OK, so you’re going to buy a Mk3 (NC) MX5. Here’s our essential checklist of things you need to know before laying down the cash.
- Introduced in 2005, the third-generation Mk3/NC MX5 was the first all-new model and a clear departure from the closely related Mk2 and Mk3. With three distinct evolutions, a greater choice of models, engines, transmissions and even bodystyles there’s a lot to consider. First step? Read our guides in the ‘Which MX5 have I got?’ covering the first generation, ‘Mk3.5’ facelift and final ‘Mk3.75’ update to refine your search and pick the best car for your needs. There are a lot cars in the classifieds and knowing which one you want before starting your search will save you a lot of time down the line.
- Mk3 fundamentals – While its styling nods to the Mk1 and the foundations follow a similar pattern of rear-wheel drive, all-independent suspension, 50:50 weight distribution and all that made the MX5 such a hit the Mk3 is a totally different car. Offered with a choice of 1.8 or 2.0-litre engines these new ‘MZR’ motors feature chain-driven cams and were co-developed with Ford. As such they share much with the Duratec range of engines, as used by Caterham and others and opening a world of tuning options. Over its life it was offered with a choice of five- or six-speed manual transmissions or a six-speed automatic. The Mk3 is bigger than the Mk1 or Mk2, with a 65mm longer wheelbase, bigger wheel options and a new multi-link rear suspension configuration. Relatively speaking it’s also the heaviest MX5, though still light and compact compared with most modern equivalents and with all the spirit of the earlier cars.
- Mk3: Recognisable by its Mk1-inspired ‘face’ and simple, oval-shaped grille the first generation of Mk3s are arguably the cleanest looking and are now temptingly affordable. Engine choices comprise the 126hp 1.8 or 160hp 2.0, both driving through a five-speed manual as standard with a six-speed optional on the 2.0. Limited-slip differentials are standard on all 2.0-litre cars with manual transmissions, new features for the NC including stability control, optional keyless entry and various other mod cons.
- 5 facelift: This 2009 facelift, commonly referred to as ‘Mk3.5’, offers significant upgrades well worth considering when choosing a car. The most obvious visual changes include bigger headlights, a larger grille (with grey plastic crossmember carrying the numberplate) and leaf-shaped plastic trim pieces for the front foglights. But it’s the upgraded 2.0-litre engine with its forged crank and raised redline that’s of most interest, this offering improved response and providing a stronger basis for tuning if that’s the way you wish to go. Mazda’s six-speed automatic gearbox was also offered for the first time on European versions of the Mk3. Suspension geometry was also revised to reduce on-limit nervousness in the original Mk3.
- 75 facelift: Released in 2012, the final facelift for the Mk3 is recognisable by its even bigger and deeper front grille, its V-shaped lower surface bringing the MX5’s styling into line with the rest of the Mazda range. Mechanical changes were less significant, amounting to improved pedestrian safety, revised trim and tweaks to throttle and brake pedal response.
- Roadster Coupe hardtops: Introduced in 2006, the folding hardtop Roadster Coupe (or RC) was offered in response to cars like the Mercedes SLK and is available across all three generations of Mk3. The 37kg weight gain isn’t too much too bear and, though the rear deck is higher to accommodate the folded roof, the styling matches that of the soft top. It folds away in a mere 12 seconds too. MX5 purists will always prefer a traditional hood but for the improvements in security, refinement and all-weather ability the RC is a popular choice and, by the end of Mk3 production, the only option if you wanted a 2.0-litre.
The Mk3/NC ‘Buyer’s Checklist’
Found your perfect Mk3 MX5? Here’s what you need to check before handing over the cash.
- Paperwork – Is the vendor legit and is the V5 in their name? Does the MoT paperwork and service history tally with https://www.check-mot.service.gov.uk the online check? An extensive service history and folder full of receipts is useful evidence and worth taking the time over – do the dates and mileages on the invoices add up? Has the owner kept on top of maintenance? A lack of paperwork is a concern but, if you know what you’re looking at, you can still safely buy a car ‘blind’ if you’re confident with the visual/mechanical checks.
- The five-minute check: Walk around the car and check for obvious damage. Are the tyres from a matching brand? Are they quality rubber or cheap ditchfinders? Is the hood on soft-top versions in good condition? Does the folding hardtop operate quickly and smoothly? Are you happy what you’re seeing corresponds to the claimed mileage and description in the advert? If yes then proceed with a more detailed check, if not then be ready to walk away.
