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1997 Mazda MX-5 Miata
When the Miata was introduced in the summer of 1989 conventional wisdom said nobody wanted an inexpensive sports car. So much for... Read More
When the Miata was introduced in the summer of 1989 conventional wisdom said nobody wanted an inexpensive sports car. So much for conventional wisdom. . . . The Miata not only captured the hearts of driving enthusiasts longing for the days of the classic British roadster, it became the must-have fashion accessory of the day. In the beginning dealers routinely charged, and people willingly paid, thousands above the suggested retail price for Mazdas little roadster. The feeding frenzy soon ended; nevertheless, the shifting dollar-to-yen exchange rate eventually boosted the cars suggested retail price to feeding-frenzy levels. While sales have trailed off, the Miata remains the worlds best-selling roadster. The 1997½ Miata will be the last of its current body style. Minimize
32 Reviews from Epinions.com
Apr 11, 2006
Fun, Agile, Reasonably Economical & Comfortable
Pros: Fun! Excellent handling, an auditory treat, great reliability, crash safety
Cons: Could use more power, a bit on the noisy side, small trunk
|Handling And Control:|
The Bottom Line:
Hard to beat, particularly given used car pricing. The engine soundtrack is outstanding- one heck of a fun car. Noisy on the highway though.
You don't buy a Miata with practicality high on your list of needs. It's a car you buy if you want an affordable (especially used), reliable, sporty car that is a blast to drive.
I bought my '97 M-Edition three months ago, and added a hardtop about three weeks later. The hardtop has been on since that time so my comments about the car are based on my experience with the hardtop installed.
** 4 year update (final). All continues to hold true about the Miata, with over 120K miles on it. After three years of driving the car, I tired of the noise and lack of space, and bought a used Infiniti QX4. Final entry is that it protects pretty well in a front end accident. My son has been driving the car for the past year, and was involved in a accident just this week where he and another vehicle got together at an intersection. Exact speed is not known, but it was enough to deploy the airbags, and the radiator is now were the fan should be. My guess is that he was going about 25-30 mph at the time of impact with the ~3500 pound car. The Miata is a total loss, but he walked away with a bloody nose. Insurance settlement came up 92% of what I paid for the car after four years and 34K miles.
** 3 year update. The hardtop stays on year-round these days. The car remains a hoot to drive. Issues that have cropped up:
- The clear coat is peeling on the driver's side mirror, and on the license surround.
- On cold mornings (low 30's) as I merge onto the freeway, the speedometer cable will sometimes vibrate within it's housing and create a horrible screeching sound, drowning out the engine, wind, and road noise. This seems to occur at about 70 mph, and will persist for several minutes. I've taken the instruments out and thoroughly lubricated the cable. Hopefully this has fixed the problem- but it hasn't been cold enough lately, so I may not know until next winter.
- The windows move slowly- about 10 seconds to go up or down (electric). Taking the door panel off and using some grease on the mechanism has helped a bit, but the electric windows are apparently not that fast to begin with.
- The sway bar bushings are worn/rotted and will require replacement. If you do it yourself, they're available for about $50 on ebay. In the meantime, some minor "clunks" manifest backing out of the driveway each morning. I would consider this normal wear.
No other issues. Transmission shifts well, engine runs well, no unusual noises, etc.
As an aside, the Kumho ECSTA SPT tires have been exceptional, but apparently are no longer made in the 195/50-15 size. A pity as they have worn reasonably well (21K miles, about 85% worn) for a performance tire, and I would not hesitate to get them again were they available. ***
** 6 month update. I've been using the car for about two months now with the hardtop removed. The hardtop adds a considerable amount of stiffness to the car. I was surprised at how much flex the chassis has without the hardtop, but I've now gotten used to the change in stiffness. The car is noisier without the hardtop with quite a bit more traffic noise apparent. Still, the fundamental goodness of the car makes it a pleasure to drive. **
The M-Edition is basically a somewhat limited edition (3000 imported) option package with a unique (at least for that model year) paint scheme. The M came in a Marina Green metallic color with a tan convertible top. The color is almost like a metallic version of the classic, British Racing Green. My Miata equipment:
5-speed manual transmission
Tan leather seating surfaces
Single CD player with upgraded sound system including a high mounted tweeter in each door, and two speakers in each seat headrest.
