RE: Mazda MX-5 (NC) | PH Used Review

RE: Mazda MX-5 (NC) | PH Used Review

Monday 23rd September 2019

Mazda MX-5 (NC) | PH Used Review

Not exactly revered when new, there's plenty to recommend a Mk3 MX-5 nowadays - here's why...



Back then...
Remember how concerned people were when the Mk3 MX-5 was announced? Even before anyone outside of Mazda had turned a wheel in anger, engineers were having to justify the technical decisions behind the 2005 model. Where the Mk2 was very clearly a cute-faced evolution of the already legendary Mk1, the third gen was a more modern take on the roadster formula, with its bigger footprint and heavier kerbweight the unwelcome (to fans of the older cars at least) results of a broadened focus. Its inflated size suggested we were now in a world where not even the MX-5 could avoid an inevitable fattening up; the mid-noughties Mazda was evidence that the old days of bare bones driver's cars were done.

Those were the thoughts of people who at first believed Mazda's once unique two-seater had let go of its USP, an accolade that had earned it millions of global fans through two generations. Compared to similarly priced but evermore powerful hot hatchbacks, it offered lesser outright performance and at launch, the NC was labelled by journalists as too soft, too loose and simply not keen enough to pick up the baton from the sprightlier NB. It was safer and more practical than ever, yes, but for the simple act of mimicking the sixties Lotus Elan, an edge had been lost.


Except it hadn't, the Mk3's untapped potential just hadn't quite been found on the first attempt. It took minor alterations to unlock the NC's best, mixing its newfound (relatively speaking) refinement with the pluckiness and adjustability of those forebears. The Mk3.5 facelift was when things really got going; it received stiffer springs and a firmed up anti-roll bar to lower the front roll centre, while engine and throttle map tweaks brought back some of the eagerness that was lacking in the earliest NC examples. Once these fixes had been noted, only then did longstanding MX-5 fans really begin to welcome it to the family.

Equally as important was the added gusto extracted from the car's top 2.0-litre engine. Within the naturally aspirated four-cylinder was a new forged crankshaft that helped give the motor its 7,200rpm redline and 7,500rpm limiter - gains of 500rpm on before. The peak of 160hp came at 7,000rpm, too, so there was reward in exploring the upper realms of the engine. Even though it still couldn't quite match the outputs of other enthusiast favourites in this price bracket, including Renault's Clio 200 RS and Honda's FN2 Civic Type R, the 2.0-litre MX-5 arguably offered an equally exciting driving experience alongside an unrivalled purity.


Nowadays...
Unfortunately for the Mk3, the newer ND's arrival has only cemented its ranking as the heaviest, largest MX-5 of the family. But that doesn't mean the third-generation machine has fallen by the wayside, as it remains a vastly more usable option than the models that came before it and only sacrifices a few clicks of performance to its successor. Where the early cars are now deep into the realms of the modern classic - and come with all the rust and risks that such an age often brings - the Mk3 feels very much like a product of the 21st century, one that can go into full-time use all year round and fly through MOTs.

That being said, the Mk3 also manages to retain enough of an old school sense of occasion to feel special. While owners of NA/NB gen cars can still argue that it falls short of the fingertip connectivity of their cars, in the context of today's affordable driver's cars, it's still comparably raw. The engine needs to be worked to achieve its best, the limits of the 205-width tyres are well within reach and the chassis balance itself can suddenly switch if you're careless, so it's got all the makings of a proper sports car. It's just that if you want to leave the roof up and travel a couple of hundred miles up the motorway, it'll do that rather well, too - and in more comfort than its predecessors by a fair margin.


