Mazda MX-5 NA (USPI)

It does so with a somewhat shorter than usual delivery, and that is because we already told you the complete history of the model here yesterday, so we can skip that part.

Design

Simple and with a retro touch, trying to be similar to the Lotus Elan. We told you yesterday what was behind the aesthetic decisions of the MX-5. Now it's time for some judgement and personal opinion.

Strictly as standard, the MX-5 may look a bit "bland", but it's well done. It's a Mazda of the '90s, in that it plays with organic surfaces and very few unnecessary aesthetic treats. The retractable headlights are another nod to the Elan, as is the oval air intake in the bumper or the shape of the rear pillars.


The retractable door handles are another aesthetic license, one of the few we can find in the bodywork. All in all, without pulling aggressive aesthetic resources or large dynamic lines, it is a car that looks small, compact, agile, sincere, friendly, fun ... Come on, that expresses to the eye what it is then when it's your turn to drive it.

The "good" thing is that, given the huge number of units that were marketed in the first generation and the high survival rate of them, there is a huge auxiliary industry of parts to complement the car. Of all of them, I'm left with the small "extra" skirts for the front that Mazda itself marketed under the name of R-Package, the transparent lenses for turn signals (another issue is that they have the CE marking and pass the ITV), some side skirts, a small rear lip spoiler, and perhaps a spoiler for the rear window of the hardtop. Without these elements the car is purer, with them, more racing. There is something for everyone in that sense, and that's the good thing about having a car so adored, that the auxiliary industry has worked on it.


Cabin

The interior was sought from the origin as something "retro". It offers good space for two adults, but the windscreen is low if you're taller than 1.90m, so you should look for another option, although I wouldn't rule out testing the car first. The standard roll-over safety arches behind the seats didn't come as standard, and the ones that were offered as an option weren't very protective, as they were rather low. Later safety cages have been offered that, when properly installed and approved, offer a more consistent solution in the event of a rollover, and I'd recommend one, especially if you're the kind of person who likes to roll fast.

Materials and fitment are typical of an early nineties Nippon. The instrument panel is quite complete, and until 1995 it had an oil pressure gauge, which became a fake after that year (it was there but it always showed the correct pressure, invariable depending on the engine load).

As simple as the Miata is, everything falls pretty much to hand, and the driving position is quasi-perfect if you fit within the recommended sizes for the car. You get that "glove you've used your whole life" feeling.

As with the exterior, there are numerous customization options on the market, from watch frames that look like works of jewelry, to color finishes and upholstery to turn black interiors into brown and vice versa, always looking to please everyone's tastes.


It is advisable to buy a car that has a hardtop, as for the winter months, if you live in a rainy area, it will always offer better results than a canvas roof. In any case, you should also keep an eye on the condition of the canvas and how it hinges, as well as the condition of the rear plastic window.

Motorizations

The original 115hp 1.6-litre petrol engine was offered until 1994, and gave very good results, both in terms of feel and willingness to stretch up top. It was later replaced by a more powerful (130 hp), but also heavier 1.8-litre engine. The behaviour was different: the 1.8 has more torque from lower down the rev counter, making it easier to use without paying attention to the gearbox, but the 1.6 is perhaps a bit more pure and original.

Be that as it may, the engine to avoid is the 1.6 from 1994 onwards, as it remained as an entry-level option with less than 100 hp, and it fell short. On the other hand, more than choosing the engine, it is important to choose the condition of the car. If you find one that is good in everything, you don't mind taking a 1.6 115 hp or a 1.8 130 hp.

To drive

Whenever we get to this section, it's time to do a memory exercise to remember the last time we drove one of these cars. In the case of the MX-5 NA my experience is reduced to one occasion in 2007 on the road between Sant Feliu de Guixols and Tossa de Mar, in spring, with sun, heat and many curves, with a 1.6.


I could barely make two passes totaling 50 kilometers at his controls, but of course, being "the road of 365 curves", it is not that I lacked elements of judgment there. I will tell you that not having had the experience of driving the car in the city or on the highway, I will not enter into the complicated scenario of recommending or not recommending the car for such tasks, although logic dictates that the MX-5 can be a perfect car to use day to day without complaining too much, as long as you are aware of the limitations you have with him space.

But when it comes to a curvy road, by the sea in that case, I can only speak wonders. Indeed, as its creators intended, the car offers that feeling of driver-vehicle connection difficult to find in almost all cars sold today. The car flows through corners naturally. The nose enters them without stubbornness while the body swings progressively and quickly and easily finds an unflappable free support. It's a car that can pull lines, where everything can be done in a progressive way, and that doesn't get scared by bumps in full support.

It doesn't have a "missile-like" engine and you have to work with the gearbox, but both the feel of the gearbox and the positioning of the pedals to execute toe-tap invite you to play with the revs and enjoy it. The controls let you feel how much each tyre is loaded, the wind whips your face with the salt spray....