Wood Nardi shift knob and handbrake handle
Power side view mirrors
Limited slip differential
15 inch chrome plated alloy wheels with wider, lower profile 195/50 tires (in place of 14 inch w/ 185/60 tires)
Stainless steel door sill covers
Hardtop with rear window defroster
Hella halogen headlights
This is my first Miata, and it had 89K miles on it when I bought it from a private party. Overall it was in good shape with glossy paint, minimal wear on the leather (watch the side seat bolsters), clean engine, and clean shifting. The previous owner was the second owner who had put 71K of the miles on the car, and had kept all maintenance receipts. I soon found out that the shocks were basically shot which greatly impacted ride comfort, and to a lesser extent, handling.
Going over speed bumps in local parking lots had the rear of the car kicking very hard as it went over. I tried replacing the rear shocks, and the difference was amazing. Instead of a hard kick over the same speed bumps, the suspension effectively damped the worst of the bump. Changing the front shocks also helped but the difference was not as dramatic. I used relatively inexpensive Gabriel Ultra shocks as replacements and am quite pleased with the results.
Properly suspended with non-high performance shocks, the ride is far from plush, but is definitely not punishing. "Firm" and "taut" come to mind. You'll feel all the bumps on the road, but only pot holes and sharp-edged transitions will prove jarring.
Handling is excellent. Balance is very good- basically neutral with quick steering and reasonable feel. With good tires (I bought Kumho ECSTA SPT performance tires after a non-repairable flat after just a week of ownership), grip is very good with moderate roll. The light weight of the car helps it transition quickly from side to side- the car feels unflappable.
Much has been said about the transmission- one of the best according to every road test that I've read about the car. Effort is low, each gear is well defined, and lever movement from gear to gear is about 3". The feel is very positive, and you have to try to miss gears. Gearing is very low however, and the engine spins at over 3,000 rpm at 60 miles per hour. A 6th gear would be a nice addition.
The engine sounds are intoxicating around town. Long freeway stints can be a bit tiring due to engine and road noise, but the car is such fun to drive that it more than makes up for this.
The engine is not a powerhouse, and needs to be spun to make the most of it. It has reasonable low-end power, but the bulk of the power shows up over 4,000 rpm. The power is sufficient but another 20 hp would have been nice.
Brakes are good with disks all around. The short wheelbase causes the car to pitch forward more than I'm used to under hard braking, but the car slows quickly with no pulling to the side, and fade has not been an issue at this point. My car is not equipped with ABS.
Storage space is at a premium in this car. The space-saving spare takes up a good chunk of the trunk, although you can store some smaller items inside the wheel itself. Some have rerouted the exhaust to allow the spare to be mounted below the trunk, and that's the route I will likely follow. With that modification, the trunk would be much more practical. Interior storage is limited to the relatively small glove compartment, two small soft pockets on the doors, and a small storage bin under the armrest. Spring shades will fit behind the seats, but not much else. I don't put anything on the parcel shelf since, with the hardtop installed, the convertible top sits on the shelf and the exposed plastic rear window is easily scratched.
The car sits low, and the seats are low in the car so you almost step down into the car. Wear on the outer driver's seat bolster seems to be fairly common, so if you want to minimize this by not rubbing on the side as you enter and exit, a bit of awkward maneuvering is required. Once seated, the seats are pretty supportive although I found the need to add some lumbar support by adding some foam between the two foam layers in the back of the seat (under the leather). Cornering support is OK, but more upper body support would be nice although it would aggravate the seat wear problem. Overall comfort of the seats is good. The interior is snug, but comfortable overall.
