Mazda MX-5 (1989 – 1997) Review

Mazda MX-5 (1989 – 1997) At A Glance


+Superb handling, very reliable, good parts support, excellent value for money, lots of fun. (Model designation NA.)

-Rust can be a killer, roof isn't 100% waterproof, later 1.6s down on power.

In 1989, the Japanese motor industry came of age. It was a seminal year when it assaulted the last bastion of European exclusivity - with a number of unrelated new car launches. Lexus took on the luxury establishment; Honda did the same to the supercars with the NSX; and Mazda built a traditional British sports car in the shape of the MX-5. It looked like a Lotus, sounded like a Triumph, and went like an MGB. Except there was one important difference... reliability.

In short, the MX-5 (model designation NA) was the perfect roadster for those who wanted the traditional British sports car experience without the associated worries, unreliability and oil leaks. With a twin-cam engine that’s more powerful than the Lotus Elan it apes, the MX-5 offers sufficient performance, though not enough to trouble the fine handling and grip. Steering was sweet, and the gearchange was precise.

Over the years, the MX-5 has proved it can cover high mileages fuss free, while the only rust you are likely to find is where the sills join the rear wings. The lighter, early 1.6s are favoured (but 1.8s are just as much fun). You'll want to avoid the budget-spec post-1994 1.6 engines as they are down on power compared with the launch-spec cars.

Ask Honest John

Can you recommend an appreciating classic car from the 1990s?

"Which solidly appreciating classic from the 1990s is easy to maintain/repair?"
We'd recommend an early Mazda MX-5. The original Mk1 (NA) is very easy to maintain and repair, provided you watch out for rust. There's an excellent support network (we'd recommend the Mazda MX-5 Owners Club) and a good example should only go up in value.
Answered by Andrew Brady

Can you recommend a used car for a £30,000 budget?

"What is the best second hand car for £30,000"
It depends on your requirements, really. A three-year-old BMW 5 Series is hard to beat in terms of value for money but won't be a good option if you have a small driveway or cover a lot of city miles. A Toyota Yaris Cross would be a good choice if you're looking for a cheap-to-run small SUV. Or a Mazda MX-5 if you're in the market for a summer sports car.
Answered by Andrew Brady

When should I change the timing belt on my 2003 Mazda MX-5?

"I have a 2003 Mazda MX-5. The timing belt was changed in 2013 and the recommended change is every five years or every 50,000 miles. It has now done 94,000 miles. I could do with changing the car but worried the belt will go before I can exchange it. What would you recommend and how much is the car worth? It's 1.8-litre."
The first thing to mention is that this is a non-interference engine, which means that if the timing belt goes before you have a chance to change it the pistons won't smash into the valves and basically scrap the engine - but that's not to say you should run it until it the belt goes! For a bit more info, we spoke to Garath Smith, a specialist at The MX5 Restorer. He said, 'Our price to supply and fit a new cambelt including tensioner and idler pulleys is £170 plus VAT. But it's also a good idea to change the water pump at the same time, this adds £70 plus VAT to the job.' Depending on how much you want to spend, there are a couple of other jobs that you might consider doing while you're there, such as the cam cover gasket and the front and engine oil seals (but only if they're leaking). For more info, check out
Answered by Keith Moody

I want to replace my aging Ford Ka with something reliable, but a bit more robust - what do you suggest?

"I'm looking to change my car in 6-12 months time. I drive a Ford Ka, which I have had since new and it will be six years old this year. I currently drive along a lot of A and B rural roads, so I'm looking for something a bit more robust. However, I'm not sure whether to go down the SUV road or upgrade to a slightly bigger car. Whatever I get will need to be economical and reliable as a priority. Also, I don't have a family to drive around so I'm wondering whether I actually need a very large family car for one person. I would love to have a convertible or something sporty but not sure that's the most practical option. I've got absolutely no idea what to even look at."
How about a Ford Fiesta? It's bigger than your Ka, so will feel more robust, while also being reliable and cheap to run. It's also fun to drive and you could opt for the rugged Active model if you want something a little more SUV-like. Also, consider small crossover SUVs like the new Ford Puma, Peugeot 2008 and Volkswagen T-Cross. These have higher seating positions - which might be good for the kind of driving you do - without being significantly bigger or more expensive to run than a hatchback. As a left-field choice, if you don't need much in the way of practicality, take a look at a Mazda MX-5. They're reliable and cheap to run, while also being sporty and fun to drive.
Answered by Andrew Brady
More Questions

What does a Mazda MX-5 (1989 – 1997) cost?