Early MX-5s were fitted with a 1.6 litre, straight-four producing 114bhp, but many post-1993 models were upgraded to a 1.8 litre producing 130bhp, and we managed to get our hands on one for the day to find out what all the fuss is about. This 1995 model is a special edition ‘California’, proudly displaying model number 194 of 300 on the centre console plaque. It’s been kept garaged but driven its whole life, and after 22 years has a miniscule 89,000 miles on the clock. Our video from the day below:
At first glance the most striking feature is undoubtedly its bright yellow colour, unique to the California edition. A tiny car by today’s standards, getting into the driver’s seat is reminiscent of a time gone by – rarely nowadays do we see a car so simple and so exposed, but it means you sit even closer to the road and, ultimately, intensifies the experience. The fabric folding roof and lack of heavy equipment that we see on modern cars means it weighs just 990kg, and the cockpit gives you driving controls, a radio, and not much else. Setting off 0-60 takes around eight seconds, but it feels like half that; no traction control means a slight spin of the rear wheels off the line, and the exhaust note is delightfully raspy.
Approaching the first corner and the MX-5 deals with it well; drop a gear, point the nose in the right direction and it will dutifully obey. The back-end threatens to step out of line but doesn’t. It comes into its own once we hit the tight and twisty roads; this is where it wants to be. It loves to rev, it wants to play. Overtaking cars three times your size is a breeze, and you sit so close to the road that the other motorists probably didn’t even notice you were there. Heading into town it feels small, lively, and agile, and you’ll squeeze through gaps that most can’t. The 1.8 litre engine is more than capable, and the steering is direct and responsive. The lack of ABS means less stopping power than you may be used to and the threat of a lock-up, but it still holds its own thanks to the disc-brakes all round.
Not only is this car incredibly fun to drive in the countryside and in town, but it’s also surprisingly practical for a sports car; the boot is only marginally smaller than today’s MX-5 so you’ll still be able to do your weekly shop. The pop-up headlights are always a favourite, just don’t get caught in a thunderstorm because the folding roof is manually operated. If you do drive it in the wet you can expect it to be a little more slippery, and you will unquestionably spin the rears if you give it too much.
Upon handing the car back to its owner we were gutted we didn’t have longer with it – the Mk1 MX-5 really does provide the whole package, and we are all in agreement here that it’s the best affordable roadster we have driven.
But it’s one thing driving an exciting car, and another altogether to invest in one. So would we invest today?
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