Mazda MX-5 Convertible 1998 - 2001

Mazda MX-5 Convertible 1998 - 2001

Review by it
Monday, May 16, 2016


  • An affordable sport roadster
  • Classic design in a modern execution
  • Comparatively economical engines


  • Model with a 1.6-litre engine lacks performance
  • The cabin is small and narrow


The Mazda MX-5 is the 2nd generation of the highly successful small roadster series. It is one of the most popular roadsters of all times. The MX-5 started out as a vague concept car developed by an American journalist turned car production planner Bob Hall. The concept was developed in England and was mainly inspired by the classic Lotus Elan. Since 1989 when the 1st generation of the MX-5 made its debut, Mazda has managed to catapult the roadster into a high-volume mass production environment. It’s cheaper than BMW Z3 or Lotus Elise, but offers similar dynamics and a high level of reliability.

Exterior and Interior

It still has the same classic look of the 1st generation but they’ve had to water it down a little to comply with safety regulations in the USA which is the main market for the MX-5. The retractable headlamps had to go because they posed too much risk for pedestrians. As a result, the Mazda MX-5 is not as aggressive as it used to be, however, the new front end design brings it in sync with the rest of the Mazda’s models. The interior design has little changed. The angular lines have been smoothed out, but the characteristic robot-face central console has remained untouched. The seats haven’t changed, why change something that is already almost perfect. The 3-spoke steering wheel is maybe too civilian compared with the 1st generation but on the whole the cockpit has an accomplished look. The quality of materials used throughout the MX-5 has been improved significantly.

Performance and Economy

Mazda dealers are often asked why the car is not available with a sportier V6 engine. The answer is simple. With the 1.8-litre option, the car achieves an ideal 50/50 weight distribution between the axles. It is what gives the Mazda roadster its superb handling. A different weight distribution would make this light rear-wheel drive car unpleasant or even dangerous to drive. The smaller 1.6-litre engine with only 110bhp is too small for a sporty car. It doesn’t offer a competitive level of performance, and although it can accelerate to 60mph in less than 10 seconds, it’s not what you normally expect from a car that looks as cool as the MX-5. The 1.8-litre engine is a well-balanced and economical unit. It is still slightly underpowered leaving you thinking there must be more ways to get more than 140bhp out of a 4-cylinder engine. Thanks to the low weight and aerodynamic shape, the car offers a good performance level. More enthusiastic drivers may feel that acceleration from zero to 60mph of 8.2 seconds is rather modest. It fulfils its purpose of a fun-car and besides that, it is also practical. It is comfortable for everyday driving and there’s some boot space that can even hold your shopping bags. Many other sports cars are less practical and cost a lot more than the Mazda MX-5. The 1.6-litre engine is the most economical of the two – returning 34mpg in a combined cycle. The 1.8-litre version consumes only slightly more and can deliver 33mpg. The top-spec Sport model comes with a manual 6-speed gearbox and extra 6 horsepower to the engine. It improves the dynamics only marginally, but operating the 6-speed gearbox is a treat.

Like to Drive

Although the car is small, the cabin is very comfortable and the driving position replicates the feeling of a real sports car. The smaller engine version lacks excitement and considering the small difference of fuel consumption, it’s a good idea to go for the more powerful 1.8-litre engine. The 6-speed gearbox is top of the class offering a great driving experience.

Faults and Repairs

As the MX-5 is considered as a sports car, it needs servicing at shorter intervals than conventional cars. Other than that, it is as cheap in maintenance as any other Mazda. Being an older generation car, it is more likely to come with a number of miles, so thorough checks are necessary before buying one. Especially important is to check the bodywork for possible rust issues.