BUYING AN MX5 - REVIEW AND VIDEO ROAD TEST

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MAZDA MX5 (Stills taken from road test video)

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MY VERDICT:

For

  • Enormous fun to drive 
  • As cheap to run and insure as a modern hatchback 
  • one of the most reliable cars on the road
  • Two-seater fun and nostalgia but without the leaks, squeaks, and rattles
  • Surprisingly good on long journeys
  • The roof is a breeze to use and seals the elements out admirably

Against

  • Drivers seat prone to wear in one place 
  • The inside of the boot lip is prone to rusting
  • Both the 1.6 and the 1.8 need to be revved hard to get the most out of them
  • UK cars are usually fairly poorly specced

The Madza MX5 is the best selling two-seater of all time - not bad for a car maker from Japan who's most famous creation before the MX5 was the duller-than-ditchwater 323. Now for reasons that are certainly not related to the weather, us brits buy more convertibles per head than any other country in europe  - so perhaps its not surprising that MX5's are as common as umbrellas on British streets these days. No, if you want exclusivity then you might as well stop reading now because the MX5 is not for you - but don't be fooled by thinking you can buy that exclusivity with the likes of an Audi TT or a Porche Boxster either, because the British public's obsession with using our houses as ATM's over the past few years has rendered those once 'exclusive' cars common as well. Plus, as soon as you drive an MX5 you will know you made the right decision anyway, because it feels as right as a tailored suit. You buy a car like this primarily to have fun, and with the MX5 you get it - in bucketloads........and because you didn't go for a TT or boxtster (neither of which are as much fun) you will have £10k left over for the sensible family car as well.  

WHICH ONE TO GO FOR:

Its really a question of either the 1.6 or the 1.8. Neither are going to set the world on fire but the 1.8 is quite a bit quicker than the 1.6. If you are just after the whole wind-in-the-hair experience then the 1.6 will be fine (and significantly cheaper to buy and insure). If you are after the whole driving experience then you will need the 1.8 - and if you can stretch to a 6-speed gearbox you will find it makes much better use of the available power and gives the car a much more eager feel when pushed hard.It's really worth trying to get one with air-con. I found it makes a really big difference (both in summer and winter). In summer you can have it blasting as you on those too hot days, and in winter it stops the cabin steaming up...instantly. 

JAPANESE IMPORT OR UK CAR?

Most imports look almost identical to UK cars but the giveaway is the 'Eunos' badge on the back (for mark1's) and 'Roadster' badge (for mark2's). The only other differences tend to be the indicator stork (which is on the opposite side) and all the technical info, manual, and service book will be in Japanese.  The car which we tested in the video was an import and it has to be said that there is still a fair amount of predjudice regarding Japanese imports (perpectuated mainly by UK dealers). To a large extent though these fears are unfounded. The simple fact is that ALL MX5's come off the same production line with the same levels of build quality and rustproofing. Imports actually tend to be in better condition than UK cars because they have not been subjected to out salty roads and the Japanese tend to care very well for their cars. You also almost always get a better spec with an import - with air-con, leather, and 6-speed gearboxes being pretty common. So their is no rational reason to be put off buying an import just so long as it comes with the proper BITMA import certification, has been imported by a reputable importer, and has a CAT2 or better immobilisor fitted (needed for insurance).

RELIABILITY AND COMMON FAULTS:

Common wear points are the drivers seat which tears easily around where the seatback adjust handle is, and the inside of the boot lip is also prone to rusting. Apart from that reliability is excellent and this is proven by the largest independant survey of 2005 which ranked the MX5 15th out of 159 different cars. Additionally, the average MX5 owner tends to be older or female (or both) and therefore they don't tend to get abused. There are no major recall issues (between 1992 and 2005).

SAFETY:

Don't be put off by the lack of roof and seats because it scored a highly respectable 4 stars (out of 5) in the euroncap safety tests. They decribed it as giving a well-balanced performance in both the front and side impacts. The car was tested with the roof up and down. 

