Being offered a convertible to drive in the middle of winter might seem like one of those times you say, “No, but thanks anyway”. 

DriveLife reviewed the 2023 Mazda MX-5 GT in April when Alistair declared it “simply one of the best new cars you can buy today”. That’s pretty high praise, but generally, we have a car for a week to review and April can still have some nice weather.

So – can the Mazda MX-5 GT still shine in the middle of winter? We took the car for 3 weeks, drove it 1,500km and included a weekend away to work on our V8 project car. Following is a recap of what it’s like to daily drive the MX-5 GT through the middle of a wet and cold – but sometimes sunny – winter.

This isn’t a car review. If you want to see our full road test of the MX-5 GT, head to Alistair’s review of this same car

2023 Mazda MX-5 GT | Design

It’s not essential in this ‘day in the life’ article to talk about the car’s design, but you can’t go past the MX-5 GT’s looks. Those 17” black BBS wheels, the red Brembo brake callipers and the stance of this car all come together to result in an outstanding-looking automobile. 

Even from the driver’s seat, you look out on that low, low bonnet and higher front wheel arches, and then in the outside mirrors you see the car’s haunches sticking out. Freaking awesome, Mazda.

I always loved returning to the MX-5 GT in a carpark, end of story.

2023 Mazda MX-5 GT | Daily Driver

Instant memories on picking up the MX-5 GT, when I had to fall down into the car. Honestly, there is no easy way to get in or out gracefully. You fall into the car, you fall out of it. But you do get used to it. All part of the fun of getting into a road-going go-kart. 

And even on city streets, you are reminded of a go-kart. It’s not the ride – which is surprisingly good for the amount of suspension travel the car has – but its steering and handling. It sits so flat, you can get around city streets with very little braking needed. It just goes around corners with little drama. The steering is quick too, and direct. It doesn’t take many turns of the wheel to get the car to go around city streets, and this ability along with that engine, means the MX-5 GT is a better Daily Driver than you’d imagine. I discovered this time and again over 3 weeks of driving it.

My next day with the MX-5 GT was my normal 90km commute to the office via suburban streets, through the city and onto the motorway. Off the motorway, it’s rural roads. I’m forever grateful my office commute is such a great mixture of roads and driving conditions. 

Such a great car in a car park – tiny!

It’s on all those roads that the MX-5 GT’s engine reveals its abilities. I’m still talking about using the car as a Daily Driver, and not a weekend windy-road toy. On the daily commute, the 2.0-litre, 4-cylinder engine delivers such easy performance, you can tootle around all streets in a far higher gear than you’d think possible. Sixth gear at 50km/h? No problem and the MX-5 GT will pull away cleanly and accelerate well. 

Part of this sheer drivability of the MX-5 GT isn’t just down to that engine; the car weighs in at a whole 1,134kg, and that means it can go low in the rev range and still get up and move. Another benefit here for daily driving is the gearbox; a short-throw, six-speed manual gearbox might seem like a nightmare when daily driving but it’s quite the opposite. It’s fun! Day after day of driving the MX-5 GT, I found my daily commute so much more engaging and enjoyable, simply because of that manual ‘box. Not only because it’s a manual but also because it has an incredibly short throw, certainly shorter than the 2023 Honda Civic Type R I had just driven after Alistair had done his review.

There were other revelations here, after getting out of the Type R. It was hard not to compare the two cars. Sure, one is a turbocharged, 5-door hatchback and the other a diminutive 2-seat convertible, but this was the first time I had been in two manual test cars in a row, ever. While the Type R still (just) pips the MX-5 GT as the best manual gearbox available, the MX-5 GT does have that shorter throw and does feel more enjoyable to use. It’s so snick-snickety and at times, I’d change gear even when I didn’t have to.

That gearbox – yes, I’m still talking about it ‘cause it’s so good – also allows you to do easy changes from third to sixth gear, comfortably. Okay that might be more down to the engine and the car’s light weight, but having such a great gearbox behind the motor does make those short shifts even easier. After a week, I was thoroughly enjoying my time daily driving in this convertible.

I guess if there was one negative on that first week, it’d be the car’s height. In traffic, you are looking at a ute’s tyres. That’s as high as you can see. This does make it tricky to navigate at times, especially on the motorway when checking before changing lanes. Adding to this is visibility when the top is up. It’s not the best, with that rear three-quarter view pretty much blocked by the soft top. Thankfully, the MX-5 GT has blind spot monitoring.

