Following our drive review of the mk2 classic Mazda MX5, we’ve been thinking just how strong a used proposition either Mazda’s first- or second-generation two-seater sports car is. So we’ve put together a used buying guide for the more retro version of the Japanese roadster, detailing the most important things to check for to make sure you bag a good one.
ENGINES AND GEARBOX
The engines in both the first and second iteration of Mazda MX5 are strong.
Mk1 cars come with either a 114hp 1.6-litre unit or a more powerful 1.8, putting out 128hp until 1995 when it was upgraded to a 133hp unit.
Mk2 cars also get the same choice of capacity, with the smaller engine kicking out 110hp and the larger 1.8 producing 140hp (146hp in post-2001 cars).
Ultimately, the motors are reliable (would you expect anything less from a Mazda?) and love to be revved, producing their peak power higher up the rpm band.
The 1.8 unit feels more punchy, but you will lose some fuel economy over the smaller 1.6 variants. That said, the Mazda’s lowly kerb weight (even the more refined mk2 cars weighed little over one tonne) should mean fuel efficiency is still relatively strong.
Saving petrol is not what driving an MX5 is about, however. This is a sports car and was designed to be used as such.
There are some things to look out for though. Make sure any car in question has been properly serviced throughout its life, with all oil and filter changes carried out at the correct intervals – as well as clearance checks and new belts – and the right replacement parts and lubricants used.
All mk1s came fitted with a five-speed manual gearbox, with the same unit fitted to most mk2s, except the pre-2001 1.8s – where a six-speed transmission was an option – and later 1.8s, where it was standard fit.
Ultimately, both gearboxes are reliable. Even with high mileage, most transmissions should feel nicely loose and willing to change gear, with a slick but positive mechanical action. If it feels sloppy, there could be something wrong with the selection mechanism.
On the whole, both mk1 and mk2 Mazda MX5s have a strong structure. However, these vehicles are now getting older – already having achieved cult classic status – and it is important to perform regular checks and small maintenance jobs to keep them in tip-top condition.
For example, ensure drain holes aren’t plugged and are flowing freely, allowing any water to dissipate. If these become plugged, items such as doors and sills can hold water, leading towards corrosion.
It’s therefore important to check the state of the chassis underneath, and especially close to the jacking points for any signs of wear or repair work.
It’s not necessarily a bad thing if welding work has been carried out professionally, as it should prolong its life and mean the car is up to standard.
It’s also worth checking areas such as wheel arches and subframe braces for signs of deterioration. Don’t think that because Japanese authorities don’t grit salt their roads that an imported car will be free of any problems either – these cars are nearly a decade old minimum.
That said, well cared for examples should still be as close to pristine as possible – It’s worth waiting, and paying a little more money for one of these prized examples.
With not much weight to stop, the MX5’s brakes are strong performers and shouldn’t be a problem. Make sure brake pads and discs have been changed at the correct intervals though, as just like any car, poor maintenance can cause wear outside tolerances to arguably the most important aspect of the vehicle in terms of safety.
Some later mk1 vehicles got ABS anti-lock brakes, while all mk2 vehicles received the feature as standard. Consider this option wisely before you buy a car, depending on what you’re looking for from your MX5.
Electronic reliability is a classic Mazda MX5 strong point. If a vehicle has a heated rear windscreen, make sure the system is working, as the folding of the hood can sometimes cause minor problems with wiring.
Apart from that, the car’s electrics should be good. The only other known – and very minor – issue is that electric windows sometimes fail, but it isn’t due to the circuits, switches, or the motors.
The glass can sometimes stick inside its rubber runners – a liberal spray of silicon grease will cure the problem.
The hood on both mk1 and mk2 Mazda MX5s is a durable item, remaining waterproof in the most part despite its years – potentially quite a few oh which have been spent outside.
Some seals can perish, letting drops of water in at the corners of the roof or above the windows, but these are inexpensive to replace and should really be budgeted for on a second-hand car.
Make sure the catches on the header rail above the windscreen are functioning properly, too. These very rarely but sometimes do wear, meaning the top doesn’t properly latch.
MX5 STEERING AND SUSPENSION
The car’s steering is one of the MX5s great attributes. Both mk1 and mk2 variants get power assisted setups, although Series 1 cars are arguably purer in terms of feel and feedback than later vehicles.
Mechanically the setup is sound, with the only real precautionary checks needed on power steering pump lines to ensure you catch any corrosion early.
The same goes for the suspension. The springs and dampers have to control a relatively low mass, so aren’t loaded particularly hard. The car manages to be supple and compliant yet taut and controlled – a very clever trick and the sign of a brilliantly engineered chassis.
Just keep an eye on the condition of the springs, checking for any corrosion or cracks, as well as oil leaks from the suspension dampers themselves.
Safety is still strong on the classic Mazda MX5 despite its age. Only the post-2001 mk2 variants were put through Euro NCAP’s rigorous crash safety tests, recording a strong result of four stars.
ABS is available on later Series 1 vehicles and is fitted as standard on Series 2 cars, while features such as extra bracing between subframes and seat belt towers – as well as strong side impact door beams – were fitted to all cars.
Expect to pay more to insure an imported MX5 compared to a UK-spec car, but on the whole, insurance costs are relatively cheap.
The combination of low power and a chassis that involves means the car is a low insurance rating (from group 23 to 29 out of 50) for a sports car but has amazing dynamic ability to thrill and excite.
Not all cars – mk1 and mk2s – received any anti-theft equipment, so fitting an aftermarket alarm and immobiliser system can bring your cover costs down dramatically, too.
MX5 REPLACEMENT PARTS AND REPAIRS
Should you need to either replace or repair anything on your second-hand classic Mazda MX5, there are a number of aftermarket parts suppliers and specialists in the UK who can help.
The popularity of these cars in Britain means there’s a big scene for MX5 owners and therefore a large database of knowledge and expertise to call on should you need some advice.
All that’s left to do now is go and hunt the classifieds for the perfect used Mazda MX5. Just remember to do your research and thoroughly check every car you view.
Don’t be tempted to buy the first one you see, unless you’re sure it’s in perfect condition. Miles of smiles behind the wheel of this iconic Mazda sports car await…
T W White & Sons have represented Mazda since 1984, and are one of the longest established dealerships in the United Kingdom. As well as offering Brand new MX5’s and RF’s we also have a vast array of used Mazda approved MX5’s – All with a comprehensive three years parts and labour warranty, backed by RAC, 12 month RAC breakdown cover and MOT test insurance, giving you total peace of mind. Keep an eye on our Stock list here – Mazda MX5 approved used stock.