Mazda MX-5 ultimate road test: Mk1 vs Mk2 vs Mk3

29 Aug, 2014 2:45pm Dean Gibson

To celebrate 25 years of the Mazda MX-5 we brought all three generations of the car to date together for the ultimate road test

It’s hard to believe that the Mazda MX-5 turns 25 this year. To celebrate, the Japanese firm has not only pulled the wraps off an all-new version of the legendary two-seater roadster, it’s also launched a special birthday edition of the outgoing, third generation model.

Called, unsurprisingly, the 25th Anniversary, the newcomer gets a special paint finish, some extra kit and is limited to just 1,000 examples - yet at £22,995 it undercuts the range-topping Sport Tech model on which its based.

Mazda MX-5: 25 years in pictures

To make this an extra special event, we’ve brought this celebratory machine together with examples of the first and second generation models for an exclusive MX-5 road test.

Not only will this give us the chance to toast the Mazda’s quarter of a century of success, we’ll also be able to delve into the MX-5’s DNA and see what qualities the new fourth generation MX-5 model will have to possess if it want’s to continue the drop-top machine’s run as the world’s best-selling roadster.

So join as we lift the lids on three of most invigorating two-seat sports cars to hit British roads in more than 25 years.

Mazda MX-5 Mk1 review

Mazda MX-5 Mk2 review 

Mazda MX-5 Mk3 review

Click the links above to read individual reviews, and scroll down to see which generation came out on top...

Head-to-head

Lifting the lid

Experiencing wind in the hair thrills is what MX-5 ownership is all about - and lowering the roof on all three models couldn’t be simpler. In the current car you unlatch a single catch on the windscreen header rail before prodding a button on the dash and letting the electric motors do the rest. On the earlier cars you have to lower the hood manually, but this process takes a matter of seconds and can be done from the driver’s seat. Of course, the MKI and MkII can’t match the all-weather security of the latest car’s folding hardtop.

Simple style

All three cars share many of the same design cues, but it’s the simple and compact original that boasts the most kerb appeal to our eyes. The pop-up headlamps aren’t as pedestrian friendly or aerodynamic as the later cars’ faired in units, but they look great and add real character. The delicate metal door handles are another fantastic touch.

Buying used

With the covers being pulled off the all-new fourth generation model, there’s never been a better time to buy a used MX-5. A budget of around £1,500 will buy you a usable MKI, while another £500 will secure you a tidy MKII. Prices for the current car are a little higher, but £4,000 should net you a cared for 2005 model.

Verdict

Mazda MX-5 Mk1

Mazda MX-5 MkII

A quarter of a century after it first ripped-up the roadster rulebook, the original MX-5’s appeal remains undimmed. It looks great, is fantastic to drive and is great value for money. Its approachable rear-wheel drive handling still sets the standard for involvement, plus its eager engine and wrist-flick gearchange make the most of the available performance. Even better, top notch reliability means this is the ultimate hassle-free modern classic. 

Mazda MX-5 Mk2

Mazda MX-5 MkII rear tracking

While it lacks the cute charm of original, the second generation MX-5 lacked none of its predecessor’s capacity for fun. The eager engine and thrilling rear-drive handling remained unchanged, and when the roof is down and the sun is shining few cars can generate a bigger grin on their driver’s face. However, it was also more practical, a little more refined and featured a longer list of standard kit, making it a more sensible machine for daily use.

Mazda MX-5 Mk3

Mazda MX-5 MkIII rear tracking

The current car has been around for nearly a decade now, but while the cracks are starting to show it’s still huge fun to drive and decent value - especially in 25th Anniversary guise. In folding hard top RC guise you also get the best of both worlds, with coupe-like refinement when the roof is raised and wind-in-the-hair thrills when to roof is lowered. On this evidence the all-new car is going to have to be very special indeed.

More Mazda MX-5 25th anniversary stories

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