WHAT: Mazda MX5 (Eunos) 1.6
USED & ABUSED FOR HOW LONG: 3 years and counting
MILEAGE COVERED: 6,000
FUEL EFFICIENCY: roughly 25mpg if our maths is correct (approx 100kms per quarter of a 45-litre tank)
PROS: How would you like a two-seater convertible sports car with rear wheel drive and decent reliability? You would? Ok, how about if you could buy that for the price of an iPad? That’s the basic beauty of the Mk1 MX5 now; they’re the cheapest way to fun motoring you can find. Obviously you can spend more on getting a later spec model, with special edition goodies, lower mileage and the larger 1.8-litre engine, but you don’t have to if you want the basic thrills. When the sun comes out and you’ve got the roof down with a country B-road at your disposal, there wouldn’t be many other cars that can give you the same feeling as the 1.6-litre MX5. The small size makes you feel really connected to the whole car in a way that’s really endearing. Try taking one for a decent drive and then come back and say you haven’t developed a little bit of love for it. You probably won’t be able to.
They may not accelerate from standstill with much urgency, but get them up to speed and you can feel that balanced chassis working wonders through bends. A spirited drive on your own, sat low in the Mazda with the roof down is one of those pure driving delights that are so rare now. You need to work the engine hard to get moving, but that’s part of the fun. With well under 150bhp you can afford to give your right foot a workout without too much fear of getting into the kinds of trouble you can when you’re playing with 200bhp plus. You’ll be out-dragged by modern diesels, but you’ll be having more fun. As for being rear wheel drive… it’s so nicely balanced that it’s only in the damp that it’s likely to catch you out. Getting the back end out in the dry is a mission with so little power at your disposal… which is either a good or a bad thing, depending on your point of view. Perhaps one of the torsen type LSDs found in some 1.6s and later 1.8s (apparently) might change this though.
Another point in the Mazda’s favour is its reliability; in three years of ownership it’s needed a replacement water hose but that’s about it, having passed three MOTs without issue. Not bad for a 23-year old motor!
CONS: Practicality for more than one person is a bit of an issue. You can fit two people in and most of what you need for a weekend away (with the spare space saver out and a can of tyre foam installed instead), but there’s very little room for stowage inside the cockpit (drinks, snacks etc). For one person though they’re ideal. Even at over 6ft they’re spacious enough once you get used to the limited view through the windscreen! Fuel economy is another issue, the small engine and lightweight makes the fact you can barely seem to get more than 30mpg out of one a bit frustrating. And at motorway speeds things can get a bit rattly and noisy. You’ll probably be able to live with it though as you’ll always be aware there have to be some drawbacks to owning a cheap, two-seater convertible.
There’s also that classic problem with rear plastic screens in convertible hoods; even a relatively little used one was soon opaque just months after installing it. A hardtop for winter would be a smart move if the MX5 was your only car.
POINTS OF INTEREST: Rumours have it that even the standard mud flaps can sap fuel efficiency, so it may be worth ditching those. From a tuning perspective, the 1.6-litre engine can be the preferable option too. It was the base engine for Mazda’s 323 4×4 turbo hot hatch, meaning bolt on turbo kits are just that; ‘bolt on’. We’ve driven a turbo-charged one and if you had the money (around £5k for a conversion) it brings the MX5 to life; instant response, increased smoothness, a better noise and a more entertaining rear end. It’s the car you’d always want the MX5 to be.
We’ve also been in a highly tuned turbo-charged MX5 that was being built to try and hit 200mph and still using the 1.6-litre engine. That is about as wild a ride as you’ll ever be likely to have.
VERDICT: Not the smoothest or fastest of cars, but some serious no frills driving pleasure in an attractive and surprisingly usable package. That they’re so numerous and inexpensive makes them just that much better. They’ve got pop-up headlights too, which still makes us smile!
PROJECT INSPIRATION: (pics via embossed signatures)