Mazda MX-5 Mk1 Review 2023 | Top Gear
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Mazda MX-5 Mk1 review

£19,230 - £29,400
Published: 10 Aug 2021
A true Nineties hero. And one that’s just as much fun to drive now as the day it was born

Good stuff

Arguably the best-looking MX-5, and hugely fun to drive too

Bad stuff

Some might bemoan a lack of power. We choose to ignore them


What is it?

A hero, that’s what. Launched in 1989 as an affordable, open-top sportscar, over 30 years and four generations later Mazda has sold over a million MX-5s, and it’s even recognised in the Guinness World Records as the world’s best-selling two-seater sports car. None of that would have been possible however, without the success and popularity of the car pictured here, the original first-generation MX-5. 

With a design inspired by the Lotus Elan, it’s recognised and deservedly loved the world over. Handsome to look at, notable for its simplicity, and above all, stupendously fun to drive, these days it’s one of the cheapest ways into open-top, two-seater sportscar ownership, with prices for well-loved examples starting from as little as £2k. And just look at those pop-up headlights. Heart-eyes emoji all day long.

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Did the performance match the cutesy looks?

You bet. Originally available with just the one engine, a 1.6-litre producing 114bhp, a 1.8-litre offering an extra 14bhp was introduced in 1994. Doesn’t sound a huge amount, granted, but with a kerbweight of just 960kg it was good enough for a 0-62mph time of 8.1 seconds and a top speed of 126mph. And as anyone who’s driven one will testify, once you’d dropped the roof and found yourself some country roads to blast down, it was plenty enough to leave a smile on your face.

See, arguably the best thing about the first-generation was its handling and ride. Precise steering, a short, sharp-shifting gearlever, and supreme balance thanks to its 50:50 weight distribution, made it an absolute joy to drive. Put simply, when it came to bang for your buck, there wasn’t much, if anything, better out there. And it’s an argument that can still be had with today’s generation.

Speaking of which, how much did it cost new?

When it first hit UK showrooms in the Nineties, under £15k. A bargain, by anyone’s standards. Today, a brand new, base-spec fourth-generation model, equipped with the 1.5-litre, 130bhp, 112lb ft engine, starts at just over £24k. Easy to see why it offers so much appeal to anyone looking for accessible fun, isn’t it?

And it isn’t a one-trick pony, either. Inside, the Mk1 is surprisingly roomy, despite the bus-sized steering wheel. Six-footers-plus beware: before buying one, well worth making sure you can fit, especially if you’ve got longer legs, before splashing the cash. The roof is manually operated and folded down sits atop the boot, which itself is impressively sized – put it this way, there’s plenty of room for your weekly shop. And there’s even a lockable glovebox for your valuables, too.

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Why should I choose one over the later generations?

Because it’s where the MX-5 story started, it’s arguably the most engaging to drive, and because it’s the only MX-5 to feature retractable headlights, with the second-generation featuring fixed ones. Boo, hiss. 

Said second-generation replaced the Mk1 in 1997, after eight glorious years on sale. And while you might need a little bit of patience to find an original in good condition – earliest production run models are now a third of a century old, no less – it’ll be worth the wait. If only for the envious looks from the neighbours.

What's the verdict?

A true Nineties hero. And one that’s just as much fun to drive now as the day it was born

Affordable, open-topped, and brilliant fun to drive. Words that could have been as relevant when the Mk1 MX-5 was first revealed to the world over 30 years ago as they are today. Need we say more?

With a pedigree as good as this, it’s not hard to see why the MX-5 has gone from strength to strength, making it an unparalleled success story today. And when it comes to old-school driver engagement, there’s not much better.

Plus, with well-loved examples available for as little as £2k, along with cheap running, servicing and maintenance costs, there’s not much better when it comes to fun factor per pound spent. Better get browsing the classifieds, people.

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