Back in 1989, roadsters were limited to a handful of premium badged choices for the wealthy. The MX-5 changed that, creating a resurgence in small, fun, lightweight roadsters in the vein of long dead machines from MG, Lotus, Triumph and a host of others. The formula was simple: affordability, rear-wheel drive, a no-frills interior, engine up front and a drop-top. It's proved enduring too, as this current generation of MX-5 is the third. The fun little Mazda was responsible for kick-starting the roadster marketplace again, and still largely dominates it.
In keeping with the MX-5 ethos the range is fairly simple. Two engines have been offered on this third-generation model, a 1.8-litre petrol and a 2.0-litre unit. Transmissions are limited to manuals, of either five- or six speeds, with no automatic gearbox. From early in the current car's life Mazda offered it in both standard convertible form - with a folding fabric roof - and in Roadster Coupé guise, which features a folding hardtop. It adds some weight to the MX-5, but increases security if you're likely to park it on the street overnight. Unlike most other coupé-convertibles, the MX-5's roof does not encroach on the boot space, though there is less storage behind the seats.
It's all about the driving with the MX-5 so don't expect too much excitement in the cabin. The plastics feel fairly sturdy, while the dashboard isn't exactly inspiring to look at. It all works though, and specification in all should include electric windows, a CD player and alloy wheels. Look out for heated seats and leather trim, while the many special editions Mazda has produced also add extra equipment and different colour choices and combinations.
A restyle in 2008 brought the MX-5's looks more in line with the rest of the Mazda range. It's marked out by its sharper looking headlamps and larger front grille set low in the front bumper - plus some minor changes to the interior.
None will shock with the performance on offer; the 2.0-litre produces just 160hp for instance. That's not the point though, as the MX-5 is about its fine handling, quick steering and accurate manual transmission. So any model is fun; buy purely on budget, as series three cars are available from €6,000 to over triple that.
Mazda MX-5 1.8 SE
Engine: 1,798cc four-cylinder petrol
Maximum speed: 200km/h
0-100km/h: 9.6 seconds
Fuel consumption: 7.3 litres/100km
- Fun to drive
- Inexpensive to run
- Decent standard equipment
- Uninspiring interior
- Boot space limited
- Not very fast
A genre-defining roadster, the MX-5 might not be ferociously fast, but it's well built, beautifully balanced and a joy to drive. Simple, good looking and inexpensive, Mazda has stuck faithfully to the original, winning formula, if you're after a fun, two-seat roadster then look no further.