Still, the 2.0 NC is at its most rewarding when driven quickly on a bendy road, where it can flaunt the pointiness of the facelifted car's front end and rear-drive adjustability if you're quick enough on the throttle. The ride and body control are decent in the Mk3.5 model, if not ultra-tight, the hydraulically-assisted steering provides actual feel and the gearbox is slick to use. With the roof down, there's an added visceral layer to the experience that no similarly priced used alternative can replicate, meaning those who want an MX-5 are unlikely to be lured away by the coupe-only GT86/BRZ combo, even if they're ultimately the sharper machines.

The most generously equipped NC was the 25th Anniversary, which came at the end of the NC's production run as a kitchen sink special. It mixed the 2.0-litre engine with a standard-fit LSD, 17-inch wheels and top-spec cabin, including a folding metal roof, so if you're presently looking for the most up to date take on the Mk3, this is undoubtedly it. With all that kit on board, though, it does tip the scales at 1,115kg - not exactly obese by modern standards, but enough to earn it the title of lardiest MX-5. Still, many will appreciate the functionality provided by a car that has a 6.1-inch touchscreen infotainment system, Bluetooth connectivity and button-operated lid like this.


Should you?
Given the value for money now offered by well-specced Mk3.5s, it'd be hard to recommend the 25th Anniversary as the best value offering - and that's assuming you'd be able to find one for sale, as only 749 of the 1,099 examples came to Britain. Those not after the plushest NC would find plenty right with a late, non-special edition car using the same 2.0-litre and limited slip diff. Of course, you can bag a healthy early car for little more than Β£3k to provide the cheapest step into Mk3 MX-5 ownership, but those after the ultimate experience in a lowish mileage package should best set out with around three times that number in mind. That makes even a well-specced MX-5 NC cheaper than the equivalent GT86 but costlier than the likes of that Clio 200 and Civic Type R.

Even so, the biggest threat to the Mk3's desirability comes from its successor, which can be had from around Β£13k on the used market. We won't need to outline the extra desirability of a later model - let alone one that's as universally loved as the ND. Handily for the 2.0-litre Mk3, you'll need close to Β£4k more to access the 160hp ND, so it's not quite treading on the earlier car's toes just yet unless you're prepared to take a power cut. Right now, it means the 2.0 Mk3 sits happy in its own space, unrivalled in its mix of modern usability and authentic roadster experience. That only its successor can threaten that title emphasises just how unique this brilliant lineage remains.


SPECIFICATION - MAZDA MX-5 NC 2.0
Engine:
1,999cc, 4-cyl
Transmission: 6-speed manual, rear-wheel drive
Power (hp): 160@7,000rpm
Torque (lb ft): 139@5,000rpm
0-62mph: 7.6 secs
Top speed: 132mph
Weight: 1,115kg
MPG: 38.2
CO2: 177g/km
Price new: Β£16,600
Price now: c. Β£4,000

Search for a Mazda MX-5 NC here.



Author
Discussion

dapper

Original Poster:

34 posts

24 months

Monday 23rd September 2019
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Would love to test drive one of these. However, the lighter more raw experience given by the earlier NB and later ND appeal much more to me.

sidesauce

1,124 posts

167 months

Monday 23rd September 2019
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The car shown in the pictures with this article looks great and I say this as someone who's not even a fan of the MX-5!

pixelmix

68 posts

57 months

Monday 23rd September 2019
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This is on point for me: I like the idea of a third car which I can use for 200mi round trips for work occasionally. The NB is getting on a bit (I don't have the skills or the time to be fixing things every weekend) and the ND is too expensive. A later 2.0 NC therefore makes sense for me - not the last word in performance, but a nice entry into the world of small, fun RWD cars. There is very little in the class at that sort of price.

What are thoughts on the soft top vs folding hard top? Is the lower weight of the former noticeable?

V8 FOU

2,672 posts

96 months

Monday 23rd September 2019
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This car, an MX5, with 165 bhp and 1200kg weight is so much better than a GT86 with 200bhp and about the same weight? But the GT86 needs more power according to the keyboard Kevins, but the MX5 is brilliant?
Confused......

