It’s a new week, and a new blog post. The first car this week is the Mazda MX-5 Mk3, also known as the NC.
I had the MX-5 with the 1.8l engine – there were very few trim levels in the UK – although it was also available as a 2l, which featured a few other upgrades. My particular car was a 2007, making it an original Mk3, not what would later arrive, the Mk3.5 or the Mk 3.75, which were facelifts to the model. The 1.8l car made 126 bhp and 123 lb-ft of torque (94 kW and 167 Nm), sent to the rear wheels. With this engine, the 0-60 time is around 7.9s with a top speed of 122mph. The car was mated to a 5 speed manual gearbox.
As usual, the bad parts come first. The NC, particularly the early versions, have an incredibly sparse interior that feels really cheap. This was improved as the car was facelifted, adding padding and soft touches here and there within the cabin, but the first version of this MX5 is very utilitarian, especially as the 1.8l base model without extras. There are no fuel economy measures or anything of the sort here, just a simple trip-meter in the dash. The radio also shows its age, with just AM/FM and CD playback. A/C was not standard either in the base model, so I didn’t have that, nor did the car have cruise control. It was very back to basics. Much of this was improved for later generations with cruise control and A/C more or less coming as standard, and the interior was improved.
Additionally, albeit obviously, the car is incredibly impractical. A small boot with a large lip around it made getting items in or out awkward, although it could fit a medium sized suitcase if you could get it past the lip. As a roadster, the car only had two seats, although there were two tiny storage areas behind the seats and a reasonable size glovebox. But two people and one suitcase was pretty much it, storage wise. Visibility is highly restricted with the roof up – not appalling, but nowhere near as good as with the roof down for obvious reasons!
So that’s the bad. What about the good? Well, first and foremost, the MX-5 is an absolutely superb car to drive. As a small, light, rear wheel drive roadster, the MX-5 is at home in small twisty European roads. It’s a blast to drive, and is light and nimble in the corners while being able to be pushed harder than you’d expect – because it’s not overly powerful, anyone can use its full potential on a country road. This makes it a really nice car to play with, even for a less experienced driver. Fun is the name of the game with the MX-5. The manual shifter in the MX-5 is an absolute joy to use, with short, snickety shifts that are very satisfying. The car’s seats are also comfortable and, although not particularly adjustable, well suited for most people. The seats are also bolstered relatively well so they hold the passengers decently in the corners.
The other main positive is the roof. The MX-5 is one of the last cars on the market with a manual soft top roof, and the NC model has a roof that can easily be operated with one hand. Unlock the large middle catch and throw the roof back, and you’re done. It’s beautifully simple and brilliantly fast. Once the roof is down, the car really comes into its own. There’s very little wind buffeting in part due to the little diffuser between the seats that does a lot to reduce backdrafted air after it’s come over the car. With the windows up, the car is remarkably windproof, although of course there is a lot of wind noise. Putting the roof up is a similar experience in simplicity, and can even be done one handed from within the car, although that requires a bit of stretching. Driving in the sunshine with the roof down is one of the most gloriously sublime driving experiences I’ve ever had.
One small addition to the good list is that even the first NC had media controls on the steering wheel, which continued to work after I replaced the radio. That was definitely a plus.
Finally, fuel economy was better than I’d expected. I would achieve around 25mpg (30mpg UK, 9.4l/100km) in city driving and 32mpg (38mpg UK, 7.5l/100km) in freeway driving.
+Glorious to drive
+Manual gearbox is one of the best gearboxes I’ve used
+Convertible top is superbly simple
-Mk3 suffers from very bare bones equipment and cheap trim.
So, in summary. The NC is a great car to drive that’s incredibly fun to drive, and works at its absolute best when the roof is down and it is flying through the countryside. It’s not practical, but it doesn’t pretend to be, and the equipment and trim was improved over the years.