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2002 Mazda MX-5 Review
  • Go-kart like handling, Ease of operation of the convertible roof, Reliability
  • Tiny boot, Could do with a bit more power, Makes every other car feel heavy and unresponsive,

by Jeremy N

Why an MX5? I was looking for practical, fuel efficient daily transport but didn’t want to compromise on driving enjoyment and having read little but praise of MX5’s in various motoring publications over the past 2 decades, I had to see what all the fuss was about. For a mere $8000, it was hard to say no. The NB8B model here is a facelift of the 2nd Generation NB released in 1998, adding a six speed gearbox and 8kw more power thanks to variable valve timing on the intake cam, and 16 inch alloy wheels.

With the 1839cc motor producing 113kw@7000 RPM and 181nm@5000 RPM and with only 1100kg or so to haul around, the little roadster steps off the line smartly. You won’t be winning many traffic light grands prix in this car, but there is enough poke to keep ahead of the flow of traffic if you’re willing to work for it. The first shift is crucial, as there is a noticeable gap between from 1-2 (the revs drop to 4500rpm) compared to 2-3 and 3-4 where a 7000rpm upshift drops you right in the middle of the power band at 5500rpm.

The engine isn’t as peaky as one would imagine for this type of vehicle and feels almost coarse as you approach the redline. The six speed gearbox is light with short throws, but not as slick as the five speed unit in the previous NB8A. The sixth ratio does give a more relaxed cruising pace at 100km/h and presumably better fuel consumption but is seldom employed away from the highways. The pedals are perfectly placed for heel-toeing and while the footwell is rather narrow, there is still space for a left foot rest. Sasquatches may find problems trying to hit one pedal at a time though.

Tyres will make or break this car, and the Toyo Proxes T1R equipped here never lacked for grip even in the rain. Steering is predictably direct with good weighting and feel for a power assisted system. The fat Nardi airbagged steering wheel is a delight to hold. It would take a more skilled driver than myself to get the most out of the MX5’s chassis, but it corners flat and remains neutral until you approach its limits where the rear end will start to push out. Easily corrected by backing off the throttle, it flatters the amateur driver and can make any drive an occasion. Whether it be carving up the tarmac on winding mountain roads, or weaving in and out of peak hour traffic, the MX5 always feels nimble, willing and always eager for the next downshift and squirt of the throttle.

The first thing one should consider about an MX5 is “will I fit?”. At 180cm my head only just clears the roof lining and the sun-visors are useless. The boot is shallow and not especially wide with gooseneck hinges. That jumbo 24pk of toilet rolls would have to share the passenger seat. That said, with some creativity and use of soft bags you might be surprised as to what can fit. Equipment for a snorkelling/spearfishing holiday for 2 for example, although the esky was left behind.

The roof is an absolute cinch to operate with two catches, and it is possible to lower and raise it from the drivers’ seat in less than 10 seconds – far superior to just about any automatic system with the possible exception of the Porsche Boxster’s. The vinyl tonneau on the other hand is a 5 minute job minimum with multiple press studs and straps and most often left in the boot. Roof up, the heated glass rear window is fantastic for Melbourne, and will never crease or turn yellow on you. It is, however quite small and extra care must be taken when reversing out into traffic. A head-check on the drivers’ side is next to pointless, but the large wing mirrors partially make amends.

Having previously owned Jaguars, Land Rovers and BMW’s, I was looking forward to tinkering with the MX5. The view under the bonnet I s a delight with the cast twincam valve cover taking pride of place in the centre-rear. Everything else is easily identifiable and accessible – quite a relief from the usual modern practice of hiding everything under shrouds of black plastic. Alas, the MX5 has proved disappointingly reliable during my ownership, requiring nothing more than routine servicing.

It may be Japanese, but that was the only boring aspect of my ownership experience.

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2002 Mazda MX-5 Review Review
  • 7.5
  • 8
  • 6
  • 7
  • 8
  • 9.5
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