Jimmy Recard

16,080 posts

128 months

Monday 23rd September 2019
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I like my 06 plate 2.0, although I haven’t driven it for a month. I paid well under £2000 for it in March and it has done two Nürburgring trips and several track days since.

It’s going for MOT soon and then I’ll probably put it away for the winter to give it coil overs and some other bits and pieces smile

Accelebrate

4,374 posts

164 months

Monday 23rd September 2019
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RenesisEvo

3,088 posts

168 months

Monday 23rd September 2019
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pixelmix said:
What are thoughts on the soft top vs folding hard top? Is the lower weight of the former noticeable?
I think for most people, it isn't. I own an early NC, having driven various, with softop and removable hardtop. If I was to buy another NC, I'd probably settle for the convenience of the powered folding roof. 99% of the time the added weight is irrelevant (and even on track I don't think I'd notice vs a passenger/no passenger). The added comfort and isolation of the fixed roof brings a lot more. I find mine too noisy with the soft-top only for longer runs - a recent drive to Wales I had the hardtop on to make it bearable. Admittedly my car doesn't have the later drainage holes with the flaps and foam to reduce the noise being piped into the cabin, it might be better then. Roof-down its irrelevant, you can't hear much above 60 whatever you do. Admittedly if I was in the market for an ND, I'd probably take the soft-top, I'm not sold on the RF (but I've never tried that version).

Usual MX-5 caveats - rust, wheel geometry, rust. But also bushes and dampers - I refreshed both and the change was transformative. Older/leggier cars are likely to need these replaced, otherwise could feel a bit mediocre, or worse.

seanyfez

19 posts

140 months

Monday 23rd September 2019
quotequote all
Great cars - my wife has had two 2.0 Mk3’s, the first a soft top six speeder and the second a folding roof five speed.

Both were bought for daily commuting and for the blast across to Spa each year.

I can’t fault either of them - they sat in a garage which included a F355 and Porsche 993 amongst others - they were fun when they needed to be fun and comfortable on a long run.

I preferred the soft top as it’s much quicker to raise and lower at the traffic lights!!

Sandpit Steve

394 posts

23 months

Monday 23rd September 2019
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Great fun little rollerskate, and down at £3k fantastic value if you want something for the weekend.

stickleback123

5,391 posts

138 months

Monday 23rd September 2019
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V8 FOU said:
This car, an MX5, with 165 bhp and 1200kg weight is so much better than a GT86 with 200bhp and about the same weight? But the GT86 needs more power according to the keyboard Kevins, but the MX5 is brilliant?
Confused......
The problem with the GT86 engine is that it's peak power figure may be higher but it's a gutless thing for most of the rev range, has a weird flat spot that feels like something is wrong, and it's just plain old nasty to rev out to get that 200bhp. My impression of the BRZ was not that it needed more peak power, rather that it needed an engine with a better spread of torque and that actually liked to get out of bed and work.

Edited by stickleback123 on Monday 23 September 14:02

BenLowden

1,945 posts

126 months

PH Marketing Bloke

Monday 23rd September 2019
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I'd love to have a go in one of these with the BBR turbo kit. Still on my wish list, despite my rusty NB experience.

Hellbound

2,368 posts

125 months

Monday 23rd September 2019
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Always liked this...


Dynam0humm

5 posts

78 months

Monday 23rd September 2019
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I picked up a 3.5 2.0 Sport recently and couldn't be happier. I considered a Mk4 but had to have the folding roof and the RF was out of budget, plus I'm planning a few mods...

The standard suspension is okay but tuned towards the comfort side so I'll be fitting coilovers and RX8 ARB's are a cheap and effective mod. The engine initially felt gutless with me coming from a Mitsubishi Evo but now I'm used to it I'm enjoying thrashing it everywhere. The standard exhaust manifold is very restrictive where the four pipes connect into one and it has a secondary catalyst as well so swapping that and a remap gives over 180bhp. Add different cams and you should have around 200bhp.

