This is the first generation of the world’s best-selling sports car. A car that famously offers such a pure driving experience for not a lot of money. Indeed, more than 25 years since it was launched, Mazda has returned to this car’s ethos with the latest MX-5.
What are its rivals?
That’s the thing… there aren’t really any. Sure, there’s Toyota’s MR2, but that’s more expensive, and offers feistier mid-engined handling. It’s not a proper convertible, either. Aside from that? Erm, MG tried to battle the MX-5 with the MG F, but it’s a tragic Austin Rover parts-bin that is best avoided. The older MG B might appeal to those with a more classic-car mindset, though (i.e. those with AA Gold membership).
Which engines does it use?
This example we’re testing here uses the more powerful 1.8-litre engine, introduced in 1993. It’s not as eager to rev as the peppy 1.6-litre, although but later 1.6-litre cars were detuned to just 90hp. If you want anything close to sports car performance, you’ll want the 130hp 1.8.
What’s it like to drive?
These cars are heavily affected by things like geometry and tyre choice. This example, part of Mazda’s heritage fleet, is pretty sorted in that regard – as you’d expect. The suspension’s standard – meaning it sits higher than some would like, but that results in a compliant ride.
Without power steering, it provides oodles of feedback and encourages you to make good progress along rural roads. It’s a car that’s better suited to a twisty B-road than a more open, flowing road thanks to its limited power and extremely nimble handling. There’s very little out there that’ll handle as well as an early MX-5 for the money.
Reliability and running costs
This is the appealing thing about an MX-5. The engines are pretty bulletproof, as long as you service them regularly and don’t skimp on cambelt changes. Due to how common MX-5s are, parts are very cheap, and there’s a good network of owners’ clubs and forums for support.
Classic insurers love them, and you’ll comfortably see in excess of 30mpg unless you drive everywhere near the redline. Which you might.
Could I drive it every day?
It’d be a bit of a shame to… MX-5s work well as weekend cars, when you’ve got a comfy commuter for the week. Roofs that can occasionally be a little less than 100% watertight, plus a small, basic cabin, might start to wear after a while, but if you can put up with this there’s no reason why you shouldn’t use an MX-5 every day. It’s unlikely to go wrong – just make sure you give it a good clean underneath with a pressure washer if you’ve been driving on salted roads.
How much should I pay?
As ever, pay as much as you can afford. You can pick up a slightly neglected example for less than a grand, but invest a couple of thousand in a minter and you’ll see it go up in value over the coming years.
What should I look out for?
Rust. That’s the thing that kills MX-5s. Expect to replace the sills on a semi-regular basis, but rust around the wheelarches and windscreen can be costly to repair properly. Look out for bodged examples – take a magnet and make sure they’re made of metal rather than filler. If the body is tidy, anything else is comparably cheap to fix.
You should also beware that there are lots of ‘Mazda Eunos’ Japanese imports in the UK. There’s no reason why you should avoid these – they’re so common that insurance companies generally treat them the same as UK MX-5s, and they often have a better specification (including things like air-con). Having spent a shorter amount of time on salty British roads, they’re often in better condition, too. Just make sure they’ve got a decent service history.
Should I buy one?
There’s a reason why the original MX-5 is so popular. It’ll be a while before it draws crowds at classic car shows, but for a sunny weekend nothing will make you smile as much for the money. Find the elusive rust-free example while you still can.
The MX-5 holds the Guinness World Record for being the best-selling two-seat sports car in history. When the record was declared in 2000, more than 500,000 had been sold – with close to double that now produced.