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1999 Mazda MX-5 Miata

Overall rating:  Product Rating: 4.5

Reviewed by 53 users

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1999 Mazda Miata


by aaquino:      Nov 9, 1999 - Updated Nov 13, 2001


Product Rating: 4.0 Recommended: Yes 

Pros: Best buy, great looks, sharp handling, easy to use top
Cons: No heated seats, needs more amenities
The Bottom Line: I've missed this car the 2nd day that the buyer drove it out of my sight. I've actually dreamt of owning this car again - in the same color.


MY OPINIONS
Most of what you'll read from my ratings are based solely on my opinions and will not discuss deep details regarding car specifications. Detailed specs can, of course, be found at other websites such as

www.mazda.com
www.miata.net
www.carpoint.com
www.edmunds.com

So here are my thoughts on theÖ

CAR OVERALL
I really like this car. The overall driving experience (both top-up and topless) has been exhilarating. Had I known that driving a convertible would have been this much fun, I would have done it when I was much, much younger.

And *younger* it does make you feel. Driving topless on a nice, clear night allows you to fully enjoy the stars and moon shining above you. Driving it on a nice, sunny day makes you feel like a kid playing under the sun. Your awareness increases as your vision is no longer restricted by a roof. Itís that same feeling you get when you are watching an IMAX movie (those movies that are shown 360 degrees).

Your attention to your surroundings can be likened to that of a 3 year old - eyes wide open and looking all around you. Well, I suppose this is mainly true for the first month or so of owning the car. Then you "grow up" and take the scenery for granted. But all the while, people are also looking at you. Itís human nature for people to take a peek at whoís driving *any* convertible. Itís an attention-getter. And for those of us young, single and ableÖwhy not? But, of course, this was not why I purchased the carÖ

PERFORMANCE/HANDLING
This Miata is one heck of a great handling car. This is the "primary" reason why I purchased the Miata. Ok, ok, maybe the secondary reason. Even compared to my 1999 BMW M3 (see my review), this car is the best handling car Iíve ever driven period. This epinion is limited to current production cars, of course. Otherwise, I would have to perform back to back comparisons with the Mazda RX7 which is no longer being imported to the US.

For those "unbelievers", drive one for yourself. Make that an *extended* drive. No two-mile test drives, please. Drive a Porsche Boxster. Drive a Z3. Drive a Corvette. Iíve test driven a lot of cars and have come to this personal conclusion. You will come to a similar conclusion that this is one great handling car. Itís not the fastest by any measure. But for handling, nothing compares due to the great suspension and weight - or lack thereof with 2300 lbs. Remember, that I already own an M3. So for me to say that it handles better than the M3 is saying a lot.

The Miata has a great suspension. The car exhibits a little body lean during turns. At the limit, in my epinion, the car tends to oversteer than understeer. It feels very predictable just like the M3. The weight distribution plays a major part in this in that it is evenly distributed 50/50 to the front and back. You will immediately feel the car spinning should the back end start to break loose. This allows you to make the proper correction with the steering wheel. The turn-in transition of the car is the best Iíve ever experienced. This is mainly attributable to the weight of the car. Thereís simply not much weight to move. The steering is also very precise and direct. It really does feel like youíre driving a go-kart.

The brakes on the Miata are above average. With four wheel disk brakes and the low weight, it should be. I can confidently jab on the brakes and lock-up the tires with ease. Note that my car was not equipped with ABS. Given the choice, I do prefer to have ABS.

ENGINE
The Miata has a 1.8L 4 cylinder engine. Itís rated at 140 hp. Under normal circumstances, this would not have been enough horsepower for me. However, the combination of the Miataís very low weight of 2300 lbs and short gearing help the car get moving.

For a normally aspirated 4 cylinder engine, itís good. A better 4 cylinder engine is currently located in an Audi A4. But thatís turbo-charged at 150 hp. So with 140 hp for a non-turbo 1.8L engine, Mazda has wrung quite a bit of performance out of the engine.

In terms of smoothness, availability of power (where and when you need it), strength all throughout the rev range, sound, etc. this engineÖacted like a 4 cylinder. It seems to run out of breath around 5500 rpm. The redline clicks in around 7000 rpm. The "power band" seems to be between 2500 rpm and 5500 rpm.

The engine sounds buzzy. Thereís not much sound insulation under the hood and the firewall (wall between the passenger compartment and the engine bay). The engine also sounds like a sewing machine. In fact, I initially thought that there was something wrong with it. But upon inspection at APEX Automotive, arguably the best Miata garage in Massachusetts, it was diagnosed normal. I was embarrassed as I felt like a "BMW snob complaining about a Mazda". I just thought that the engine was working a little too hard and making noises that I was not accustomed to hearing.

TRANSMISSION
The Miataís transmission has been hailed by a lot of professional reviewers. For a sports car, the very short length of the shifter throw (distance of the top of the shifter from 2nd gear to 3rd gear) has been labeled as the benchmark for all other sports cars to follow. I tend to agree. The action feels like you were flicking a switch instead of you moving a lever to switch gears. The movement is also very precise. This makes shifting in a Miata fun!

There are only a few things that I didnít like about the transmission. First was the smoothness of the shift. I still like the smoothness of the BMW transmissions the best. Secondly, I feel some chassis vibration through the shifter. Iím not sure whether I should complain about it since it may be normal.

