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The new MGB?

Clash of the Classics Published: 17th Jun 2014 - 0 Comments - Be the first, contribute now!

The new MGB?
The new MGB?
The new MGB?
The new MGB?
The new MGB?
The new MGB?
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Traditionally sports cars are rearwheel driven and happily that hasn’t changed dramatically with today’s modern classics. To be fair, this has been due to mid-engined designs such as the MR2, MGF and Porsche’s Boxster but what about those who like their rear driven but engines upfront – like a horse and cart?

Ignoring TVRs, two popular easier to own protagonists are evergreen Mazda MX-5 and BMW’s Z3. In several ways, these are the much loved MG and TR reborn. Both rely upon a conventional design for that essential RWD feel and their passenger car makeup also ensures affordable easy ownership.

The MX-5 is already a modern classic and hailed as ‘the new MGB’. But are we overlooking the Healey-like BMW Z3 as a better alternative?

Which one to buy? GERMAN OR JAPANESE

It’s been said a million times that the Mazda MX-5 is a modern incarnation of the 1960’s Lotus. You can’t blame Mazda for copying the original Elan can you, after all it was the benchmark sportster of the 1960s? Still a cutie, it’s hard to believe that the Mk1 MX-5 is now 25 years old, so classical remains the shape. And it’s to Mazda’s eternal credit that designers have never swayed from the basic design brief of a quarter of a century ago, remaining resolutely rear-wheel driven throughout all its three generations.

The Z3 was a reskin of the hatchback Compact – the entry level 3 Series – and just what you’d expect a modern MGB to be. There was even the Z3M, a modern MGB GT perhaps?

What’s more with its long muscular bonnet and short tail there’s a real classical look about the Z3 that has weathered especially well as a smart roadster that still turns heads, not least due to their comparative rarity.

On the other hand original MX-5s are everywhere and if you hanker individuality then it’s better to go for the Mk2 and even the Mk3 version.

The German offers a fuller range with a better spread with engines starting from an easy-going 1.9-litre ‘four’ right up to a 231bhp 3.2 straight six that could be argued is the ‘new MGC’.


Here’s a turn up for the books, BMW is beaten. This is because not only is the MX-5 such a great drive, but the defeat also down to the surprising mediocrity of the Z3’s chassis. The Compact was always criticised for not being a ‘real’ 3 Series and it shows in the handling, which while is tidy and clean, lacks a sporting feel like the MX-5.

There again, we don’t all drive like Lewis Hamilton, clipping apexes and so on and for that reason for 90 per cent of drivers, 90 per cent of the time, the Z3 is fi ne, plus the ‘Sport’ models are a considerable improvement. As compensation, typical BMW smooth running engines, slick gear change (six-speeds on top models) and controls, and a fi rst class driving environment will mean more to some rather than ten-tenths handling.

If on the other hand you thrive on the thrill of a good rear-wheel drive chassis then it’s just got to be an MX-5. Mazda really caught the spirit of the classic British roadster and have gripped on to it for 25 years like a dog with a bone.

Mazda’s sheer attention to detail such as the rifl e-bolt gear change, pin sharp handling, steering and zesty engines make you really feel that you’re in an old sports car albeit without the associated hang ups; no wonder this car is being hailed as the new MGB.

Performance is good without being fi erce (although avoid the weedy 88bhp entry model on the Mk1) but overstep the mark, especially in the wet, and Mk1’s can and will bite the hands that feeds it unleaded. Perhaps that’s all part of the charm because the Mk3, with its later RX8-derived platform, was initially slated for lacking that certain something those earlier cars had.

With its choice of four and six pot engines, there’s a Z3 for all tastes and pockets. Our choice for its six smoothness as well as swiftness yet good economy would either be a 2.0 or the 170bhp 2.2-litre upgrade launched on X-reg plates although there’s little wrong with the 1.8-litre and 1.9-litre ‘fours’ and – crucially – are as easy and as inexpensive to run as a 3 Series saloon.


This section has to be a clear winner for the Mazda. MX-5s are extremely reliable, as low cost and as easy to run as, say, a Ford Fiesta LX, plus specialist back up and club support grows by the day. If there is a downside to all this, then it’s purely as a result of their popularity…

There’s too many rusting and ‘chavvy’ MX-5s cropping up for sale for our liking (and MX-5 rot is expensive to correct), plus their Volkswagen Golf-like durability and sheer ease of use as a daily driver tends to lead to neglect by non enthusiast owners, of which there are plenty about.

BMW Z3s are no less easier to own and maintain than the Mazda and arguably they are even better served thanks to the widespread location of BMW independents. Parts can come from the factory, BMW independents and the likes of GSF and Euro Car Parts at much cheaper prices and there’s considerable overlap with the 3 Series.

And The Winner Is...

Overall it’s got to be the Mazda MX-5 because it’s a modern classic in every sense – just ask the many classic owners who also run one! The Z3 doesn’t seem to have reached such exhaulted classic status yet but this does mean that prices are low as a result. For example, an early ’97 1.9 sells for around £2000 or less while a similar aged 3.2 M for little more than double this – a bargain considering it cost £40,000 new but values ere rising. We’re as big a fan of the Mazda as the next modern classic car enthusiast… but we’d be lying if we said we’d automatically have one over a Z3, which we feel is vastly underrated and yet as worthy of the modern classic sobriquet as any MX-5.

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