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Long-term report: Why I bought the unloved MX-5

Tristan Young

07 Sep 2020

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Back in 2011 I had lump of cash burning a hole in my pocket and a desire to own a convertible and I’d almost settled on an early, but low mileage Jaguar XKR when one of those offers that’s almost too good to be true came along.

That offer was a six-month old MX-5 with less than 2,000 miles on the clock for less than £13,000 – basically trade price. The list RRP at the time was close to £21,000.

In fact, my trade contact had a few MX-5s on offer so I was able to choose which specification and colour.

And this is where I had very firm views because the third-generation MX-5, somewhat rightly, has the worst reputation when it comes to being a fun drive.

The first generation, NA, car was an instant hit thanks to a low weight, great feel from the steering, suspension that was perfectly set up for UK roads and just enough power to entertain without ever getting scary. Great looks and a very competitive price were the icing on the cake.

The second generation, NB, MX-5 was baked in the same mould although it was a touch heavier, moving from the NA’s 950kg to 1,065kg in the NB.

In 2005 the NC was released which was heavier still. Rather than the instant praise the earlier cars received the third-generation car came in for some criticism in several areas such as the steering, the weight and the engines. In short, the car simply wasn’t as fun to drive.

It turns out that not all third generation MX-5s are created equal; indeed, I’d argue this is the same for the fourth, ND, model too.

However, it is still possible to pick a fun NC generation MX-5, which is what I did. The trick is to go for a facelifted model. These came out in 2009 and Mazda engineers had improved the steering and a revised 2.0-litre engine. While power didn’t change much, going from 158bhp to 167bhp, the rev limiter was raised to 7,500rpm and the character of the engine was livelier.

Despite the folding hardtop Roadster Coupe version being the bigger seller, this adds weight and robs fun. And given this car was going to be my second car and only for occasional use fun was my priority. So the manual soft-top is the better bet.

Finally, and for maximum fun, on the 2.0-litre cars the top Sport Tech trim level, introduced in 2009, came with a limited slip differential to give maximum grip at the rear wheels.

Pick these three things; the 167bhp engine, the soft-top and the limited slip differential and maximum fun can be had.

With my favourite light blue paint (called Winning Blue) dropped from the MX-5 range when it was facelifted, once I’d chosen my spec the only thing then was to pick Soul Red metallic paint.

Given I normally only hang on to cars for a couple of years at most before wanting something different, it’s impressive that I’ve now had the MX-5 for nine years.

The primary reason is that within my budget there’s nothing I’d rather have to fill the role of ‘fun convertible’.

Over future reports I’ll discuss some of the things I’ve learnt along the way, the issues I’ve found and also a few plans for the future.

Facts at a glance

Model: 2011 Mazda MX-5 2.0 Sport Tech soft-top

Price: £12,500 (in 2011) value now: circa £8,300

Engine: 2.0-litre petrol

Power: 167bhp

0-60mph: 7.6 seconds

Top speed: 136mph

Fuel economy: 36.2mpg (official) – achieving 28.4mpg

Mileage: 19,035

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