- Many Mk3s come fitted with 17-inch wheels, which look good but are more vulnerable to kerbing than the smaller ones fitted to NAs and NBs. Damage isn’t necessarily problematic but does offer insight into the way the car has been driven and looked after; take this into consideration and either budget for a refurb or use it as a bargaining chip when negotiating the price. Or both!
- Mk3 engines are generally robust and reliable, the chain-driven cams meaning you don’t have to worry about belt services like you do with Mk1s and Mk2s. But you should of course do the regular checks, inspecting fluid levels and condition. Black sludgy oil and dirty fluid in clutch, power steering and brake reservoirs suggest a poor maintenance regime while white blobs on the underside of the radiator cap (check while the engine is cold) or oil filler cap are a sign of head gasket failure. The former can be sorted out with a full fluids and filters service but the latter should be avoided.
- Like all MX5s Mk3s are now cheap enough to have been driven hard and – occasionally – abused on road and sometimes track. Check carefully for the usual signs of accident damage such as misaligned panels, overspray in the engine bay, wheel arches or under the boot carpets and mis-matched paint. Rust isn’t as big an issue as it is on Mk1s and Mk2s so if you spot corrosion on body panels this could be a warning there’s been a repair.
- Suspension should be tight, rattle free and the car should handle precisely without pulling under braking. Like all MX5s the Mk3 is very sensitive to alignment and if it’s never been checked budget for that. Clonks in the suspension may be down to old dampers or worn anti-roll bar droplinks but investigate any noises before committing.
- NCs ride quite high out of the box and many keener owners will have specced lowering springs, which were offered as a dealer option. These OEM lowering springs will be blue in colour and reduce the ride height by a significant 30mm but quality aftermarket ones like those made by Eibach are also desirable.
- Conversely if you’re looking to test stereotypical, ‘one lady owner’ claims a standard, ‘on-stilts’ ride height may well back that up, suggesting the car may well have led an easier life. If you’re budgeting for upgrades anyway weigh that up against the benefits of one that’s already been lowered but may well have been driven harder as a result!
- Sport models with the Bilstein dampers and stiffening braces are a desirable option if you’re looking for a car to drive out of the box; on the flipside if you’re planning to modify or fit new suspension anyway you can save money with a standard car. Remember, all manual 2.0-litres have a limited-slip differential as standard.
- As discussed you don’t need to worry about timing belt intervals but a Mk3 should have had a major service on its fifth annual check or at 62,500 miles, whichever came first. This includes new plugs, which are relatively expensive if you opt for genuine Mazda items. Check the history to see if this has been done or consider it another bargaining chip if it hasn’t.
- As with all MX5s check the interior for any signs of damp, whether that be wet carpets or a musty smell. Make sure all the kit works as it should, including electric windows, air-con, heated seats (if fitted) and stereo.
- Make sure fabric hoods are in good condition with no tears, creases or other obvious damage. If you’re looking at a Roadster Coupe test the roof and make sure it goes up and down smoothly and without straining – it should operate in just 12 seconds once unlatched.
The Mazda MX5 Mk3/NC Buyer’s Checklist – at a glance
- Do your research and settle on a model and spec before searching for a car. Which generation? What engine? Fabric top or RC?
- Paperwork – check the MoT history online, compare against paperwork and service history accompanying the car
- The once over – check tyres, bodywork for obvious rust or damage; if the car has a fabric roof check for rips or wear, on RCs check the hardtop operates quickly and smoothly
- Engine – visual check for fluids and ‘mayonnaise’ in radiator and oil filler caps; check whether it’s had its ‘major’ service
- Are you going to be uprating or tuning the engine? If so hold out for a post-2009 ‘Mk3.5’ with the stronger internals
- Suspension and brakes – check for obvious knocks, clonks or rattles and budget accordingly; drop links often wear out, geometry can go out of adjustment
- Interior – inspect footwell and boot for damp, make sure electric windows and ventilation system operate correctly
- Be fussy – there are loads of cars to choose from and you can afford to hold out for the spec you want in the condition for your budget
Already bought a Mk3? It miight be worth a quick look at the top 5 things we recommend you buy for your new purchase
In the market for a different Mk? Click the Mk you fancy below: