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Car reviews - Mazda - MX-5 - convertible

Our Opinion

We like
Everything - it's what the proper basic two-seater sports car should be
Room for improvement
Only minor details that don't impact on the overall excellence of the package - it's practically perfect.

18 Jun 2003

CLASSIC is a word not often applied to the mostly mundane offerings from mainstream car manufacturers, and rightly so.

But Mazda hit the bullseye dead centre with its MX5 sports car and the little convertible is set to go down in history as one of the all-time great designs.

Although sometimes referred to as the "Elan from Japan" because of the clear design influence of the Lotus Elan, the MX5 has its own distinctive personality.

Born of an idea by American Mr Bob Hall and Mazda US manager Mr Kenichi Yamamoto, the MX5, which was sold in America as the Miata, has classic sports car specifications.

From the 323 derived, 1.6-litre, twin overhead cam engine with its distinctive rocker covers and rear wheel drive (in an era where front-wheel drive is almost universal) to the beautifully short and precise gearshift and the sporty exhaust note, the MX5 is a car designed to please the driver, as a true sports car should. It does its task well.

The 1597cc, multi-point fuel-injected, twin overhead cam, 16-valve engine drives the rear wheels through a five-speed gearbox.

From November, 1993, the engine was enlarged to 1839cc and a four-speed automatic was made available as an option - though not seriously considered by enthusiasts.

The chassis is of classic design with double wishbones, coil springs and anti-roll bar at the front and an independent rear end with dual wishbones and coil springs.

Power assisted four-wheel disc brakes and rack and pinion steering complete a copybook sports car spec.

The unitary construction body offers two-seater accommodation, with a very small boot.

The roof, which is quick and easy to raise or lower, has efficient and simple hold down catches and is stored under a clip-on soft cover.

Unzipping the rear window can be fiddly but the hood fits well and is generally leak-proof in wet weather.

The interior is cosy and the circular instruments are laid out in classic sports car style comprising speedo, tacho, fuel, oil and water gauges.

The fuel filler flap release is concealed in a compartment in the raised centre console while the electric mirror switches are mounted on the sloping front face. A racy drilled accelerator pedal completes the total sports car feel.

The MX5 is a driver's car. Road manners are superb and with the top down on a fine day life could not be better.

Steering is a little heavy when parking but otherwise direct and precise and the brakes match the lively performance.

Handling is totally stable and predictable except for a little rear wheel patter on corrugated surfaces.

In service the MX5 has proven to be fault free, even the potentially troublesome soft top being free of drafts and water leaks. Mechanically, the car is totally reliable and there are no problems with the body.

The MX5 is a very desirable motor car and this is reflected in its resale price. It is a purpose-built sports car designed for two people to have fun and enjoyment in, and it fulfils the role perfectly.

As a design exercise, very few cars of any type have met their criteria so well.

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