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1990 Mazda MX-5 Review
  • Driver feel and intimacy, Superb handling, Open air motoring on a country back road, Reliable and economical, Fun!
  • Small means not being seen by traffic, Noisy, especially at cruising speed, Open air motoring in city traffic!

by Derek M

Remember when you were a child? Everything was about fun. Lego was not just a coloured brick that hurt like hell when you accidentally stepped on it, instead it created endless new worlds to explore. Pokemon were not just a bunch of cards with cute Japanese characters sucking money out of your pocket, they were companions that had super mega battles for you, ever present and trustworthy companions. And cars? They weren’t about safety ratings, fuel economy or kilowatts. Toy cars always made the most fantastic noises, even if the soundtrack came from your mouth. They weren’t about getting to the destination, they were always on the most amazing journeys and adventures. They were about maximising fun.

That is exactly what the 1990 Mazda MX5 is about. The statistics are meagre (85kw of power, 130Nm of torque), or ordinary (8.5L/100km fuel consumption), or even downright questionable by today’s standards (zero airbags, no ABS, no traction control!). But what it does do beyond all other cars on the market – is to maximise fun.

Mazda wanted to create a car that would hark back to the good old days of British ragtops. But without the leaks, squeaks and rattles. They spent a gazillion dollars researching the exhaust note for maximum pleasure because that’s what they thought was important. Just like when you were a kid. They spent a lot of time looking into some mystical thing that Japanese call “Jinba Ittai” – which literally translates to “horse and rider as one”. The idea was to encapsulate that relationship between the samurai warrior of old and his trusty steed. To create the trustworthy companion that knows your every move.

They succeeded. There is no other car I have driven that provides such a connection between the car, road and driver. It’s almost like it is alive and is eager to immediately respond and please its master. There is no power steering so there is a direct, mechanical response to your every movement. The gearshift is short and precise. The pedals are positioned so heel and toe downshifts are easy, encouraging further aural delight from the exhaust.

You want to hear the exhaust a little better? Experience the world around you in a more intimate way? No problem, flick 2 latches and lift the roof over your head to instantly provide the open air experience those samurai warriors experienced. The car encourages you to explore your world. The kaleidoscope of colour that is the Australian countryside opens up with no roof or pillars obstructing your view.

You will always want to choose the long way home. But also because the short way, via the motorway – is not comfortable. The MX5 has a 4.3 final drive ratio, gearing is short – which is great for country back roads, but not for cruising on a motorway. 100km/h sees 4000+ rpm and it’s a buzzing drive!

Luggage space is at a premium so you would want those country drives to end up in only a short stay away. Of course there are no rear seats, so it’s just you and a close companion. And when you get back home, that intimate experience you had with the landscapes of the country becomes an exercise in concentration of defensive driving to dodge the Godzilla sized SUV’s when in the urban environment.

Maintenance is cheap as there is not a lot that can go wrong with the car. Electronics are minimal, rust is scarce and Japanese know how makes sure not a lot goes wrong. With almost a million MX5’s sold worldwide, and as it shares components such as the engine with the humble 323 – second hand, new OEM and aftermarket parts are cheap and plentiful. Almost every capital city in Australia also has a specialist workshop that knows the minimal foibles of the car. The largest single model car club in the world is our very own MX5 Club of Australia, so there is a community that is always willing to help with the car (and share in some fun!).

The MX5 is a car to take on amazing journeys and adventures. Though possible with compromise, it isn’t designed to perform the mundane duties of getting the groceries or driving the kids to school. But if you want to become a kid again – hop into the MX5 for your play time and have some fun!

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1990 Mazda MX-5 Review Review
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