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Used Mazda MX5 review: 1998-2005

In a world in which it is becoming increasingly difficult to enjoy driving cars the Mazda MX5 stands out as a beacon of old fashioned fun. Mazda’s little sports car isn’t the most expensive, it isn’t the most powerful, and it certainly isn’t the fastest car on the road, but it has to be the most fun of any currently putting rubber to road. It’s one of those cars that can be enjoyed even while parked at the kerb, a car that puts a smile on your face the moment you see it.

The MX5 is a thoroughly modern car, but at the same time it’s a blast from the past, built to the time proven formula that produced some of the great old sports cars. It’s a beguiling blend of cute looks, light weight, an agile chassis and adequate power at an affordable price.

Mazda launched the original MX5 in 1989 and gave the sports car a place in the world of modern motoring. Before the MX5 sports cars had virtually disappeared from our roads, it was only the very well heeled who could afford Ferraris and Porsches and the like. Sports car motoring had become the pastime of the rich and famous.

The MX5 changed all of that.

MODEL WATCH

The MX5 was an instant hit when it arrived in showrooms in 1989. It was snapped up by sports car fans that’d been deprived of their fun for almost 20 years since the last MGB left Leyland’s Sydney production line in the early 1970s. The MX5 was very much the spiritual successor of the old MG.

Once the euphoria had died down, however, some found fault with the MX5’s modest performance and rather rubbery chassis. Simply, while they loved the MX5 they wanted more.

It was inevitable that the MX5 would evolve as Mazda strove to meet the demands of the market, and ward off the growing number of rivals that were spawned on the back of its runaway success.

The MX5’s evolution continued with the 1998 update, which is instantly recognised by its new face.

While it looked like its predecessor there was a number of detailed changes that set it apart. It had fixed headlamps in place of the pop-up units that were part of the original model, the gaping mouth was reshaped according to Mazda’s corporate look at the time, the front and rear guards were given new lines that gave the MX5 a tougher look overall.

The same 1.8-litre double overhead cam four-cylinder engine could be found under the bonnet, but it was then producing 106 kW at 6500 revs and 165 Nm at 4500 revs to boost the performance of the 1026 kg two-seater roadster.

Variable valve timing further boosted power and torque to 113 kW and 181 Nm in October 2000.

A locally developed turbocharged model was added to the list to satisfy those with a need for more speed. That engine’s output was up to 157 kW at 6800 revs and made the MX5 a more lively ride.

One of the delights of the MX5 from the beginning was the gearshift with its precise short throw that made gear changing fun. In the 1998 update the throw was reduced to make it even more fun.

Underneath, the MX5 retained its double wishbone independent suspension, which was enhanced by power-assisted rack and pinion steering and four-wheel disc brakes.

The MX-5 was always a responsive little car with an agile chassis, but the body was stiffened in the 1998 update and it became even more responsive.

There were a number of changes aimed at improving the MX5’s comfort. A glass rear window replaced the old flexible one making it even easier to operate the roof and eliminating the problem of fogging that eventually claimed the old window. There was also a wind blocker that reduced wind turbulence in the cockpit and made topdown motoring a little more comfortable.

IN THE SHOP

There’s not much to be concerned about with the MX5. Check the usual things like a service record to confirm regular maintenance and body condition for evidence of a traffic tangle, but the little roadster generally stands up well.

It’s worth taking a close look for evidence of motor sport use, which can be the presence of a roll bar in the cockpit, extra holes drilled in the body, the fitment of a fire extinguisher, or extra bonnet pins or tie-downs.

Although the MX5 will cope quite well with amateur competition it’s probably worth walking away from cars that have been used in motor sport and look for one that’s obviously been used in more leisurely pursuits.

IN A CRASH

Dual airbags provided the ultimate crash protection in the MX5, but it shouldn’t come to that given the little roadster’s nimble chassis and powerful four-wheel disc brakes, which were ABS assisted after 2000.

OWNERS’ VIEWS

Giuseppe Baratti owns an MX5 SE. From when he first saw it he says he wanted one because it looked smarter, was faster and handled better than the non-turbocharged model, while only being marginally more expensive. It inspires confidence in the driver, he says. the steering is quick, gearbox precise, handling sharp, and grip levels ridiculously high. A trip to the shops will never be the same. It has been 100 per cent reliable and running costs are quite reasonable. If you really try, he says, you might convince yourself that the MX5 is a sensible car. But there is only a token effort at practicality, with snug driving position and a tiny boot.

Col Nicholl has been driving for 34 years and says he still gets excited when he drives his 1999 10th Anniversary Edition MX5, which he says has become one of the most sort after models since the MX5’s inception in 1989. Col’s is one of 150 sold here and was packed with special features like Innocent Blue Mica paint, black leather/blue suede interior, Bilstein suspension; tower strut brace; ABS; six-speed gearbox, polished alloy wheels, blue soft-top, etc.

Kristian Curcio is the proud owner of a 2002 MX5 with 52,000 km on the clock. He bought it one year ago after taking one for a test drive and noticing the perfect balance and road holding, and the magnificent gearbox. The power is not great, but it is very nippy especially when run on 98 RON fuel. It says it looks great and he’s happy with the fuel economy.

LOOK FOR

• modifications that suggest motor sport use

• generally robust and reliable mechanically

• avoid grey imports with an unknown history

• great handling

• modest, but adequate power

• small cockpit can be tight

• tiny boot

• cute head turning looks

THE BOTTOM LINE

The perfect tonic after a boring day in the office, the MX-5 is what sports car motoring is all about.

RATING

85/100

Pricing

Year Price From Price To
2005 $5,830 $11,110
2004 $4,840 $9,460
2003 $4,180 $8,910
2002 $3,960 $8,360
2001 $3,960 $6,270
2000 $3,850 $6,270
1999 $3,850 $6,710
1998 $3,850 $6,270

View all Mazda MX-5 pricing and specifications

Pricing guides

$9,495
Based on 6 cars listed for sale in the last 6 months
Lowest Price
$7,995
Highest Price
$9,999

Range and Specs

VehicleSpecsPrice*
(base) 1.8L, ULP, 5 SP MAN $7,995 – 9,999 1998 Mazda MX-5 1998 (base) Pricing and Specs
Graham Smith
Contributing Journalist

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