If you’re looking for a sports-car experience without having to pay the sports-car price, look no further than the Mazda MX-5. The vehicle has been making big waves ever since it hit the market in 1989, eventually becoming the world’s best-selling sports car.
In 1989, small roadsters were not prevalent on the market. A combination of its high-quality engineering and lack of competition led the MX-5 to be the 1989 runaway winner of the prestigious Wheels Car of the Year.
The improvements for the 2nd generation in 1999 focused on power, taking the MX-5’s beloved sports-car experience to the next level. In 2002, Mazda Australia released a limited run of 100 turbocharged MX-5s. While completely forgoing the affordable aspect that made the MX-5 so universally celebrated, the MX-5 SP maxed out the performance of the vehicle, giving fans of the model the ridiculously fast variant they coveted.
While the turbocharged version was widely heralded, and remains the favourite inception of the model for many, its lack of affordability and the limited run kept it away from most potential drivers. As a result of its popularity, however, Mazda released the MX-5 SE in 2004. This model was turbocharged, though not nearly to the level of the SP.
The third generation was unveiled a year later, and remains the current generation of the MX-5. The Australian version of the third-generation model boasts a 2.0-litre engine, which is larger than the European version. Stylistically, the car was redesigned to fit more in line with the growing Mazda family.
The Mazda MX-5, unlike other models by the company, has largely retained its core style and performance over the course of its lifespan, opting mostly for tweaks to keep the brand relevant. The MX-5 was wildly popular from the get-go, so Mazda was wise to use caution when updating and modifying the vehicle.
The first major improvement upon the success of the MX-5 came in 1998 with the second-generation model. It was a little longer, a little faster, and contained improvements in the wheels, tires, and brakes. It had a 4-cylinder, 1.6-litre petrol engine that got 85kW of power and 130Nm of torque, and came with a manual 5-speed transmission. A major stylistic facelift followed in 2001 for a sportier look, but it retained much of the same engine specs.
The sought-after MX-5 SP that was released in 2002 contained a turbocharged 1.8-litre engine under the bonnet that produced 157kW of power and 289 Nm of torque and boasted a 6-speed manual transmission. The limited release of the MX-5 SP make it still one of the most desired models, so if have an interest in an SP and see one for sale, don’t hesitate. The similar NB series had the same engine size, but it was a petrol aspirated version that only brought in 107 kW of power and 168 Nm of torque.
The manual version of the second-generation MX-5 has a fuel economy rating of 8.9L/100km, which isn’t terrible for a performance car. The automatic version of the model drops the fuel rating a bit, but the automatic version also eliminates a great deal of what made the MX-5 such a popular car in the first place.
The third generation harnessed the increased level of technology to update the vehicle and make it more powerful without seriously impacting the price. Taller drivers will appreciate the changes made for the third-generation MX-5, which is much roomier than the previous inceptions.
Since 2001, fog lamps have been standard in the MX-5. Older models may still feature them because they were available as an option prior to that. Most models are convertible-style, with a retractable soft-top, but newer versions include the option for a hardtop.
Air conditioning is not a given for all models because it became available during the 2nd generation, but power windows, locks, antenna, and mirrors are standard for all. ABS brakes were introduced as an option during the second-generation as well.
When the MX-5 was released in 1989, it barely had any competition. Whether that was what led it to surge in popularity is possible, but it has since prompted other makers to produce roadsters in an attempt to de-throne the MX-5.
The two closest competitors for the performance and price range are the MG TF and the Toyota MR2. The MG TF has a similar 1.8-litre engine and comparable torque, but delivers less power. The Toyota MR2 has only 1.6-litre engine, considerably less power, and much less standard kit. Both the MG and Toyota are two-seat convertibles, but neither have the iconic history of the MX-5. Furthermore, since MX-5 has sold so many units, it is much more widely available on the used-car market.