BUYER'S GUIDE: Mazda MX-5 (Mk1 & Mk2)

Mazda MX-5

The Mazda MX-5 remains one of the most-loved sports cars of all time. It is also one of the most affordable ways to gain access to the kind of driving thrills that usually cost a lot more. We take an in-depth look at this compact drop-top. 

Words: Wilhelm Lutjeharms

Inspired by the classic and hugely popular Italian (Alfa Romeo) and British (MG, Lotus) roadsters from the '60s and '70s, the Mazda MX-5 has proven to be a global smash-hit - it is the best-selling two-seat sports car in history! Since 1989 it has been manufactured, first as the NA (Mark I) followed by the NB (Mark II) and NC (Mark III).

As is the case with most modern cars, the MX-5 grew slightly bigger with the introduction of each generation, but when the ND (Mark IV) was unveiled in 2014, it appeared to be more in keeping with the concept of the original – a rare achievement these days.

Mazda MX-5

The Mark I and II models are still considered by many as some of the purest entry-level sports cars ever made. There are numerous factors that count in its favour. This includes affordability to start with, reliability and generally affordable running costs. Then there is also parts availability - though in many cases the parts would have to be imported into South Africa.

Performance on offer

The MX-5 was never conceived to be a particularly fast car in a straight line, but it was designed to provide entertainment in the corners. Consequently, it sits very low to the ground – as a sport car should. There isn't a big difference in terms of performance between the 1.6L and 1.8L variants of the Mk1. The 1.6-litre engine is said to be more eager to rev throughout the rev range while the 1.8-litre offers more torque. The 1.8-litre Mk II cars also offer larger brakes and additional chassis bracing. 

Mazda MX-5

One very important attribute of these reliable engines, is that it is a non-interference powerplant. That means that should the cambelt snap, the valves won’t bash into the pistons. The easiest way to recognise a 1.6-litre car from a 1.8-litre, is that the text on the camshaft cover on top of the engine is inlaid on the 1.6L and raised on the 1.8L engines. 

The soft top can be taken down in seconds, and raised in almost the same time. If you're tall and strong enough, you might even be able to do it while being seated. 

Overseas, these are some of the most-loved cars to turn into track toys or more focused sports cars for the road. There is a long list of aftermarket parts available which can help you in customising your car to your heart’s content. 

Potential issues

Some of the very early Mk I cars had weak crankshafts, as the pulley woodruff key can wear. A thorough inspection for rust needs to be conducted of the sills and wheelarch areas. Look at the drain holes on the rear sill (there are eight drain holes in total, dotted around the car). These holes get blocked over time, preventing water from escaping and this is where rust could start. Also check around the windscreen and A-pillar for potential rust.

As with any convertible, the condition of the roof should be checked for damage, be it cracks, splits on the canvas or the rear window itself. The older the car, the more likely it is that the roof will need some level of maintenance or will need to be replaced.

Mazda MX-5 for sale

Lift the carpet in the boot to check for rust or dampness. At the same time you can also check the age of the battery (and the condition of the area around the battery) and whether the toolkit is in place together with a jack, handle and wheelbrace. If there is dampness in the boot, it can be as a result of the deterioration of the seals for the rear light or the seal for the aerial.

Keep the above in mind also when viewing the interior. Check for any sign of dampness in the footwell and behind the seats. If that is the case, the roof could be leaking or the soft top drain holes could be blocked.

Mazda MX-5 mk2

It goes without saying that when you open the bonnet to look at the engine, you should inspect the condition of the belts and hoses, and also check the chassis number on the VIN plate (should be located on the firewall) to make sure you are looking at the correct MX-5.

Further advice

When you take a potential car for a test drive, do so with the roof up, as you will hear any potential alarming noises more easily. Expect to pay a little more if the car comes with a hard top as well. These tops offer better security, keep the car warmer in winter and cooler in summer and also provide slightly better noise insulation. 

Clubs and information

Mazda MX-5

Apart from the wealth of information online (on websites and forums), there is an MX-5 club both in the Cape as well as in Johannesburg. In Cape Town you'll find a very active Whatsapp group for owners. Between all of these sources, you will find any information you need or potential leads to cars and parts that are for sale.

At the time of compiling this article, a quick browse on showed three Mk II examples for sale. These had between 100 000 and 155 000 km on their odos and the asking prices ranged from R99 000 to R129 000. Mk I models are becoming very rare locally. 

Source: The Essential Buyer’s Guide – Mazda MX-5 by Carla Crook, Veloce Publishing

There were a few variations of these MX-5s globally, below are the most important versions. 

Mazda MX-5, Mk I and Mk II

Mk I
Engine: 1.6-litre, four-cylinder

Power: 85 kW at 6 500 rpm 

Torque: 135 Nm at 5 500 rpm

Weight: 970 kg

0 - 100 km/h: 8.8 seconds

Maximum speed: 188 km/h

Engine: 1.8-litre, four-cylinder

Power: 98 kW at 6 500 rpm

Torque: 155 Nm at 5 000 rpm

Weight: 990 kg

0 - 100 km/h: 8.2 seconds

Maximum speed: 197 km/h

Both models:

Boot size: 124 litres

Suspension: independent double wishbone front and rear


Engine: 1.6-litre, four-cylinder

Power: 81 kW at 6 500 rpm 

Torque: 134 Nm at 5 000 rpm

Weight: 1 035 kg

0 - 100 km/h: 9.7 seconds

Maximum speed: 191 km/h

Engine: 1.8-litre, four-cylinder

Power: 107 kW at 7 000 rpm 

Torque: 168 Nm at 5 000 rpm

Weight: 1 065 kg

0 - 100 km/h: 8.5 seconds

Maximum speed: 205 km/h

Both models:

Boot size: 144 litres

Suspension: independent double wishbone front and rear

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