MODEL HISTORY:

The original mark1 production ran from 1989 to 1998 and was originally offered with the 1.6 petrol engine only. In 1993 the 1.8 was introduced along with extra chassis bracing, a change of gearing and a mild facelift. 1998 saw the introduction of the redesigned mark2 with the most obvious aesthetic changes being the scrapping of the imfamous pop-up headlights. The chassis was also stiffened (resulting in markedly less scuttle shake) and the interior was given a much more modern look. July 2000 saw the introduction of the mark2.5 which was essentially a facelifted mark2 with improvements in suspension, chassis, and interior. The mark2.5 was also the first UK model to offer a 6-speed gearbox and the uprated 146bhp 1.8 engine. In 2006 the all new redesigned mark3 was launched which is now offered with a 170bhp 2.0 litre engine and a folding metal roof.

 

HOW TO AVOID BUYING A LEMON BY USING OUR BUYERGUIDE BELOW......

An old wise man with a strange hat once told me "time spend on reconnaissance is time seldom wasted" - which when translated into buying a used car means "a little preparation can save you a lot of money and frustration". Seriously, if you are spending thousands of pounds its worth following a few simple points to help you avoid being dissapointed with your purchase......so i hope you find this buyerguide useful.

Before seeing the car:

  • If it is a private sale make sure you view the car at the sellers premises - this will help determine if the seller is genuine
  • Always ask the seller to make sure the car is cold when you come to view it - warm engines can hide a multitude of sins

How to check the mechanics:

  • Before the car is warmed up check for a film of oil in the radiator - the presence of oil would signify internal engine leaks or a blown head gasket
  • Make sure the oil on the dipstick is smooth and has no bits in it or milky scum - again this could mean internal engine leaks
  • On starting from cold make sure the engine does not turn over sluggishly - this could mean a worn starter and or starter motor.
  • Check for oil leaks around the engine and on the ground where the car has been stood - any leaks could indicate expensive gasket replacement

Body and interior:

  • Worn drivers seat, pedal rubbers, and a shiney steering wheel all indicate a high mileage car - check these appear consistent with the indicated mileage
  • Evidence of scratches or tampering around the speedometer is a dead giveaway that the car has been 'clocked' and the mileage is not genuine
  • Check that the tyres have 1.8mm legal tread depth and the exhaust is silent when you cover the end with a cloth whilst the car is running - both can be price negotiating points of replacements are needed
  • Check that everything works such as switches, heater, a/c, windows, mirrors, stereo, interior and exterior lights - fixing any of these things can be a real pain
  • On older cars check for rust on the sills and floorpan (prod carefully with a screwdriver) - unless you are friendly with a welder rot can be expensive and messy to fix.
  • Check all body panels are consistent in colour and fit - if they are not it is likely that the car has been in an accident and has been repaired poorly

Road testing the car:

  • With the handbrake firmly on try to set off in 1st gear. The car should stall instantly - if it does not it is likely that the clutch needs replacing
  • After driving for a short while floor the throttle - a could of blue smoke out of the exhaust indicates worn bores or valve guides both of which are expensive to fix
  • The car should accelerate smoothly accross the rev range - flat spots or hesitation may signify fuel injection and /or computer problems which are notoriously hard to diagnose and fix
  • The car should pull away smoothly from a standing start - if it judders this may indicate oil contamination of the clutch plate and a new clutch will be needed
  • take the car to at least 70mph. The car should drive straight and not pull to one side. If there is significant vibration this may indicate any one of a number of hard to diagnose problems. Do not let the seller fob you off with "its just the wheels that need balancing".
  • When the car is stopped with the engine running turn the steering wheel from full lock to full lock - rough operation or hissing indicates the power steering is faulty

Finally, trust your instincts about the car and the seller and do not let your heart rule your head - if you are not happy just walk away!!

I do hope you found this guide interesting and informative, if you did, please take a couple of seconds to vote below - thankyou. For a more comprehensive appraisal of the Mazda MX5 you can download our full video road test. Want to see how easy the roof folds down? how much boot space there is? what the interior is like? how much leg room there is? what its really like to drive and live with in the real world?..... then just click on the link below

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