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It wasn’t supposed to be like this. The original Mazda MX-5, the NA, is the best of the four generations. Everyone knows that. Better as a 1.6-litre than a 1.8, because the balance is perfect and it outweighs the increase in power.
The Mk2, the NB, is the ugly duckling (bear with me, owners). A bit heavier but a bit faster, and not better; and no pop-up lights. The Mk3, the NC, is a mollycoddled and sanitised sports car for the masses. The Mk4, the ND for those who have yet to connect the dots, is a return to the model’s roots: same Mk1 dimensions, same purity, same essence, Kodo and other fairly meaningless, intangible but still true statements.
And yet here we are, having a ‘Eureka!’ moment in Mazda’s heritage-fleet NB. The rain that had made any photo-taking pointless has abated, and the 1.8 NA from 10 minutes ago has been blown into the weeds.
It really wasn’t supposed to be like this.
The British Racing Green Mk1, whose keys are first in my hand to see how different it really was to a 1.6, just doesn’t seem right. Memories of nipping around the lanes of Kent in my old run-out 1.6 Monza (with cat, heaven forbid), where every deserted roundabout was met with relish, seem a long time ago. For an MX-5 the 1.8 simply lacked the expected refinement.
With the NB you get the same brilliant gearchange, a more attractive steering wheel sat just above your lap, with the same direct inputs. That refinement is back, but updated into the new millennium, without being overly so, as it is in the NC. The brilliant balance has returned, too. They’ve even made an effort inside, looking plush against the spartan Mk1.
It has the same downsides as the NA, of course, namely that the engine will long outlast the body and chassis. That tempers those bargain-basement prices: sub-£2000 looks like you’re getting a steal, until it goes in for an MoT one or two years down the line and you learn that metal has been displaced by clear air. But, for two years’ excellent motoring…?
Mazda’s isn’t your usual NB, it must be said, as one of just 600 10th Anniversary models delivered to the UK. That means six speeds, not that the sixth is used in this short and twisty run, and uprated Bilstein shock absorbers and front strut brace. Plus that Nardi wheel. But the feeling of surprise that a car I had so readily dismissed is actually so good would be consistent across the MX-5 generations.
The Mk3, with mod-cons and therefore more weight but more power, is similarly a revelation. Often overlooked as a shadow of its ancestor, it stands up on its own merit. It is similar to a Mk1 in the rust stakes, mind – ask our own Lizzie Pope. Yet the NC is a stark illustration of just how right Mazda has got it for so long and so consistently for the past 30 years.
With Mazda’s 1.6 sitting vacant, it would be a shame not to cleanse the palette with a run and relive those memories. And almost instantly we’re back from this alternative dimension and in the real world.
The 1.6 really is perfection. The others are great, better than they have any right to be, delighting more drivers than any sports car has before it and since. But, original is best.
This wasn’t supposed to be a short love letter to the Mazda MX-5, but more than three decades later the Miata still has the ability to surprise.
To the classifieds…