There was once an era in automobile history when spirited open top motoring was best enjoyed from behind the wheel of a British roadster. Designed to capture the spirit of England's rich racing history, these roadsters had their heyday in the 1960s, with companies like MG, Triumph and Lotus unleashing compact convertibles that were incredibly fun to drive, despite the fact that they packed relatively weak engines. The solution to low power output employed by these automakers was to ensure that their vehicles were as light as possible, making them a cinch to snap around tight corners like a wound up rubber band.
Of course, most automobile enthusiasts are familiar with the fact that these British vehicles also garnered a reputation for terrible reliability. Cobbled together electrical systems, inadequate fuel and brakes and a propensity to require constant tuning and adjustment made owning these nimble vehicles for more than a few years at a time an act of tough love. Much has been written about the plight of those saddled with a finicky convertible hailing from the Isles, and most of the original companies faded from prominence in the 1970s, unable to compete in an increasingly crowded marketplace.
In the 1980s, it seemed as though manufacturer's had completely retreated from the compact roadster market. While there were still the occasional exotic offerings on tap from European boutique car companies, no major entity appeared to be interested in putting their development dollars into a revival of the once popular sports car. This all changed in 1989, when Mazda took the blueprint provided by the roadsters of the past and imbued them with the dependability of modern Japanese design to create the Miata.
The Miata was noteworthy not only for the fact that it made owning a small convertible fun again, but also because as a model it became dedicated to keeping its weight to the absolute minimum. Realizing that what made the original roadsters so enjoyable was the huge advantage of a low-mass platform, Mazda went to great lengths throughout the vehicle's almost 20-year lifespan to ensure that the demands of safety equipment and luxury features did not impose a penalty on the Miata's quotient of sheer driving pleasure.
This article talks about the 1999 - 2005 Mazda MX-5 Miata and examines why it deserves the title of not only the best used convertible available from the sporty Japanese company, but also possibly that of the best roadster to have been built in the past two decades.
1999 - 2005 Mazda MX-5 Miata
Although it was significantly re-styled when it entered its second generation of production, the 1999 - 2005 Mazda MX-5 Miata still bore a clear link to the design that had launched many an amateur racer's career. Perhaps the largest change was the move from pop-up to fixed headlights, giving the automobile a look that was less 1980s and also somewhat more inviting. Most impressive was the fact that the newer edition of the Miata only tipped the scales at 100 lbs heavier than the model it was replacing, despite riding on a much improved platform that was stronger and stiffer than any that had come before it.
All 1999 - 2005 Mazda MX-5 Miatas are equipped with the same engine: a 142 horsepower, 1.8-liter 4-cylinder that also produces 119 lb-ft of torque. Underwhelming numbers to be sure, but the vehicle's 2,200 lb curb weight makes it a fly in the land of giants and gives it an excellent horsepower-per-pound ratio that helps the Miata achieve more than passable acceleration in a wide variety of driving situations. A 5-speed manual is the only available transmission, but the demographic targeted by Mazda doesn't mind rowing their own gears. Not only is the MX-5 light, but it is also well-balanced, meaning that its handling at the limit of asphalt adhesion is predictable and controlled.
The interior of the MX-5 Miata is by no means luxurious, but the needs of the vast majority of drivers are well taken care of. The convertible's folding roof now gets a glass rear window instead of plastic, and a wind diffuser helps to keep turbulence out of the cockpit. The overall feeling is one of functionality, with a gauge design that is intended to give Miata owners the rpm and speed information they require before sliding the car around yet another corner on the road course. Taller individuals may feel themselves slightly compressed by the Miata's interior dimensions, particularly with the top raised.
The 1999 - 2005 Mazda MX-5 Miata is a pure driver's car, a spiritual throwback that takes advantage of some of the best that modern technology has to offer in terms of design. It is highly recommended as a used convertible to enthusiasts from all walks of life who enjoy a car that boils driving down to its bare essence.