The article mentions the metal folding roof and some have questioned the weight penalty but it's actually made of plastic and adds only 35kg over the soft top.

One thing to look out for is rust as these are now at that age where it can be a problem. The rear sill/inner wheelarch area seems to be where they suffer so it's worth getting any potential purchase up on a ramp for a nosey if possible. When I get the coilovers fitted it'll be getting the full Dinitrol treatment at the same time and the alignment done, then I'll start saving the pennies for the engine mods.

PistonBroker

1,855 posts

175 months

Monday 23rd September 2019
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Loved my '06 NC 2.0 - only sold because we went down to one car when Mrs PB came to work with me.

I loved the NA we had 7-or-so years earlier as well, but the NC did trump it - more poke, more solid, just a nicer car to be in.

Alas, the MOT history shows I dodged a bullet by selling it just over 4 years ago - it needed welding to get through its latest MOT.

I'd like to try an ND and I'm certain it would be lots of fun. But I need to get a Boxster out of my system if I'm getting back into a 2-seater soft top.

stickleback123

5,391 posts

138 months

Monday 23rd September 2019
quotequote all
1,115KG and the heaviest MX5 ever you say? The brochure figure for my 2019 ND is 1,127KG and the RF is 1,168KG including 75KG for driver.

In any case there isn't a lot in it, the NC just looks lardy and bloated due to the styling and the overweight gerbil frontal aspect that the wings give it. I'm pretty sure the "X much lighter than the previous model" marketing spiel for the launch of the ND was based on a base spec 1.5 (1,027KG without driver).

snotrag

11,903 posts

160 months

Monday 23rd September 2019
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Good article, but I'd say for many typical PH owners, the NC sweet spot lies somewhere further down the budget ladder.


I've had a Mk1, a Mk2, another Mk1 that was turbocharged, an MR2, a Boxster, and have just recently got into a Mk3/NC MX-5 so I' feel I'm well qualified to comment. I have done quite a few miles in Mk4/ND too.

Yes, the NC is the biggest and heaviest of the 4. However remember to put this in context - Its like picking out the heaviest supermodel. If your used to driving a diesel german company car, a Mk3 will feel like a teeny tiny flyweight machine in comparison.

They are very good cars, and whilst they do come from the factory a bit wobbly and soft, there is a really competent chassis underneath. They are a very good buy for anyone who likes to tinker, one of the reasons I have gone from Boxster back to MX-5 is the much more accesible and affordable tuning options.

There are many, many more detailed buying guides available so I'm not going to repeat all that. They are not perfect, but they are very good value, and there are tonnes available to hold out for a decent one. If your gonna track/mod, then dont go for anything other than a 2.0 Sport or something based on that (many special editions!).


This car was purchased this August for £3k. I've driven it nearly every day since, thrashed its nuts off on track where it didnt miss a single beat, already done some little cheap mods, and taken my lad all over in it (isofix!).



threespires

3,346 posts

160 months

Monday 23rd September 2019
quotequote all
BenLowden said:
I'd love to have a go in one of these with the BBR turbo kit. Still on my wish list, despite my rusty NB experience.
There's a Kuro edition BBR 200 on Ebay at the moment.

WJNB

2,173 posts

110 months

Monday 23rd September 2019
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That colour combination looks a smart act & makes the current model look over-styled & fussy. Folding hard-top practical although it does compromise the looks slightly. Prefer trad. soft top.
I suspect the cabin on the older model is a tad more spacious too.
A proper little sports car in the old fashioned way for those not snobby about the badge or have delusions about their driving skills.
Club members real world & charming.

J4CKO

29,020 posts

149 months

Monday 23rd September 2019
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These are on my radar, just need to have a go of one.

phil_cardiff

4,471 posts

157 months

Monday 23rd September 2019
quotequote all
Why can't Mazda make a MX-5 that doesn't rot like a pear?