Confession time, I am an MX-5 owner, a 2003 NB model which is pretty old but gives me a good baseline from which to assess the new model.
This is a car that has sold nearly a million units since introduction 24 years ago making it the best selling sports car in history. I didn't need to be asked twice to take the new NC Series 3 Roadster Sport for a test drive.
Surprisingly similar to my old MX-5 . . . plus 10-15 per cent but the drive feel is the same. It has a bit more go, a bit better handling and slightly better brakes, sounds better thanks to the exhaust note generator and is a lot more rigid in the chassis with no scuttle shake, roof on or off. At around $50 grand, it would need to be (a lot) better.
This will be the last version of the NC as the new MX-5 due within the next 18 months will be a collaborative effort between Mazda and Alfa. Hopefully, Mazda will prevail in the gestation process to retain all the essential elements that go into what an MX-5 is, starting with rear wheel drive, the powertrain chassis and double wishbone suspension.
But this "Last of the Mohicans" pure Mazda model is already showing signs of dilution with the disappearance (in Australia) of a rag-top version moving to all hard top roadster variants starting at $47,280. Mind you, they are following market demands which seems to prefer a folding hard top over the vinyl option. That would be price-related as the car is now shopped at a higher, more luxury conscious level than before.
It will also be shopped against the new Toyota 86 and Sooby BRZ against which it loses out big time on price and performance. Still offers a roofless driving experience though and Mazda build quality. They have tweaked the engine computer to give better throttle response and fitted a stronger brake booster to give better braking as well as altered the face and some body hardware. It's essentially the same as the first NC model.
All models get Bose audio, aircon, power mirrors and windows (without delayed closing), multiple wheel controls and cruise.
Power comes from a 2.0-litre, petrol four-pot engine with variable valve timing (SVT) but no direct injection. It's good for 118kW/188Nm output both peaking at mid to high revs. The engine redlines at 7200rpm. Six-speed manual and auto transmissions are available though why you'd buy an auto MX-5 is unfathomable.
A miniscule amount of weight has been pared off but the car still weighs too much at 1167kg, 100kg more than my old NB. I suppose the additional luxury kit would account for a bit as well as the fast operating roof folding mechanism. The Roadster Sport I drove scored leather-clad Recaros and gorgeous forged BBS alloys.
Safety is adequately addressed with four air bags, high strength steel chassis stability control and other features.
The drive is exciting. It has plenty of get up and spins out willingly to redline. Gear changes are aided by the short throw change mechanism and closely spaced ratios. The limited slip diff' gives you more drive out of corners but the stability control system is too pessimistic activating too early on fast corners to upset the car's composure (and your drive experience). Can be turned off though.
Dual mode Sport and Comfort suspension would be an improvement because the standard setting is a bit soft. Couldn't cost that much. It steers sharply and has brilliant brakes, no complaints there. The chassis is much more rigid than my old MX-5. No satnav, only OK audio (it needs a subwoofer), no delay window close function, and too many hard interior surfaces detract from the package.
The NC III is a good thing but I'll stick with my old NB. It's pure MX-5 right down to the rag top.
Price: from $47,280
Warranty: three years/100,000km
Safety: four airbags (no ANCAP score for the current model)
Engine: 2.0-litre 4-cylinder, 118kW/188Nm
Transmission: 6-speed manual or auto
Body: 4020mm (L); 1720mm (w); 1255mm (h)
Weight: 1167 to 1179kg