Here I go again: Mazda MX5 Mark 2

July 28 2020
Here I go again: Mazda MX5 Mark 2

Second-hand Style, with Richard Cooke

LAST year I waxed lyrical about the Mark 1 Mazda MX5, and have been meaning to get into a Mk2 ever since.

Now I want to drive them all – there are four generations to choose from – because the 2001 mean green 1.8 I drove this month was absolutely cracking.

What’s changed from the Mk1? Well, the pop-up headlamps have gone, which is a shame, but I still love the looks. The engine is up 10hp on the Mk1, to 140hp, and although that difference doesn’t sound much (and wouldn’t be in a heavy car) because the MX5 is so light, you really notice the difference.

Critically, though, this Mk2 hadn’t been messed around with, unlike the lowered, customised Mk1. That meant a nice compliant ride, easily controllable rear-drive handling, with no extra wide tyres to rob it of feel and that lovely, unmatched Mazda manual gear change.

In this car, you use the gearbox for fun. It’s so precise, quick and the ratios are perfectly matched to the engine. It made me regret not holding out for a manual option on my current car, but beggars can’t be choosers I suppose.

The engine itself has a hair-trigger throttle – response is immediate and, whilst still not quick by modern standards (0-60 in 8 seconds), it is more than enough for a small convertible. It also revs up to 7,000rpm, which encourages hard driving.

So what to look out for? Well like the Mk1, the Mk2 also rusts. The sills are a problem, as are the arches and lower lips on the doors. The engine is trouble-free, as long as you keep changing the oil and give it a bit of time to warm up before thrashing it.

The good news is that Mk2s are much more plentiful than the Mk1, and still cheaper. So there are lots around, and you don’t have to settle for a dog, because prices are so low. Usable cars start at £1,500; £5k buys you the best around and you should also get a hardtop included at that price.

My test model benefited from the facelift that Mk2s had in 2001, and had a not-unreasonable 85,000 miles on the clock. Everything still felt tight and accurate, and there was noticeably less rattle and hum compared to the rather tired Mk1 from last year.

Yes, the interior is plain and makes heavy use of black plastic (what Japanese car of this vintage doesn’t?) but it all still worked and showed no real signs of wear. Today there would be aluminium trim all over the place, which looks great new – but after 20 years? I’m not so sure.

Something odd, neither pleasant nor unpleasant, was the smell. The turn-of-the-century Mazda smell, as it happens. Coming out of the vents was the exact same odour that our 1997 Mazda 323 emitted. Immediately recognisable, redolent of a simpler, less complicated – oh stop it, this isn’t a Proustian dream sequence, it’s a Japanese sports car.

In fact, it is the Japanese sports car. The owner barely uses it, and has a Mk1 wreck to restore as well, so he’s got his work cut out when it comes to MX5s.

As I mentioned last year, parts are cheap and the lack of complexity means that the home mechanic can do a lot of the work him or herself. Given that this particular car is garaged the entire time, I see no reason why it won’t be working perfectly in another 20 years.

Other running costs are almost an irrelevance: think 35mpg, minimal tyre costs because the wheels are so small (15 inches, some came with lovely looking 16s that then corroded badly) and servicing that any local garage can do. No reason to pay main dealer prices on such an old and basic car. Tax is £270.

I’ll find a Mk3 to test for this time next year (the best looking in my view, but also the ‘chubby’ one with unfortunate middle-aged spread).

Mazda MX5 Mk2 (‘NB’ model designation), 1998 – 2005.

What to pay: Don’t mess about, stump up for the best you can find at between £3k and £5k.