Mk 3 MX-5 is the one to go for
THE Mazda MX-5 seems to have achieved genuinely iconic status amongst sports car fans. It's the affordable roadster that can do no wrong. Or is it?
The third generation MX-5 launched in 2005 got bigger and softer and for the very first time, there were mutterings that Mazda had taken its eye off the ball. The Hiroshima brand didn't hurry a response, waiting until spring 2009 to introduce a whole raft of updates and improvements that once again made the car what the MX-5 always should have been.
Namely, something so much sharper and more fun to drive than anything comparable, yet not a car that would pose a huge risk to your licence in the process.
So this improved MK3 model is the version to seek out if you're going to be shopping amongst third generation MX-5s.
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With this car, gone was the cutesy front end in favour of a look that ramped up the aggression a few notches, mixing some testosterone into the MX-5's previously mild personality. There were a number of changes under the skin to tauten the feel of the car, a bunch of specification upgrades and, inevitably, the onslaught of even more of the kind of special edition models that Mazda is so keen on.
Five basic requirements were defined to realise Mazda's design criteria for the MX-5. Firstly the car would be as light as possible while meeting global safety requirements.
Next, the cockpit would comfortably accommodate two full stature occupants with no wasted space. Thirdly, the basic layout would continue with the original's front-engine rear-wheel drive configuration, with the engine positioned ahead of the driver but behind the front axle for a 50:50 front to rear weight distribution.
Next, all four wheels would be attached by wishbone or multi-link suspension systems to maximise tyre performance, road grip and dynamic stability.
Finally, the chassis would provide a solid connection between the engine and the rear mounted differential to sharpen throttle response.
This car puts a big tick beside all those boxes.
The interior is simple but effective and does indeed have space for a pair of lofty adults. With this model, there's more silver detailing about the place and that gives a more upmarket feel than the previous dark plastics.
The hard-topped Roadster-Coupé variant especially benefited from the MK3 version's 2009 model year facelift package, undergoing a series of changes aimed at reducing cabin noise.
And from this point onwards, every MX-5 came better equipped, including features like a leather-trimmed steering wheel, gear knob and hand-brake, alloy wheels, plus an MP3-compatible audio system with six speakers and an auxiliary (AUX) input jack for MP3 and iPod connection.
The improvements also stretched to fine-tuning of the engines on offer. This, coupled to aerodynamic drag reduction, meant significant reductions in CO2 emissions which dropped down from 174 to 167g/km for the 1.8i SE model. Add to that better fuel consumption – an improvement from 38 to 40mpg on the combined cycle for the 1.8i SE – and you had a package adding up to significantly reduced running costs compared to the original MK3 model.
The MX-5 has proved to be one of the most reliable cars money can buy. In a recent annual reliability survey that covered more than 50,000 vehicles, What Car? magazine confirmed this iconic roadster to be the most reliable car in Britain.
You get the idea: you can't go too far wrong here. Just make sure that the car has been serviced on the button, hasn't been crassly modified and hasn't suffered accident damage. It's also quite easy to ruin a set of back tyres if you know how to disable the stability control and have found a deserted airfield or a benign roundabout, so make sure there's some tread on those rears.
Otherwise just check the alloys for kerbing damage, the front tyres for wear and the hood for signs of rips, damage or discolouration. The Roadster-Coupé roof mechanism should also work quickly with no need for manual alignment.
The Mazda MX-5 has been designed to entertain without imposing the usual sacrifices you need to make when choosing a sports car. It's no wonder that the Japanese brand has sold over a million of these things.
This model has always been reliable, economical and safe. In facelifted third generation form, it's also just that little bit smarter, more efficient and more exciting. The perfect used roadster? That's about the size of it.