Used buyer's guide: Mazda MX-5 MkIII

29 Aug, 2014 11:00am Richard Dredge

From £4,000 Ever-popular roadster makes a top second-hand buy – and here’s why

Verdict

With a much coveted five-star rating from Auto Express, and an unprecedented six class wins in our annual New Car Awards (for best roadster), the MX-5 is a very talented car. It’s also enjoyed regular success in our Used Car Awards, while our sister website CarBuyer gave it a commendation in its own Car of the Year awards this year. You don’t notch up accolades at such a rate with a car that’s merely average. Despite its advancing years, the MX-5 is still the best affordable two-seater sports car around; with brilliant reliability and keen prices, it’s just the tonic to further brighten up those summer months.

Summer fun comes no more reliable or enjoyable than with a Mazda MX-5, the cult roadster that celebrates its 25th birthday this year.

As one of the most affordable drivers’ cars on the market, the MX-5 has become a true legend in its own lifetime – and for many good reasons.

Firstly, it’s literally in a class of its own, as all rival two-seater sports cars are significantly more expensive. The MX-5 is also amazingly reliable while offering a truly great drive.

The best bit, though, is that you’re not restricted to driving the MX-5 only in summer; it’s easy and practical to use all year round.

History

The original MX-5 debuted in 1989; the second generation came in 1998, then the third in August 2005, with 1.8 or 2.0-litre petrol engines. Initially there was only a soft-top, but in October 2006 a Roadster Coupé was introduced.

A plastic folding hard-top kept the weight down, while revised suspension settings ensured a brilliant drive. In September 2008, a facelifted MX-5 was unveiled, with a tweaked interior and nose plus minor engine revisions.

More changes last autumn brought throttle and braking improvements along with a new front bumper. There’s been little development of the series 3; Mazda got it right from the outset.

Which one?

The 2.0 has more power than the 1.8, yet some prefer the latter’s driveability; autos come only with the 2.0, but are rare. Of the five-or close-ratio six-speed 2.0s, the latter is better, but the engine is made to work hard.

The Roadster Coupé is as good to drive as the soft-top, and a kit that lowers the suspension gives sharper handling but a firm ride. The Option Pack adds a leather multifunction wheel, 16-inch alloys and a higher-quality soft-top.

Alternatives

Traditionally, the MX-5’s rivals were the MGF/TF and Toyota MR2, but they’re older and the MR2 is not particularly practical, while the MG has reliability issues. Newer alternatives include the Peugeot 206 CC/207 CC and Vauxhall Tigra. All are front-wheel-drive folding hard-tops.

The 206 CC is reasonable to drive but poorly packaged; the 207 CC is better but costlier. The Tigra isn’t as good on the road, but it’s affordable and well built.

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I'd advise any potentially owner to go for a good test drive, with the roof up, stereo off and listen for squeaks and rattles. I sold a 2009 model with 25k miles partly because the annoying little noises and vibrations.

AEX 1,338
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