And yes, it's rear wheel drive, but neither for torque nor for power it's a born drifter of the kind that are so fashionable because it looks good in drifting videos. Here the turns can be rounded a bit if you look for it, but everything is always very progressive, very reassuring, and it's never about long crosses of 30 degrees of yaw for 300 meters. The butt opens up just enough, only if you're looking for it, to finish the turn.

At the end of my route, with the owner in the passenger seat, we stopped for breakfast in Tossa, and all I could think was that I wanted one of those devices to chain curves on the coast or mountain pass... There's something about it.

What to check

Engine: The good thing about the Mazda MX-5, it was said at the time, was that it was a British sports car, but with Japanese reliability. The reality is that the engine is as hard as stone, and it is rare to find, except for careless maintenance, a block that can not withstand 200,000 or 250,000 kilometers without having to rectify, both in the case of the 1.6 and the 1.8.

Just keep an eye out for possible oil leaks in the area of the camshaft timing sensor (attached to the base of the windshield), and all the pipes, hoses and so on. It is convenient, as in any other car, to take a look at the condition of the accessory belt and know when the timing belt was changed.

On 1.6 litre engines it is advisable to check if the accessory belt pulley moves back and forth with the engine running (you look with your eyes, not with your fingers, as this is dangerous). If it moves, the key at the end of the pulley may be affected and this can cause the pulley to come off and cause a major disaster.

The camshaft cover gasket can also leak oil, but it's not a mystery to change it.

Gearbox: It's great as standard, both in feel and travel. Any inaccuracy or difficulty when engaging gears is indicative of poor condition, and should make you doubt the car and the owner. Sometimes the gears don't engage due to lack of oil in the gearbox or clutch system failures, but if you have more units to visit, it's better to do without one that fails in the gearbox, or doesn't work as it should.

Optionally the car had a self-locking differential, and if you are into driving and you do it from time to time in the wet, it is an interesting option to take into account and for which it is worth paying a hair more for the car.

Chassis and bodywork: Despite being a Japanese car and having anti-rust treatment, the MX-5 suffers its biggest problem when it comes to rust. It is typical to find rusted front wings, side panels under the doors, or just in front of the rear wheels, which rust and affect the floor of the car, and other areas such as the base of the windshield. The best thing to do is to take the car to a garage and put it on the lift and check the condition of the sheet metal.

And is that buying a chassis in good condition is basic, if we do not want to get scares later. Think that it is a convertible, which does not have a chassis rigidity like a coupe, and each point of rusty sheet worsens the rigidity of the whole to make the vehicle dangerous.

Others: Of all the rest, it is convenient to check that the tire wear is uniform and check that the car has a predictable behavior, because the suspension is fully adjustable in all its parameters and must be reviewed from time to time if we do not want the car to do strange things. The bearings and joints of the suspension must be changed from time to time, and should opt for the standard ones, with its design and progressive taring, which allow the car to maintain a good footprint and a good isolation from the asphalt. The rigid elements that are sold in the optional market are somewhat coarse and modify the progressiveness of the rear when going fast through curves.

There are modifications in this sense for all tastes, and you can find Bilstein and Koni dampers at good prices to make your Miata more "racing" in feel, although the original setting seemed perfect to me. The owners clubs say that the springs tend to rust and can split, so a revision to them will not be superfluous.

On the other hand, you should check the condition of the soft top, its fasteners and if it is watertight.

How much does it cost to maintain one

Here's the good news: Not only is it a cheap car to buy, but it's also cheap to maintain. It only needs an oil, filter and spark plug change once a year (or every 10,000 kilometres), which can cost you around 300€. Thanks to its light weight it's not a car that consumes brakes regularly, unless you're a driving brute, so brake pads every 65,000 km and discs every 120,000 shouldn't be something "crazy". Also, the parts are cheap: less than 80€ for the pads, and less than 100€ for the pair of front discs (yes!). The tyres, depending on whether you have the standard rims or not, won't go much further than 100€ per unit. So it's a "bargain car".

The timing needs to be done every 100,000 kilometres, but the good thing about it is that it's an easy operation to do, thanks to the layout of the engine, so you shouldn't be asked for much more than 500€ for it, including the water pump change.

The consumption of 7.8 liters of 95 petrol per 100 kilometers may seem high, more with what we have now as a rule in this regard, but the good thing is that it does not soar even driving hard, and hover or stay below 10 is not a chimera, even using the car in the city.

Conclusions

With prices on the second-hand market starting at around €3,000, you shouldn't have too much trouble finding a decent unit. The truth is that in the last two years, the price of these cars in Spain has risen somewhat, but a good negotiator should be able to get that price by haggling a little. On the other hand, it's worth remembering that it's always cheaper to buy a car like this in November than at this time of year. Sunshine stuff.

The first generation MX-5 offers a lot of good things: Fun, low cost of acquisition and enjoyment, bombproof mechanical reliability... Just concentrate on avoiding rusty units, but otherwise, it's one of the best enjoyment cars that almost any pocket can afford, if not the best in price-performance ratio.

A tribute to Mazda and its sporting and technological heritage






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