was last tested by Euro NCAP, scoring a four-star rating.

It scored 84% for adult occupants, 80% for children, and 64% for safety assists. This isn’t bad overall and compares with the Audi TT, but the BMW Z4 beats it.

Nevertheless, there’s still a lot of safety kit packed into the small car. 

Equipment includes lane departure warning, autonomous emergency braking at lower speeds when the vehicle detects an imminent collision, traffic sign recognition, and a Driver Attention Alert system that warns of driver fatigue.

Summary

Mazda MX-5 Sport Venture Review

The Sport Venture looks nice with the extra details, but, in reality, it’s barely any different to a standard MX-5 – and you pay a premium on top for the privilege.

This variant will undoubtedly appeal to MX-5 fanatics who are members of clubs but, for the regular layman, there’s nothing here that will really entice you over any other MX-5. But, on the other hand, that's the whole point. Mazda isn’t expecting to sell the Sport Venture in large numbers, which is why only 160 of them are coming to the UK.

The most significant selling point of this edition, then, is the exclusivity. If you're not bothered by that, stick to the standard MX-5 – the Sport trim is more than adequate.

Whatever you opt for, you can't take away from Mazda that this is still an excellent car with a price to match.

When you consider that you need to be looking towards the likes of BMW, Audi and Porsche for anything better, you'll struggle to find a driving experience that’s this much fun without spending a lot more money.

By Tim Barnes-Clay
Oct 25, 2021