1989-98 Mazda MX-5 Review

By: Glenn Torrens, Photography by: Mark Bean

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anette anette

Mazda’s MX-5 (known as Miata in the USA and Eunos Roadster in Japan) was inspired by classic roadsters such as the Lotus Elan, the MGB and various Alfas

 

1989-98 Mazda MX-5

Since its 1989 launch, Mazda’s Californian-conceived MX-5 has carved its own persona as the world’s most popular roadster. Over four generations, production has now topped a million and deservedly so! As a rewarding Sunday car – or a single person’s reliable commuter, even year-round – few cars come close to the MX-5 for ticking the boxes for drop-top enjoyment and pure driving satisfaction, too.

The original has passed the test of time well, even in the face of the new ND series MX-5 launched last year. That original MX-5 (1989 to 1996) remains a good looker and mechanically, the injected 1.6-litre (1.8- from 1994) DOHC fours have proven almost bomb-proof with many approaching 400,000km with little more than routine oil changes. The gearbox, diff and other mechanicals – such as the roof mechanism – are also long-lived.

Mazda MX-5: Where it all began

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The sweet handling comes from four-wheel independent wishbone suspension; a hardware benchmark few have equalled. It’s an outstanding chassis. There were a number of special edition models intended to keep the MX-5 fresh in the showrooms, too: Most of these were colour/trim packs (the British Racing Green paint with tan leather trim somehow managed to look not-corny and un copy-cat) but there was also a more edgy performer, the Clubman, with extra corner-carving sharpness from Bilstein dampers and a few other tweaks.

Even though they are simple and reliable, on-the-drip finance appeal of many new sports cars means some MX-5s were first owned by people with little dollars or sense to look after them. But decent numbers of pampered one- two- and few-owner showroom-spec cars do remain for keen enthusiasts to choose a keeper from. Unless your ambition is track days – a task the MX-5 performs very well – it’s wise to steer clear of anything with bling wheels and chopped-about suspension as these mods can kill the supple all-round, all-road, all-weather, all-purpose balance and ability of the MX-5.

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VALUE RANGE: 1990 Mazda MX5

FAIR
$3800

GOOD
$7700

EXCELLENT
$12,500

(Note: exceptional cars will command more)

MX-5 owner: Annette Roberts Wilde. Sydney, NSW

Anette

Annette Roberts Wilde, a nurse, owns this yellow NA series Mazda MX-5 manual. A member of the MX-5 Club of NSW (Hunter Chapter) she’s owned her Mazda for seven years since buying it from the original owner with 81,000km. Now it shows 104Kkm thanks to regular weekend drives and – especially – Mazda MX-5 club runs.

"The runs are usually around the Hunter Valley and once per month. There’s regular social get-togethers and motorsport activities, too. I’ve only even done track days twice. It’s not really my thing, but I love the club runs. They’re fantastic."

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1989-1998 Mazda MX-5 NA series

Engine: 1.6-litre (85kW) and (from 1994) 1.8-litre (98kW) DOHC engines. 5-sp manual/4-sp auto
The good: Gorgeous handling from a pure sports car chassis. Simple, revvy and reliable engine. Remarkable quality roof, seals and mechanical bits with reasonable spares and service pricing
The bad: Not much… some early 1.6 cranks had pulley issues. Tight cabin for tall people
You need to know: Factory hard-top drops-on and is a terrific asset for year-round commuting. Many second-hand Japanese-market Eunos Roadsters have found their way to Australia. Momo steering wheel is standard and textured paint finish below body crease is factory-spec – not a dodgy repair.

 

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