The Mazda MX-5 has been the trendsetter for the ultimate bang-for-your-buck roadster since its launch back in 1989. Since then Mazda has produced over 1,000,000 MX-5's in four different generations all from their factory in Hiroshima, Japan. The latest, fourth generation MX-5, has received praise for how it returns to the ethos of Mazda and delivers the 'Jinba Ittai' effect - a relationship between car and driver, something Mazda have crowned for each MX-5. They say that when a car and driver are in perfect harmony, driving is fun - which it is! So does the MX-5 Mk1 still deliver the fizz that all petrolheads look for in a car?
We all know the setup; revvy engine at the front, two seats in the middle and power sent through the rear wheels, right? That is the correct order for some of the best miles you can cover in any car. And that is exactly what the MX-5 does. Up front is a 1.6 litre in-line four-cylinder DOHC engine that produces 114bhp and 95lb ft of torque. The power is sent through the 14 inch rear wheels and is controlled by a 5-speed manual gearbox.
Now it's not the outright pace that the Mazda MX-5 Mk1 is all about, in fact, you really have to keep up the momentum in order to travel at any pace in the first place, but the reward you get for driving it hard. Yes, you have a lack of power and yes, there is wind noise but the interactive, well-weighted steering makes a case for itself. The three-spoke Momo steering wheel, which is clad in leather and feels good to touch, helps you press-on down a twisty back road. Once you're up to speed (0-62mph takes around 10 seconds) you can take liberties as there's so much feedback from what's going on beneath you that you'll be able to correct any misdoings with a dab of the wheel or a squeeze of the throttle. Also, turn-in speeds can be exacerbated because the MX-5 will grip right up until you need to release some stress from the inside wheel which can be so well judged from inside the cabin.
As you're working your way through the sweet, short shifting five-speed gearbox the raspy exhaust will be working its hardest to keep the decibels in tune with its surrounding. The standard exhaust on the MX-5 is no shouty monster -far from it- but its tone is well judged for a small 1.6 litre motor. Many owners have fitted aftermarket exhausts from the likes of Moss Car Parts and mx5parts to increase volume to their cars but there's something subtle about the raspy exhaust fitted as standard.
On a typical British B-road with undulations and ruts, the MX-5 does show typical signs of a car without a roof. The body is still taught but over rough ground it can be shaky and sometimes the cabin will vibrate as you make your way over a series of bumps or potholes. Also, when the going gets tight around a sequence of corners the body of the MX-5 will start to roll and the skinny 195 section tyres will start to break a sweat. Again many owners have fitted aftermarket parts to their MX-5's to reduce the roll and improve handling, however, this can have detrimental effects on the ride quality, leading to a harsher driving experience.
To further aid your driving experience Mazda has fitted brake discs all-round, although they certainly feel like they're from the 1990's by today's standards. The brakes are servo assisted but implore you to use almost all of the brake pedal to eke-out everything the discs have and make you work for any stopping distance they possess. It may sound like bad news but the under-forced brakes allow you to drive the MX-5 with more fluidity - to keep up enough momentum but not so much that you'll be slamming on the brakes at every corner. The brakes let you tailor how much steering input you choose and grant you another dimension to interact with the car, just like the car and driver effect Mazda shout about.
Stepping into the confined cabin of the MX-5 you soon realise that Mazda meant what they said about the car and driver effect - there really isn't much to distract you from real driving pleasure. Apart from a radio and the heating controls, you don't get much else in the form of luxuries. The interior space is tight and doesn't really provide you with a lot of room for anything other than two adults. There is space behind the headrests but if you drop the roof then you'll have to strap it down and if you go away for a long weekend then you'll have to think about what you're packing.
But it's not all bad news, as the interior space is minimal so too is the car. It doesn't take long to adapt to the dimensions of the MX-5 and within no time you'll be pointing the nose down your local B-road exhausting everything from its delightful chassis. Furthermore, the tight cabin incorporates two very comfortable seats which are positioned just-so that you can perfect heel-and-toe downshifts whilst sitting in relative comfort.
So now you want one how much are you going to have to pay? Well, the good news is that so many Mk1 MX-5's are still around and because of that premiums remain low and the market for them buoyant. Expect to pay upwards of £1500 for a good car and more than £3000 for a cherished example. Other cars can be had for under £1000 but they'll almost certainly have a lot of rust or little life on the MOT.