Although it looks like it would be cramped, my 6' 1/2" tall son fits with ease, although he sometimes needs to tilt his head a bit to see stoplights.
The steering wheel is non-adjustable, but fits me very well. The rim could be thicker for my tastes, and the large airbag hub completely hides the defroster switch which is low and just to the left of the steering column. Further left is the cruise control switch which can be a bit hard to find in a hurry. To the right of the steering column is the power mirror control which is also difficult to see but functions intuitively. The horn buttons are recessed right next to the rim of the wheel. So far it's a hit or miss affair for me if I need to use the horn in a hurry.
Power window switches are on the center console on the front of the armrest bin and can be a bit awkward to reach. Inside the lockable armrest are the remote releases for the trunk and the fuel door. These are hard to access while seated, requiring some arm and wrist contortions to operate. You get used to it though.
The shift knob is far enough forward so my elbow doesn't hit the back of the seat as I shift, yet not so far forward that it's a reach. Perfect placement in other words. Pedals are spaced to allow heel-toe driving if desired. The dead pedal space is on the narrow side so wide shoes should be avoided if you use this much.
Heating and ventilation controls are easily accessed and work smoothly. The radio controls are low in the center console which can be hard to find in a hurry, but the volume control on mine is just in front of the end of the handbrake where I tend to rest my hand often, so it's easy to adjust without having to look for it.
The standard CD player/radio works well, and I was pleasantly surprised at the sound which has good treble and bass response- just don't expect to be rattling the cars next to you or setting off car alarms as you go by (thankfully). Skipping has not been an issue with the CD. Radio reception is decent, and the standard sound system (at least in the M) has an auto-leveling feature which increases the radio volume as speed/noise increases. It's actually pretty effective up to about 60 mph, but doesn't keep up above that.
The hardtop is an excellent addition, and can be found used for about $1000. Odds are that you'll need to paint the top to match the car if you follow this route. The hardtop reduces the noise a fair amount, and stiffens the structure noticeably. Mine is a factory hardtop with defroster which is a great feature. Cost to wire the defroster (requires the addition of a dash switch and relay) is not cheap at about $90, but it is a worthwhile option. The wiring is already in place so it's basically a plug-and-play installation. Visibility to the sides and 3/4 rear is greatly improved over the convertible top since the glass on the hardtop curves around to the sides.
I've been averaging about 26 mpg with a mix of 80% around town driving and 20% freeway. Considering the light weight and small size, this isn't great, but I'm not complaining.
Everything I've read says that Miatas are very reliable vehicles. The big ticket items to watch out for when buying a used Miata are timing belt replacement (about every 60K miles) since it's expensive from what I hear ($400+), and the condition of the convertible top and seats. Many that I've seen have worn driver's side seat bolsters since you inevitably rub against that when entering and exiting the car unless you're very careful. And the shocks are definitely something that will need replacing if the car has more than 50K miles on it (my guesstimate). Shocks can be purchased ranging from about $160 per set, up to $500 or more- not including installation labor. I replaced them myself, which took about 8 hours of time.
My Miata's AC system has a refrigerant leak somewhere. After about 6 weeks, the system has lost enough refrigerant that it becomes noticeable on hot days. The air out of the vents is cool, but the system has trouble cooling a hot car. I don't know if this is a typical Miata issue- this is my observation after 6 months of ownership.
An interesting feature that I haven't seen before is a separate valet key. This works on the door and the ignition, but not on the trunk, glove compartment, or armrest. The regular key works all functions. For me it's an unnecessary feature.
One note of caution. The top of the Miata roof doesn't reach the window sill of most larger SUVs. The car is harder to see, and other drivers seem to think of it as non-threatening. In my experience with the car, I've noticed that other cars will pull out in front of the Miata much later (closer) than they will when I drive our Merkur or Expedition. Just something to keep in mind.
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