What is the Mazda MX-5 Mk 3?
This is the third iteration of the little sports car that took the world by storm when it was launched in the UK 23 years ago. Inevitably, the model has become more sophisticated and heavier so that the Mk 3, launched in 2005 then facelifted in 2008 and again 2013, rather than weighing the original car’s 1,000kg or so weighs between 1,150kg and 1,261kg.
Much of this increase can be laid at the door of improved safety and additional standard equipment. But there are also now two versions of the MX-5: a soft-top convertible and a ritzier but heavier, folding hard-top model called the Roadster Coupé.
There are two, four-cylinder petrol engines to choose from: a 124bhp 1.8 and a 158bhp 2-litre. Neither is especially potent, or for that matter economical, but the MX-5 is all about fun, rather than straight-line speed. What power there is, is channelled through a choice of three transmissions: five or six-speed manuals, and a six-speed automatic (2-litre engine, only).
Trim-wise, life begins with the SE soft-top which has all the electrically powered essentials plus climate control. Spend around £3000 more and you’re at Sport Tech level which brings Bilstein dampers, a limited slip differential and larger 17in wheels (SE has 16in). Opt for Sport Tech Nav and you get a 5.8in TomTom sat nav system. Topping the range is the comfort-oriented Power Shift, available only with the six-speed, paddle-shift automatic.
A recent facelift brought a new, and not especially attractive, gaping-mouth grille but, more usefully, pedestrian protection in the form of an active bonnet which pops up to increase the space between the bonnet and the unyielding engine.
Our test car, a 2-litre Sport Tech Nav Roadster Coupé, displayed those same qualities that made earlier MX-5s such a success ‒ namely lightning-quick steering, tidy handling and a precise, short-throw gearshift, all the better for accessing what little power there is.
The Sport Tech’s Bilstein dampers are probably a little firm for most tastes. The car picks out every imperfection on the road surface. The super-quick steering will surprise drivers from less sporty models. An MX-5 corners fast and flat so you need to have your wits about you. Fortunately, if things do go awry, you can always collect the rear end with a wristful of opposite lock, the car is that well balanced and adjustable.
The folding hard top does its business at the flick of a switch. The soft-top model is a genuine all-weather car but the hard-top provides that extra degree of convenience and sound insulation. However, in such a compact car you’re always very close to the action so that whether fabric or metal roof, road and engine noise are always competing for your attention.
No one ever said the MX-5 is a roomy car but you’ll get a couple of weekend bags into that compact, 150-litre boot. Fortunately, the folding hard-top does not impinge on boot space. Otherwise, the cabin is a snug fit, perhaps too snug for taller drivers who will find the lack of steering wheel adjustment irksome. For shorter and average-height occupants the MX-5 offers a comfortable and uniquely sporty driving position, made more so by the stubby gearshift being located such that you can operate it purely by the wrist, your forearm resting comfortably on the transmission tunnel.
The latest model has a busier looking fascia with a few additional dials and switches, and attractive glossy dark grey inserts. The sat nav system fitted to our test car was not the most intuitive but it comes packed with features including 5.8in touch screen, coverage across 45 countries, and iPod and Bluetooth connectivity.
Build quality is excellent. The ride may feel bone-shakingly firm at times, at least in Sport Tech models, but the trim remains resolutely silent. There’s not a squeak or a rattle and there’s never likely to be, it’s that well anchored to the car.
What to look out for when buying a used Mazda MX-5 Mk 3
Throughout its long life the MX-5 has proved wonderfully reliable overall, and it recently topped the 2012 Auto Express Driver Power survey by a clear margin, scoring an impressive 98.36%. Indeed it has consistently scored well and headed its class in reliability and customer satisfaction surveys worldwide, including the Warranty Direct Reliability Index and the Which? 2011 car survey, and owners are generally delighted with it.
The few complaints heard have all concerned glitches in electrical components not related to the engine. There hasn’t yet been a recall campaign in Britain for the Mk 3 MX-5, and over the years its predecessors have had just three very minor recalls.
The one to buy
Mazda 1.8i SE soft-top
- £18,495 (correct at time of first publication)
- 1798cc, 4 cylinders
- 124bhp @ 6500rpm
- 123lb ft @ 4500rpm
- 5-speed manual
- 0-62mph in 9.9sec
- Top speed:
- 39.8mpg (combined)
- Road tax band:
- L 4020mm, W 1720mm, H 1245mm
Mazda MX-5 rivals