From £17,6658
The Mazda MX-5 is still great fun, and more grown up in its third (NC) generation. For pure driving fun, little else gets close

Before the 1989 Chicago motor show, there was no mass-market sports car for motoring enthusiasts of average means.

There were hot hatches and mid-engined coupés, but the affordable roadster had vanished in the preceding decade. Then Mazda unveiled the MX-5 and, in a moment, the open sports car had a future.

Styling is a subtle evolution of the old car’s, with a hint of natty RX-8 detailing

The world’s most written about and, arguably, most desirable affordable car first arrived in Britain a year later, filling the void left by the old Lotus Elan. By 2000, the MX-5 had become the biggest-selling sports car of all time.

Such was the regard in which the second-generation model, produced between 1998 and 2005, was held, it was possible to overlook the fact that it shook and wobbled and wore a dated cabin. The charm of a basic, affordable roadster still prevailed.

the ageing By the time the Mk3 MX-5 was launched in 2005, buyers wanted more comfort and big-car refinement. To a large extent the MX-5 fulfilled that brief, even if weight had now grown to more than 1100kg (the original tipped the scales at less than 950kg; the Mk2 was a little over 1000kg).

Thankfully power increased too, and the range now encompasses 1.8 and 2.0-litre models, manual and automatic gearboxes and the choice of soft or folding hard-top models.

Back to top

The 1.8-litre is only offered in the soft-top version, which incidentally weighs 80kg less than the hard-top Roadster Coupé, while the tin-top gets the option of the 2.0-litre motor and a wider range of trims.

Those trims include the Sport Tech model, which gains Bilstein suspension and a front strut brace for a slightly more focused drive.

Mazda performed a tight, targeted facelift on its popular roadster in 2009, tackling initial customer criticism that ranged from the linearity of its steering to over-intrusive bottle storage arrangements.

At the 2012 Paris motor show Mazda launched a facelifted MX-5 to keep it fresh before an all-new model is introduced in 2014. The car is distinguished by a new front bumper and grille, while a new 'active bonnet' is fitted to improve pedestrian safety.

The question is, with the introduction of models such as the Toyota GT86, Subaru BRZ and BMW Z4, can Mazda MX-5 still cut it in the entertainment stakes?

First drives