When it comes to small, fun sports cars, few can argue that the original MX5 is up there with the best of them! Designed by Japanese manufacturer Mazda, the car was styled on the British Lotus Elan of the 60's, with traditional front engine/rear drive layout. Launched in the UK in 1990, It employed initially a 1.6 litre twin cam engine. However, in 1994 a 1.8 litre twin cam engine was also offered, giving the car the power the chassis deserved.
The MX5 proved to be an instant hit! It was cheap, stylish, quick and had amazing handling straight out of the box. Combine that with excellent reliability and it was a car that couldn't fail, and the world loved it!
Whether you love the pure lines of the mk1 with it's pop up headlights (see image above), or the slightly beefed up look of the mk2 (and 2.5 facelift) which do without the pop up's, both are fantastic cars. Both however suffer from rust as do most cars from these era's. Most common is the rear arches and sills. Both can rot at an alarming rate, and for the sills they tend to go at the rear where it meets the rear arch. The inner sills also rust, from the inside to out and if you see rust on the outer sills/quarter panels it probably means the inners have gone. The mot will show up as a fail, stating seat belt anchorage points. This isn't where the rust is, but because it is within 30cm of these points the mot tester will state seat belt mounting points. Check these rear sill areas and arches carefully. The other hidden rust issue (which is a major one) is the front and rear chassis legs on MK2 and MK2.5 models. These were designed for crash saftey and have sections where triple layers of thinner metal were bonded together to form one (crushable on impact) layer. Unfortunately, the glue bonding them breaks down and the thin metal then rusts from the inside out. Usually, by the time you see the rust, the damage inside is severe. This is a major MOT fail and costly to put right so check check then check again. Looking through the mot history will help as it may have been noted before. However, there are new chassis sections available new, and there are MX5 specialists who can supply and fit for around £650+vat for both sides to be done. The MK1's have solid front chassis rails and don't suffer this same issue (although do check for rust as these MK1's are older cars.
The hood can leak through time letting water into the interior so check for damp/wet carpets. This will soon rot out the floor so detect it early and either replace the hood/seals. Rear screens can also crack, again letting in water. Most hoods are replaced with a better quality "mohair" hood, some with glass rear screens instead of the usual plastic. The hood operation is simplicity itself, so very easy to drop the top at the first sign of sunshine. All feature alloy wheels as standard in various designs and sizes. Below is the Mk2, which doesn't feature the pop up headlights.
Both feature smart and functional interiors, with a choice of either cloth or leather (heated) seats depending on the model you choose. The seats themselves are sporty and supportive and offer decent comfort. Everything is laid out neatly and controls fall easy to hand, although the interior makes heavy use of the colour black. Equipment levels are good too, featuring electric windows, power steering, air conditioning (most models) and decent stereo systems. Both the mk1 and mk2 featured limited edition models which gained more spec. There were also a lot of options for dressing up the interior on both models, so the expanse of black can be softened with two-tone colour seats, stainless steel trims etc.
The mk2 features more safety features as standard such as dual airbags and a slightly different layout to the centre console which can now accommodate a double din stereo. The centre dash vents are now moulded into the top of the dashboard on the mk2.
Available with either 1.6 (110bhp) or 1.8 (140bhp) twin cam engines which are both generally bullet proof.
Timing belts should be changed every 60.000 miles/5 years, and it's a good idea to also replace the tensioner and water pump at the same time for cost reasons/convenience. All engines should pull strongly and there should be no signs of blue/black/white smoke. Any smoke could point to worn valve stem oils seals etc.
The engines were built with reliability in mind, so can soldier on to very high mileages without problem as long as they are regularly serviced. Check for full service history.
The MX5 proved that a sports car can be practical! It was reliable and comfortable so could be used on a daily basis. The boot was a reasonable size for the size/class of car, so you could hop in and go away for the weekend in one. Storage wise though, the boot is probably all you really have. The dashboard features one smallish glovebox, and a couple of cubby trays in the centre console and that's basically it. There is a bit of space behind the seats you could store stuff, but space is limited.
The Mazda MX5 is a practical, fun, enjoyable car to own and drive. Handling is amazing and entertaining with enough power to keep you happy on a A road blast. It's also quite refined on the motorway. Try and get one with the optional hard top, especially if you plan to use it through winter. It's already reached modern classic status in mk1 guise, and the mk2 is close behind it. You can struggle to find a decent low mileage mk1 now, so prices are now reflecting this. The mk2 is cheaper, and that makes it a very wise buy at the moment. Prices for both mk1 and mk2 are only going to go one way, so jump in and get one now or you'll be kicking yourself later! The MX5 is currently one of the best modern classic cars around. Just watch out for that rust!