Looking at my notes, there are a few more negatives when using the car as a work commuter. I think the worst for me is the sun visor. While I had the car in the middle of winter, some weekdays saw actual sunshine appear. But in the MX-5, you can’t swing the sun visor around to the door to block the sun on the side of your face. The visors are locked in place. I guess there’s some technical reason for this, but how I wish there was some way of blocking that sun coming from the side. At this time of year, the sun is pretty low, compounding the issue.

Almost 100 years difference between these cars

I love to use walk-away door locking on any car that has it and always enable it if it’s available. Just walk away from the car, and it will lock. Lazy yes, but convenient. I did find the walk-away locking on the MX-5 GT a little too premature. I often found that simply walking around the car to get something from the passenger’s seat would see the doors lock. Not the end of the world, but a bit painful, so I turned the feature off.

If there was one other interior feature I didn’t love too much, it was Mazda’s infotainment system. We used to love this, and it still works very well. But it’s all controlled by a jog dial on the centre console, and I kept reaching for the screen to touch it (and did). I think it’s time the MX-5 moved to a touchscreen.

Enough of the negatives on the daily drive, there are still plenty of positives, for example, the speakers in the headrests. Even when the top is down – and I tried to use it down as much as I could – phone calls come through the headrest speakers and are so very clear, it’s near on perfect. Ditto the car’s audio; I moved the balance of the stereo to have more sound through the headrest speakers, as they are so crisp and clear. It’s excellent.

And so we get to the soft-top. On my old 1965 Sunbeam Tiger, it takes around 5 minutes to put the top up, or down. You have to manually wind down the windows and walk around the car twice to put the top up, or down. It’s painful at best. Fast forward a long time – 58 years – and to put the top down in the MX-5 GT takes around three seconds, from the driver’s seat, using one hand. It’s so easy it’s ridiculous. Put the top up? Around three seconds with one hand. Bloody brilliant and for that reason, I did put the top down as much as I could, just to prove that mid-winter doesn’t mean you can’t use a convertible.

Other benefits as a Daily Driver include the turning circle, at a tight 9.4 metres. No doubt this is helped by the car’s short length but still, it’s a boon in city streets as well as car parks. This is one test car I was happy to take into a carpark without any thoughts of curbing wheels; tiny=excellent in Wellington’s tight city carpark buildings.

2023 Mazda MX-5 GT | Weekend Warrior

My second week with the car, it was time to head off to Hawera, a 300km and four-hour drive away. This did mean loading up the tiny (130-litre) boot with my stuff for a weekend working on our project car. It didn’t take long to fill the boot, but I did get everything in there that I needed to, so wasn’t really missing a bigger boot at all. If I had my wife with me that may have been a different story but I think with more soft bags than hard suitcases and you would get two people’s weekend needs stored in the boot. 

And honestly, it’s all going to have to go into the boot as there’s almost no other storage. Glovebox? Nope. Door pockets? Nope. Centre console cubby? Yes, but I couldn’t get my wallet or cellphone in there. It’s almost an afterthought. There is some space behind the front seats but that’s no good if you want to put the top down. There is a sort of rear glovebox I guess you could call it, behind the front seats. This is where the car’s manual lives. The cup holders are behind the seats as well, by your elbows. Not ideal, so I moved my drink bottle to the one on the passenger’s side to make it a little easier to access. I stopped on the way to Hawera and grabbed a coffee, and that was a mistake. I ended up spilling some and wearing the rest. Trying to get to a hot cup of coffee when it’s behind your elbows doesn’t work.

Still, that drive that took me into the evening was a breeze. Sixth gear, low revs and cruise control active, on those long, boring SH1 roads. A real shame the cruise control isn’t adaptive, but I made do with it old school.

With the top up, some road noise does come into the cabin, but it’s acceptable. Tyre noise on most surfaces is good, aiding a long trip, although as usual for New Zealand, coarse-chip seal will get some tyre roar happening.

A huge bonus that I didn’t know existed in the MX-5 GT is the adaptive LED headlights. I had no idea they were adaptive, and they are also excellent, with a wide spread of light, and good depth too. This is surprising as generally cars that are low to the ground struggle with getting light onto the road. The MX-5 GT proved that wrong, and the headlights are absolutely superb.

On the road and time for the first fill-up since picking up the car. With a small 45-litre fuel tank, I had managed to get 630km of driving in before needing to refuel. I still recall a review I did on the MX-5 eight years ago when the car stunned me by using less fuel than Mazda said it would. That rarely happens, but it happened again with the MX-5 GT. While Mazda suggests that this car should use 8.4L/100km, over 1,500km I managed to get that to 6.4L/100km – a full 2L/100km. When we’ve got hybrids claiming to save 0.5L/100km of fuel, that 2.0L/100km saving is substantial. Alastair also bettered Mazda’s stated fuel consumption when he had the car, getting 7.6L/100km from it. Bear in mind, it might not be a turbo motor but you will still need to feed it 95-octane fuel.

