Mazda MX-5 NB (USPI)

Interestingly, the second installment of the model is, right now, the least "loved" by used car seekers. Although it is better in almost every way than the original, and it is cheaper than the recently retired NC, it seems that the community is more interested in "the original" or "the modern" than in the middle one.

Design

Aesthetically, the car evolved, but we are not clear if for the better. As standard, the MX-5 NB, by losing the retractable headlights, has a look perhaps more feline or feminine (depending on who you ask), accompanied by more organic shapes, where the wheel arches are more marked.


It looks better live than in a photo, but with the standard wheels in their original place, it's not a visually "muscular" car either. Interestingly, the NB may accept the track width and wheel modifications better than the first generation. And with a few spacers or a change of ET in the tires, proper footwear and few other details, these cars end up being "more macho".

Be that as it may, it is and looks like a Miata, and it would not be until the arrival of the NC when we would see big changes. Personally, I find it hard to make up my mind, but I think I like the first model better aesthetically.

Cabin

It doesn't gain much space here, although it does gain some trunk space. Of course, the dashboard, especially in the restyled NB, is much better resolved and executed than the first generation, with a better sound system, more ergonomic controls?

The steering wheel is not as retro or as classic as the MX-5 of the early nineties, but it is safer as it uses airbags. The seats grip better, and the driving position is almost identical. There are many more automatisms (window lifts, locking) as standard, which means more weight, but also more practicality in the daily use of the car.


In addition, a windshield that can be extended whenever you want to prevent cold air from flowing back to your feet in winter is integrated, allowing you to use the convertible all year round.

Motorizations

The weight of almost 100 kilos more than the first generation makes the access engine, the 1.6 liters of 110 horsepower, feel more scarce. You have to go for the 1.8, with up to 145 hp and coupled to a six-speed gearbox with Torsen locking, which make up the most successful version of the NB, and to which you can get the most out of it.

All sound great, the truth, and the throttle response is immediate, but this variant is the one that gives more performance, and to which more juice can be taken, since you have to work the rev counter, and having a gear more allows the engine closer to its good area for longer.

Driving

Mazda played with the suspension setting of this car. Although it has a lower polar moment of inertia, the MX-5 NB is heavier, and they wanted to play with a more lively rear end.

The car is still short of stabilizers, so it balances generously, but the control of the dampers makes the car reach the support relatively quickly, and that this is frank, without "sailing", without "flanking" once we have marked the desired line, and with the ability to digest bumps in support without breaking the trajectory.


The nose is a little softer in roll resistance than the rear compared to the first generation of the model, so the rear can insinuate a little more easily playing with unloading the throttle abruptly or applying power "like a beast" in the wet. In the dry it is almost impossible to drift by power, unless we play first with the inertias, something completely unnecessary.

As a good Mazda, it is a car to throw clean and fine lines, to go for the line and play with it, and enjoy how the car flows through the curves that way. In that sense, the flow may not be as crisp as in the first generation of the model, as the front end seems to "float" a bit more when it comes to leaning. A change of springs and dampers may "fix" the problem. Not that it needs fixing, to tell you the truth, but let's just say it eliminates the differential with the NA.

Otherwise, my experience with this car boils down to 100k miles with a stock NB, which happened quite some time after I tested the NA, and in any case, too far away to speak to you with clear memories of its behavior in detail. What I can tell you is that what I do remember is getting off with a smile from ear to ear (and a sunstroke that gave me a headache for two days) after a route of stretches that I won't forget, and that without going at crazy speeds, or making the tires squeal at every corner. That's the good thing about the Miata: You have a good time, without having to go with a knife between your teeth, risking your life.


To review

Bodywork: Again, as in the first generation, and despite being a car protected against corrosion, one of the weak points of the car is to find rust bubbles in the fins, or clogged drainage holes that end up implying corrosion. The underbody, fins, bonnet and hood receptacle should be looked at to make sure everything is correct. In any case, it's a car that suffers less than the NA in this respect.

Engine: Still tougher than the first generation, the 1.8 is faultless if properly maintained. You only have to check that the hydraulic tappets don't make noise when the engine is hot (when it's cold you always notice some rattling) and that it doesn't lose oil (it doesn't leak as clearly as the ones seen in the NA). The distribution must be done with care, if the tensioner is too tight, the belt can sound bad and may end up failing.

Brakes: Brake calipers, especially the rear ones, tend to catch play and get stuck at times, so check that the brakes are working well and that the pedal has no dead travel, also checking the brake fluid level.

Hydraulic clutch circuit: The hydraulic clutch system is another common point of failure, but it is easy to know if it is good or bad, just make sure that the pedal is not stuck down.

Hood: As in any convertible, checking the condition of the hood is essential, because it is expensive to replace it. As the NB has a heated glass rear window, it's less of a problem in this regard, but testing the hood under a water jet wash is a good idea to check its condition and the condition of the seals.

Electrical system: As in any car, you have to check that all electrical systems work, with special care when looking at the electric windows (windows up speed and if they go up and down, as it should be).

Maintenance

Basically, the same maintenance cost for the NA is valid for the NB (after all, they still have a lot in common). Every 10,000 km or a year you'll have to go through an oil, filters and spark plugs check for about 300€. Discs and pads last a long time (longer than in a normal car, thanks to the light weight), and are still cheap to change (60€ for the pads, around 100€ for the pair of front discs).

Tyres, as the car is much more heavily shod than before, can be a hair more expensive, but for around 75€ you get a tyre in the MX-5 size, so it's still a bargain on this front. The timing, identical to the previous model, can be done for £450-500, including parts, and is done every 100,000km or five years (this is important, so check if the previous owner has already changed it or it's your turn to change it soon when pricing).

Fuel consumption is around eight and a half to nine litres per 100 kilometres with the 1.8 engine, but even when going strong, it's hard to go over 12 litres, so you can't get out of hand on this front, nor will you on insurance costs.

Conclusions

As good in almost everything as the NA, but more reliable on the rust issue, with fewer flaws and somewhat more versatile for size, comfort and equipment, the NB is probably a more logical choice than the original NA.

Of course, having "the first one" will always be like having the original, but the NB with the 145 hp engine, Torsen differential and six-speed gearbox is "the definitive Miata" of the first two generations. Well tuned and with a well chosen suspension (there was an optional Bilstein with very good results), it can be the perfect machine to have fun on curvy roads.

You can find it for around 4.000€ for the 110 hp petrol, although I'd go for a variant with the better 1,8 engine. Funnily enough, they're really expensive, with some with the self-blocker going for up to €8,000. You'll have to negotiate there.

The NC is a different kind of car, and a lot more expensive, but we'll talk about that another time.

A tribute to Mazda and its sporting and technological heritage






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