This car has been superseded by a newer model, click here to go to the latest Mazda MX-5 review.

Parkers overall rating: 4 out of 5 4.0

Miles per pound (mpp) Miles per pound (mpp)

Reliable fuel consumption data for comparison purposes is not available for this model.

Fuel economy

A more stringent standard for fuel economy (WLTP) was introduced from September 2017, and this model was not required to undergo that test. Its fuel economy measured under the previous test system was 34 - 40 mpg. However these figures are less likely to be achievable in real world driving and so should never be compared to another car's mpg which was measured under the newer, more realistic WLTP system.
  • Running a Mk3 MX-5 needn’t be expensive
  • Fixing one can get pricey, however
  • You’ll be tempted by upgrades as well

Running costs and maintenance

As a used buy, the Mazda MX-5 Mk3 (NC) is probably one of the better cars you can go for in terms of overall low costs. Unless you’re a high-risk category for insurance, they’re not expensive to get cover for, and most service parts and spares are cheap and easy to get.

Fuel economy hovers around 30mpg, as it’s not geared for motorway driving and frankly, too much fun to try making progress without using power. 1.8s have to work harder, and may be marginally less economical. Officially the cars were rated at 38-40mph and around 184g/km when new.

Tax varies depending on model and year – check the rates for your potential purchase with the Parkers car tax calculator.

Routine servicing is inexpensive. The suspension components are unstressed on cars which haven’t been used on track, and the engines switched to a timing belt. Routine servicing costs around £200 from specialists such as Northants MX-5.

Secondhand parts are plentiful and even complete roof assemblies in good order can be found for less than £150 at the time of writing.

Beware of rust on the Mk3

There’s one fly in the ointment for the MX-5. It’s not unique to the Mk3, but if you think that companies might learn from past mistakes it seems Mazda only learned how to make the MX-5 more disposable with the new generation. It rusts, and it rusts in hidden places so by the time you can see a few rust blobs on the wheel arches, there’s probably a lot more going on underneath.

Rust checks before buying

Look at the MOT history of the car online for advisories. If you just want a cheap MX-5 for a year or a couple of summers, then this should give you enough of an idea of areas to focus on.

In all cases, get a torch, camera and hands and check the rear arch inside lip, feeling for a smooth, even finish with strong metal that becomes a sharper cleanly-finished edge behind the plastic sill covers. Feel behind the fabric wheel arch liner in this area for any crustyness or weakness in the metal (right now you’re being more thorough than an MOT).

Look along the sill at the gap between the seam and the plastic cover, and feel both sides of the seam.

A visual examination under the front wheel arches is all you can do, but check under the bonnet around the suspension mountings, and look carefully at the metal below the windscreen. If you’re in any doubt, removing the scuttle panel is a matter of minutes and gives excellent access.

Finally at the rear of the car, check the boot. It can be damp for reasons other than leaks, they’re prone to condensation, but if the carpet is soaking wet that implies failed brake light or tail light seals; there are also two holes under the chrome ‘deck’ trim that the seal dries out on, dropping water directly into the space behind the boot trim. These can be removed with a Torx driver and resealed.

Repair costs for rust and prevention

You can expect rusty sills to cost around £500-750 per side to rectify, depending on the standard of work you want. Stripping and replacing underseal costs around £500, but can reveal more work needed.

If your car isn’t rusty you can limit the risk by ensuring the car’s dry and well protected. Clean the drain holes – a trombone brush is recommended but MX-5 Parts sell one for less than you can find in a music shop – and check all the seals and gaskets on the lights and trim. For example, a common entry point for water is the windscreen cowl trim, and the felt seals (plus new covers) are less than a tenner and 15 minutes work to replace – again, from MX-5 Parts.

Lanoguard, Waxoyl and similar products can be applied liberally and frequently, but for proper prevention you do need to make sure the factory underseal isn’t trapping moisture.

Other repair costs on the MX-5

Typical wear and tear items include brakes, which are a floating/sliding caliper design and need regular servicing or rebuilds at around £100/corner, failed differentials and gearboxes on abused cars, and wheelbearings on older, higher-mileage and track cars.

The front wheelbearings are a complete hub and easy to change at low cost. The rear wheelbearings are quite involved.

2.0-litre models have a limited-slip differential. It’s not a particularly complex or sophisticated unit, but increases the appeal of the MX-5 for ‘drifting’, meaning the parts are sought after secondhand, and often abused on higher-mileage, clearly raced cars.

Resale values:

The Mazda MX-5 Mk3 is at the lowest stage of values at the time of writing; earliest cars are nearly 16 years old, have a reputation for rust, and aren’t seen as being as classic as the original and facelifted Mk2 MX-5s. That means it’s worth spending more on a good, reliable and solid example now rather than going for the bottom of the market and having to spend a lot on repairs for a car that’s not going to increase in value.

Buying in winter is always worthwhile, as prices are suppressed and the damp really shows up. You can expect a 25-50% increase in actual sale price depending on the age and type of MX-5; hard top values vary less as their appeal is year-round.

Given the rarity of the Mk3, if you like and enjoy the car it’s worth investing in rust proofing and prevention for long-term ownership.

Ongoing running costs

Road tax (12 months) £265 - £330
See tax rates for all versions
Insurance group 21 - 28
How much is it to insure?