When I finally got to some twistier roads, the sporty side of the car came into its own. While direct and quick steering aids in town driving, it also has huge benefits when the roads get windy. Not just the steering of course; the MX-5 is known as a fantastic-handling car, and the GT version is even better. With its lighter 17” BBS alloy wheels and Bilstein suspension, this model handles better again. It simply flies around any corners and reminds me of the Ford Fiesta ST, where I found myself comfort braking because I really thought there was no way the car would get around a certain corner without slowing down. No need to slow down really, as this MX-5 GT eats corners up. 

It’s on roads like this that the MX-5 GT’s brakes come into play. The feedback from the pedal is excellent, and you can modulate them perfectly. Naturally, with the car’s lightweight the brakes don’t need to be huge, but the Brembo brakes on the GT model of the MX-5 are spot-on. Very hard to fault them, and repeated high-speed stops see no sign of brake fade, and the car will stop in a straight line every time.

I’m going to talk about the gearbox again, but not for long. It’s on those windy roads where short throws between gears really help you make the most progress. Not only that but with perfectly placed pedals, heel and toe gear changes are all too easy, potentially the best car I’ve driven for heel and toe, with possibly the floor-mounted accelerator pedal helping to achieve this.

While the car makes a surprisingly good commuter, it absolutely blitzes any windy road with ease. You really have to drive this car to understand just how good it is on the bends. It’s composed, with bumps not affecting steering or grip. But above all else, it’s fun. Gearbox, engine, steering, handling, brakes, pedals – it all leads to an incredibly fun car to drive. 

While the engine has more power and torque than earlier versions, I think Alistair is right when he says it doesn’t rev out as quickly. It will pull cleanly to 7,000rpm, but honestly, other than listening to the engine – and it sounds nicely throaty above 4,000rpm – there’s no need to rev it to the red line. Use the engine’s torque and along with the car’s light weight, you will find the best performance changing up early.

In Hawera, working on our project V8 Sunbeam Rapier

After a weekend working on our project car, the MX-5 GT and I headed home at 4pm. With dusk at 5 and dark at 5:30, I dropped the top on leaving town and left it down, determined to drive home topless. Side windows down and top-down, there’s always the feeling of (almost) being on a motorbike and I had forgotten all about the smells. Like on a bike, with the top down you can pick up on people with their fire on, food smells as you drive past cafes and maybe not so good, cows when you go past a paddock and sometimes silage too. So good and bad smells abound, but it all adds to the convertible experience. 

Roads the MX-5 GT was made for

There’s little buffeting with the top down as that rear wind deflector does a great job of stopping the breeze coming back into the cabin. As dusk came, so did the cold but there was an easy solution; turn on the heated seats and turn the bullet air vents towards my fingers. This did the job and I drove on in relative top-down comfort. I do find it a bit strange that there’s a bullet-type air vent at each end of the dash, then one for the driver, and the passenger gets a rectangular air vent. The OCD in me found this hard to deal with.

At one point the temperature dropped below 10 degrees but I soldiered on with a hoodie and put the side windows up. Driving at night with the top down in an MX-5 GT is a great experience.

Cold? Who cares

2023 Mazda MX-5 GT | End Game

Honestly, I thought Alistair was crazy to say the MX-5 GT was “simply one of the best new cars you can buy today”. Huh? It’s a convertible, it’s a two-seater, the boot is tiny and there’s severely limited interior space and storage. 

Who cares? The MX5-GT does what it was designed to do to perfection. The handling? Brilliant. Brake feel? Also brilliant. Steering? Fantastic. Engine noise, performance, gearbox, pedals, and looks are all perfect. 

You’ve read that I daily drove this car and then took it away for a 600km weekend trip, and I never felt the need for an SUV, a hatchback, or any other car. It did everything I threw at it, and I thoroughly enjoyed driving it every minute.

The fact is the 2023 MX-5 GT is simply one of the best new cars you can buy today.

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Fred Alvrez
How on earth to start this? I've been car/bike/truck crazy since I was a teen. Like John, I had the obligatory Countach poster on the wall. I guess I'm more officially into classic and muscle cars than anything else - I currently have a '65 Sunbeam Tiger that left the factory the same day as I left the hospital as a newborn with my mother. How could I not buy that car? In 2016 my wife and I drove across the USA in a brand-new Dodge Challenger, and then shipped it home. You can read more on We did this again in 2019 in a 1990 Chev Corvette - you can read about that trip on DriveLife. I'm a driving instructor and an Observer for the Institute of Advanced Motorists - trying to do my bit to make our roads safer.


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