Used Mazda MX5 review: 1989-1993
January 28, 2009
When the Mazda MX5 was launched in 1989 it was like a breath of fresh air to a country starved of sports cars for almost 20 years and it ushered in a new era in fun motoring. Now in its mid-life the original MX5 is a reliable and affordable entry level sports car, particularly for anyone keen to enter motor sport and enjoy events such as the annual Grand Prix Rally and the many other mostly social road rallies that are now so popular.
The MX5 changed the way we looked at cars. After a decade or more when cars were viewed as evil polluting monsters it was no longer antisocial to enjoy motoring and the clearest sign of that was the MX5’s instant acceptance by the car buying public.
We’d been starved of real sports cars since 1972 when Leyland halted local production of the MGB, the last of the traditional British sports cars, which first hit the roads in 1962. The lack of sports cars meant enthusiasts had to keep the old MG going well beyond its use-by date if they wanted to continue to enjoy the thrill of wind-in-the-hair motoring.
Ironically the arrival of the MX5 gave the venerable old MG a new lease on life. Those who held nostalgic memories of the sporty British roadster went looking for another one to rekindle their youth, while others turned to the ageing sportster as a substitute when they couldn’t afford the $29,550 Mazda was asking for the MX5.
For a time the price of MGBs climbed as the demand increased and it wasn’t long before clean, original cars were going for $20,000-plus. Restorers were flat-out trying to keep up with the call for fully rebuilt cars, for which they were getting up to $40,000.
Underpinning the MGB’s price was the fact that the MX5 defied the natural laws of depreciation and its price on the used car market held up well against the trend. Anyone waiting for the price to fall was left disappointed.
It’s only in the last year or so that the price of used MX5s has dipped below $20,000, and ironically the bottom has dropped out of the MGB market as the price of MX5s has dropped. Now with early examples around $15,000, unless you’re a died-in-the-wool MG enthusiast, there’s no reason to buy an MGB with its breathless performance, oil leaks and unreliable British electrics.
It’s no secret that Mazda used the MGB for inspiration when they sat down to create the MX5. In the nearly 20 years it was in production the MGB became the biggest selling sports car ever, and in many ways the MX5 is a modern remake of it.
When it was first launched the MX5 had a cute innocence with its clean curves, pop-up headlights and youthful proportions.
Power was from a double overhead camshaft, fuel-injected 1.6-litre four-cylinder engine that produced 86 kW, and it had a delightful four-speed gearbox and drove through the rear wheels.
Suspension was independent front and rear and there were disc brakes on all corners.
It was well equipped with power steering, power windows, leather-trimmed steering wheel and gearshift knob, and radio/cassette sound, but air-conditioning was optional. The roof was manual, but simple to use.
Performance was brisk with a top speed of 188 km/h and the ability to reach 100 km/h 8.6 seconds from rest, but its nimble chassis was clearly capable of more and Mazda finally succumbed to calls for extra power and installed a larger 1.8-litre engine in November 1993.
At the same time the chassis was stiffened, and a new Clubman model, with a limited-slip differential and sports tuned suspension, was added to the range.
An all-new model replaced the first generation MX5 in March 1998.
IN THE SHOP
The first generation MX5 has stood the test of time well, and few problems are being reported from the trade.
One source reported a weakness in the gearbox with second gear synchro needing replacement at around 60,000 km, and noisy input shaft bearings necessitating an $800-$900 rebuild under 100,000 km.
Generally it seems there are few problems, but prospective owners should be aware that with the cars having done 100,000-150,000 km on average that they could face some major service items, like clutch replacement, camshaft timing belt replacement, and overhauling the brakes.
The first generation MX5 had a plastic rear window and this can become discoloured over time, particularly if it’s been folded when wet, but any trimmer can fit a replacement.