DESIGNED in California, the MX-5 was just what Americans wanted. And, as it turned out, the rest of the world was quite happy to join in on the fun. Also known as the Miata, this name was dropped with the introduction of the third generation but many owners still use the quaint title.
The soft top has an easy-to-open design but hard tops were expensive and more bulky. Power outputs started at 85 kW (1,6), then jumped to 107 kW (1,8) and finally to 118 kW on the 2,0-litre models.
A neat progression of increasing capacities and performance expectations gives enthusiasts a benchmark of how to weigh up their needs with the size of their wallets. South Africa received 250 of the original 1,6- litre models and only 115 of the first 1,8-litre models around 1993 (this model saw a switch to fixed headlamps and a glass rear window in 1998). Luggage capacity on the original version, even with a space-saver spare wheel, is painfully small at 80 dm3 owing to the rear-wheel-drive layout. With the 1,8-litre, the boot was re-designed to take 112 dm3 with the spare wheel now moved from inside the boot to beneath it. Still more tweaking was to follow with the 2,0-litre, where boot capacity reached 120 dm3.
The first model with its pop-up headlamps is now a collector’s classic.
WHAT TO LOOK OUT FOR
The 1,6- and 1,8-litre versions use a timing belt to actuate the valves and the belt should be changed every 100 000 km together with the idler and tensioner pulleys. There were a couple of reports of snapped belts but with no damage to the valves. The 2,0-litre uses a timing chain, so here you just need to worry about regular oil changes.
It seems some owners expect too much from their vehicles – one reader complained that his water pump gave up after over 200 000 km; this is normal. The 1,8- and 2,0-litre engines have variable valve timing.
The 1,6-litre is mated to a fi ve-speed gearbox while the newer models have six ratios. One owner had his clutch replaced after around 100 000 km, which is rather low, and a sticky reverse gear was mentioned by a few. Others complained of clutch problems, including juddering on post-2002 models.
SUSPENSION, BRAKES AND WHEELS
A broken rear coil spring affected one of the early 1,6-litres but no other problems were noted and tyre wear was not criticised.
Pop-up headlamps on early models should be checked for correct operation as the drive motors can stop functioning.
One or two paint blemishes were mentioned and one owner had the headlamp-washer nozzle pop out of its housing.
Some owners said that they were initially disappointed with the performance but, with time, the engines loosened up and became much sweeter revving. Also note that, for the 2,0-litre models, Mazda ditched the spare wheel and instead supplied a puncture repair kit.
Mazda mechanicals have always had a good reputation and the MX-5 is no exception. The fact that the car (especially earlier models) was less complicated, adds to ease of ownership. Just about all owners said they loved driving their Miatas.