Pre-Owned: 1999-2003 Mazda Miata
Mazda's Miata not only revived a segment thought dead but it managed to crush the subsequent competition while wearing a goofy (if bemused) smile.
By Marc Cook
Photography by the author
Mazda Miata, 1999-2003
"Right-now" steering and rapid reflexes
Plenty of convenience features for a real sports car
Looks great, top up or down
Sport-suspension-equipped cars jumpy on rust-belt pavement
Still tiny trunk and limited cockpit room
Straining the idea of "reasonably quick" among ever-faster cars
Six-speed a real plus
Still everyone's affordable roadster
Mazda's Miata not only revived a segment thought dead--the affordable roadster--but it managed to crush the subsequent competition while wearing a goofy (if bemused) smile. For the second-generation car, launched in 1999 (there was no 1998), Mazda kept close to the script, producing more of the same. Although the second-gen car looks bigger, it rides on the same 89.2-inch wheelbase and is just 0.3 inches longer. The bigger rump increased luggage capacity from a miniscule 3.6 cubic feet to a merely paltry 5.1. Improved chassis stiffness and uprated suspension gave the new car a heftier, more solid feel.
Thanks to a revised 1.8-liter, 140-horsepower I-4, the new Miata's performance held fast as its weight increased almost 100 pounds in the makeover. For 2001, the engine received variable-valve timing and a 2-horse boost. A four-speed automatic was available (if you must), but a great five-speed manual was standard, with a six-speed optional. A desirable limited-slip differential was optional on most models and standard on the up-level cars.
Mazda cultivated the car quietly with incremental upgrades over the years. For 2000, the options list was simplified. In 2001, the more powerful engine joined larger standard and optional wheels as well as new Special Edition models. The manual-folding top started with a heated glass rear window--a major improvement--in black vinyl on the base cars and tan/parchment on the upscale versions. For 2003, a cloth top appeared on the LS, SE, and Shinsen models. Suspension-package cars received bigger brakes and larger standard wheels.
Considering the punishment meted out by owners, the first Miata held up well, and the current version seems to be doing so, too. Recalls amount to little, and the technical-service bulletins indicate no widespread problems. A recall was issued for replacement of the fuel-filler parts under warranty; many owners complained their cars were hard to top off. As with any roadster, check the condition and the action of the top carefully, but don't worry much about the rest of the car--it's light, durable, and endlessly cheerful.
Body type 2-door convertible
Drivetrain Front engine, rwd
Airbag Driver, pass
Base engine 1.8L/140-hp DOHC I-4 ('99-'00),
1.8L/142-hp DOHC I-4 ('01-on)
Brakes, f/r Disc/disc, opt ABS
Price, wlsle/retail (IntelliChoice) $9956/$14,247 ('99 base),
$16,565/$22,300 ('02 SE)
Recalls Improperly routed fuel-injector harness; sticking nonreturn valve in fuel-filler neck; weak foglight electrical connector
NHTSA frontal-Impact rating, Driver/pass Four stars/three stars ('99-'01),
four stars/five stars ('02-on) )