Still a jolly good sport
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 raft of updates and improvements that once again made the car what it 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 among third-generation MX-5s. Here's what to look for.
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.
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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 and in this improved Mk3 guise, dresses the winning formula in a smarter suit of clothes. The front end of this particular MX-5 has a more aggressive edge, courtesy of a reshaped air-intake with cutaway sections either side to house the fog lights. Revisions to the side sills and the rear bumper complete the effect.
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. The hard-topped Roadster-Coupe 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.
The improvements also stretched to fine-tuning of the engines. This, coupled to aerodynamic drag reduction, meant significant reductions in CO2 emissions, down from 174 to 167g/km for the 1.8i SE model. Add to that better fuel consumption – from 38.7 to 40.4mpg on the combined cycle for the 1.8i SE – and you had a package adding up to much-reduced running costs.
You'll easily recognise the facelift MX-5s by their trapezoidal front grille. These cars start at just under £9,000, which will net you a tidy 10-plated 1.8 convertible showing around 30,000 miles. You shouldn't really pay a great deal more for 20th Anniversary special edition models and higher mileage 2.0-litre cars will also be found around this figure. You'll need £10,000 to get your hands on one of the first facelift Roadster-Coupe variants. Insurance ranges from Group 21 to Group 27.