Skip advert
Advertisement

Mazda MX-5 (Mk3) buying guide

After a shaky start, the Mk3 MX-5 soon hit its stride, and the earliest cars are now a very tempting £4k

Our first impressions of the third-generation MX-5 weren’t terribly favourable. Perhaps suspicious of a ‘grown-up’ Five with the option of a powered metal roof and a different suspension set-up to the ‘pure’ Mk1s and Mk2s, we gave it a bit of a kicking. Especially at eCoty 2005, where an example with distinctly iffy handling came a resounding last.

Advertisement - Article continues below

Our view mellowed with time. Mazda itself produced lowering springs that ameliorated the chassis’ remote, disjointed feel. Experiencing cars that had had their wheel alignment properly checked helped too, and the facelifted Mk3.5 was a marked improvement.

The simple truth is, properly set up, a Mk3 or 3.5 is still a hell of a lot of fun. And now with an all-new model on the horizon, prices as low as £4000 for the earliest examples and a lot of those ‘pure’ Mk1s and 2s succumbing to rust, it’s a good time to reconsider the third gen.

At launch, the basic 1.8i had a five-speed gearbox, 16in wheels and no limited-slip diff. The 2.0i gained the LSD, while the 2.0i Sport added a six-speed ’box, 17in alloys, Bilstein suspension and a front strut brace. There was a Coupe version of all models, with that neatly folding metal top.

Skip advert
Advertisement
Advertisement - Article continues below

MORE: Mazda MX-5 (Mk1) buying guide

In 2009 the car was given a substantial facelift. The Mk3.5 (or NC2) had a sharper new look and tweaks to the engine and chassis. The range was essentially the same with slightly different badging – 1.8i SE, 2.0i SE, 2.0i Sport Tech – and the addition of the 2.0i Powershift (a six-speed auto).

Advertisement - Article continues below

As ever with MX-5s, there have been many special editions (for a full run-down, look at roadster-nc.com), but two genuinely special Fives are the 2.0i GT Jota Coupe (203bhp, lots of carbon, Öhlins damper option) and the 2.0i BBR Turbo GT270 (268bhp, just 100 built).

Just as with the Mk1 and Mk2, there’s plenty of scope for modifying, from a set of poly bushes to sharpen the handling (and stiffen the ride), right through to turbocharger and supercharger conversions. With helpful forums and clubs, a growing band of specialists and a flourishing trackday and motorsport scene, there’s a lot here to love.

Mazda MX-5 driven

May 2006 (Mk3)

‘The Mk3 is quicker, better built, undoubtedly safer in a crash, better equipped and better finished. Mazda deserves credit for achieving all of this with a negligible weight penalty and only moderately increased cost. But the new MX-5 feels closer to a BMW Z4 than an old MX-5. If that thought floats your boat, buy one and you’ll probably love it.

Skip advert
Advertisement
Advertisement - Article continues below

Whatever model you drive, get the alignment checked. Properly set up, the two ends of the car seemed more in tune with each other – there was less of the sensation of an ultra-darty front confusing a squidgy rear, and the car started to flow through corners.’ (evo 091)

Advertisement - Article continues below

April 2009 (Mk3.5)

‘The revised 2-litre four still makes 158bhp but now revs a little higher and sounds a tad more raspy and characterful, too. The steering response and rate, the damping and the balance of the chassis feel just as good as they did on the second-generation MX-5, which is to say in harmony, cohesive, feelsome and poised. If you have the confidence, on a wet road you can drive it as you would a Caterham. The MX-5 is back to being brilliant again.’ (evo 129)

Mazda MX-5 owner's review

Gareth Brown - 'I bought my 2006 Mk3 for £5999 in July 2012 with 38,000 miles on the clock. It’s a 2.0 soft-top with Option Pack, so it has the LSD but not the Sport’s six-speed ’box and Bilsteins. I quickly had lowering springs fitted and the alignment set up correctly – £350 well spent. I also added the 17in wheels and Michelin Exaltos from the Sport.

‘In 2013 I attended a Mazda on Track day at Blyton Park and, after driving Paul Roddison’s car, I realised mine was still under-damped and wallowy for track work. So I had MeisterR adjustable coilovers fitted by Paul, with full corner weighting and a more aggressive alignment. It’s so much better. On the road it no longer grounds on speed bumps under compression but is still compliant. Best of all, I can stiffen the dampers with a twist of the adjuster and it is much more planted on track.

‘I find it more fun than the Boxster S that I had before. It’s fast enough for me to learn the ropes on track and is relatively cheap to run. It averages mpg in the high-20s, though mid-to-high-30s is easy to achieve with some restraint. It’s also practical enough for commuting and the school run. The MX-5 doesn’t do a huge mileage – about 8000 since I’ve had it. In that time it’s been faultless and has passed two MOTs without a hitch.’

Skip advert
Advertisement

Recommended

Porsche 718 Spyder RS on the Col de Turini – car pictures of the week
Porsche 718 Spyder RS – front
Features

Porsche 718 Spyder RS on the Col de Turini – car pictures of the week

We take Porsche’s 718 Spyder RS on an epic Alpine road trip in the latest issue of evo – here are some of our favourite shots
14 Apr 2024
Secret BMWs – a look behind the scenes at Munich's unseen models
Secret BMWs
Features

Secret BMWs – a look behind the scenes at Munich's unseen models

For every BMW model that reaches the showroom, there are numerous prototypes and concepts that have existed only behind the scenes – until now
13 Apr 2024
The new Chevrolet Corvette ZR1 is set for a reveal this summer
C8 Corvette Z06 teaser
News

The new Chevrolet Corvette ZR1 is set for a reveal this summer

The track-focused C8 Corvette ZR1 is set to be the most potent variant yet, and a reveal is finally on the horizon
11 Apr 2024
Morgan Plus Four receives chassis and design tweaks for 2024
2024 Morgan Plus Four
News

Morgan Plus Four receives chassis and design tweaks for 2024

The Plus Four has been given updates across the board for 2024, but it retains its trademark design
10 Apr 2024
Skip advert
Advertisement

Most Popular

UK speeding fines 2024 – what are the latest penalties for drivers?
Speeding fines header
Advice

UK speeding fines 2024 – what are the latest penalties for drivers?

Here's everything you need to know about speeding fines in the UK and other possible motoring-related offences
18 Apr 2024
Used car deals of the week
Main used car deals
Advice

Used car deals of the week

In this week's used car deals, we've sourced everything from a Kia Stinger GT S to a Ferrari F12 Berlinetta
18 Apr 2024
Kia Stinger GT S Fast Fleet test – 12,000 miles in the V6 sports saloon
evo Fast Fleet Kia Stinger GT S
Long term tests

Kia Stinger GT S Fast Fleet test – 12,000 miles in the V6 sports saloon

After covering 12,000 miles on the Fast Fleet, did the Kia Stinger GT S convince us that it’s a credible alternative to its European rivals?
15 Apr 2024