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What Car? says

5 out of 5 stars

For The MX-5 is thrilling to drive, reliable and affordable

Against There's little storage space and the 1.6-litre version is too weak

Verdict It's good at most things and great at some: as close to perfect in satisfying its market as any car

Go for… 1.8 Sport.

Avoid… 1.6i.

Mazda MX-5 Open
  • 1. The hood should last 10 years, but vandalism or mildew can mean a replacement is needed, costing hundreds
  • 2. If the hood isn’t original, check that the heater element in the rear window works
  • 3. Alloy wheels can corrode, so check for bubbles or other surface problems
  • 4. These cars are often driven hard, so check the panel gaps for signs of repairs to crash damage
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Mazda MX-5 Open full review with expert trade views

This is a good-looking two-seat sportster. It has a front-engine, rear-drive chassis that delivers plenty of grip and steering with precise feel. Oh, and fun - by the bucket-load!

True, the 99bhp 1.6 is not quick enough for something most people would call a sports car, but the 124bhp 1.8 engine is a belter. And, both are all the more exciting thanks to the superb fast-shifting gearbox and direct clutch.

You don't so much sit in the snug cabin as slot into it, but it's still comfortable, despite a lack of steering- or seat-height adjustment. However, while it's well made, it's also basic and light on equipment unless you pick the top-level Sport model. The boot is small, but a useful shape, which is a relief, as there’s nowhere really to store your belongings in the cabin.

Roof up, the car's pretty refined, but lowering the soft-top - as you'll want to at every opportunity - is a cinch: just pop two clips and push it back. Once it’s down, you'll certainly be conscious of the wind ruffling your hair, but that's the whole point of the car. Besides, it's well within acceptable bounds until you reach motorway speeds, and even then it's not too bad.

Trade view

James Ruppert

Values always firm although base models can be difficult to sell

James Ruppert
Used car guru

There are just three models to pick from. The range starts with a 1.6i, which is fine, if a little slow, but most MX-5s have the 1.8 engine, which is a fair bit quicker, and comes in standard and Sport models. For us, it's the range-topping 1.8 Sport that is the ultimate MX-5 in every sense, so make sure that's the car you have on the top of your shortlist.

They all have remote locking and electric windows and mirrors, twin front airbags and anti-lock brakes, but the Sport adds leather seats and alloy wheels - both very desirable. The standard models make do with steel wheels, although it's quite possible alloys were fitted as options when the car was new.

In fact, you can expect almost all the used MX-5s on sale to be unique. The list of factory-fitted and aftermarket extras is endless, and many MX-5s have drilled pedals, add-on steering wheels, upgraded stereos and modified exhausts. So, be prepared to shop around to find exactly what you want.

Mazda also marketed a succession of special editions, all of which are rightly popular second-hand. Otherwise, Japan-market cars are available, most of which have been imported second-hand and have high specifications at low price. They usually lack service history, however, which is a big drawback.

Trade view

Duncan McLure-Fisher

One of the most reliable used cars around - excellent build quality and reliability

Duncan McLure-Fisher
Managing Director,
Warranty Direct

For a sports car, it’s easy on the wallet. Insurance is reasonable at group 11 for the 1.6, 12 for the standard 1.8 and 13 for the 1.8 Sport.

Servicing and spares are, in the main, a little dearer than for a mainstream small family hatchback, but the car’s simplicity and reliability mean repairs are seldom needed. Even fuel consumption is excellent at up to 36.7mpg overall for the 1.6 and 32.5mpg for the 1.8s.

But the best news is that MX-5s lose value more slowly than most other cars, so you can be sure of a good price when you sell one on. Three-year-old models are still worth two thirds of what they originally cost, and five-year-olds sell for almost half. Even after 10 years, a cared-for car with its paperwork in order still fetches good money. That’s partly down to its image and popularity, but also due to its excellent reputation for giving faithful service.

Trade view

James Ruppert

Values always firm although base models can be difficult to sell

James Ruppert
Used car guru

The hood should last for 10 years or more, but vandalism or mildew staining can mean a replacement is needed, and that will cost hundreds of pounds. If the hood isn’t original, check that the heater element in the rear window works.

Watch for poor quality repairs following a crash because this is one of those cars that needs expert hands to rebuild just right. Check in particular that the door and bonnet shut tightly and show an even gap between the panels.

The alloy wheels can corrode, so check for bubbles or other surface problems. A wheel specialist should fix and re-lacquer the wheels for about half what new replacements would cost.

If the steering feels slack, a set of replacement bushes should improve things and won’t cost much. Engines and transmissions seldom give trouble even at high mileages, provided all the owners have kept to the 9000-mile service intervals.

Trade view

Duncan McLure-Fisher

One of the most reliable used cars around - excellent build quality and reliability

Duncan McLure-Fisher
Managing Director,
Warranty Direct
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