INTERIOR/ERGONOMICS
The interior of the Miata is tight. At 5í5" (5í6" with my hair, thank you) I still feel cramped in it. But surprisingly, it does not feel as cramped as the BMW Z3. Maybe it was the layout of the dashboard. The Miataís is very simple and easy on the eyes. The Z3ís feels a little bit busier. For those familiar, itís like a Powerpoint slide presentation. You may have a lot of great data on a slide, but if you pack it all on one slide, it makes it an eye chart and difficult to read. The same goes for the Z3. Lots of great information, but BMW should package it simpler and smarter.

The Miataís seats are pretty comfortable. But, thereís no height adjustment. This is a great pet peeve of mine. I like to sit higher. Also, Mazda decided not to listen to their past customers and removed the headrest speaker locations. I bet theyíll offer this as an "option" in future models. There is NO HEATED SEATS option! This is a very popular option nowadays. I love heated seats! How else can I drive topless in cold weather without heated seats? Mazda should consider adding this.

The Miata exhibits a lot of wind noise. Most 2 seat convertibles suffer with this. However, coupled with the engine noise, tire noise, and muffler noise (again, no soundproofing material on the trunk), the Miata seems louder than the Porsche Boxster, BMW Z3 and the Mercedes Benz SLK. However, with the optional windblocker, the Miata does a better job at keeping your hair neater than the Z3.

The stereo in my Miata was surprisingly good for a 2 speaker system. Other Miata models come with a tweeter speaker on each of the doors. My stereo is so much better than the Z3 or Porsche stereo. To BMW and Porsche, you have no excuse for this. Note that I didnít even have the BOSE stereo option. I also compared my stereo with the optional BOSE system. I listened to a CD in my car and listened to the same in my friendís BOSE system. Voila! I couldnít tell or justify the difference and neither could heÖ

At cruising speed, the volume on the stereo suffers. The clarity of the stereo suffers. The noise coming from behind your head simply drowns out the stereo. I do plan to upgrade by adding speakers somewhere behind my head to provide a "fuller" effect. In the immediate future, I plan to add speakers in the stock tweeter locations.

The top on the Miata was incredibly easy to operate. It literally takes me less than 15 seconds to reach back, pull the top up and lock it down. Even with the glass rear window, the top is incredibly light and only takes me one hand from the driverís seat to pull it up. I needed to get out of the car with the Z3.

MAINTENANCE
I havenít had the car for a long enough time, but I already know that the oil change would be difficult. Mazda has successfully stashed the oil filter where only a 2 year oldís hands can get to it. Spilling oil in the engine compartment is completely unavoidable. This oil collects on a plastic engine shield attached to the bottom of the car. Then youíd have to live with the drips from this onto your garage floor.

WHAT ELSE DID I SHOP FOR?
I shopped for and seriously considered the BMW Z3 2.8, BMW M Roadster, the Porsche Boxster and the Ford Mustang GT. About the only car in a similar pricepoint was the Ford Mustang GT.

I didnít pick the Z3/M Roadster because:
1) I really wasnít too crazy about the way it looked
2) The chassis exhibited a LOT more flex than the Miata. For a race freak such as myself, I couldnít live with this.
3) I felt that the Miata handled much better.
4) I couldnít justify the cost of a new one given the above reasons.
5) I couldnít live without a spare tire on the M Roadster.

I didnít pick the Boxster because:
1) Itís too damn slow for the price. I had to drive this car three times trying to convince myself that it was faster than it is. My 1995 BMW 325iS was MUCH faster than this car (see my review).
2) All dealerships were charging at least the sticker price for the car. I will never pay sticker for any car.
3) By the time I was done outfitting this $41k base price car, I took it up to $52k with the options I wanted. Porsche nickel and dimed you for every little thing that should have come with the car in the first place. For example, they charged $730 for footwell lighting (lights that turn on near your feet when you open the door) and $150 for vanity mirrors on the sun visors. It almost became a matter of principle that I shouldnít buy the Porsche. Sorry, I still have more brains than money.
4) Since you canít see the engine but from underneath the car, you canít service it without lowering it from the body. Iím imagining a very expensive maintenance programÖ

I didnít buy the Mustang GT because:
1) I hated the salespeople. They really turned me off with a "these cars are hot" attitude. "Theyíre in really high demand." Yeah, right. If I had a dollar every time a salesperson told me thisÖ
2) The interior looked really dated and cheap. I couldnít bring myself up to living with it.
3) It costs a lot more than my Miata.
4) Although the Mustang finally has independent rear suspension, it still handles like a cow on ice when compared to the Miata.

Finally, I couldnít resist the deal I had with my Miata. For the amount I spent, it would have been financially irresponsible for me NOT to buy it.

MY NITPICKS

It seems too noisy. The car needs speakers behind your head. Heated seats should have been an option.

The engine pressure gauge is fake. It looks like and analog gauge, but really operates like an idiot light - on/off switch.

The car didnít come with a trunk light. I had to install an aftermarket unit for $24.

Like the Boxster, the Miata didnít come with footwell lighting. But the aftermarket unit for the Miata only costs $20.

The Miataís dome light doesnít stay on long enough to help you see the ignition.

The fog lights cannot turn on without the headlights on. This defeats the purpose of having fog lights. Headlights "wash out" your vision as they light up the fog in front of you. Fog lights work well when operated low to the ground - allowing you to see a few feet in front of you and enough to allow you to drive at crawling speed through the fog.

The window buttons do not have a "one-touch" feature.

KNOWN PROBLEMS
Engine bearing problems with early 1999 models caused some form of engine noise. The faulty engines can be traced by VIN numbers.

WOULD I BUY IT AGAIN?
For the price I paid, I would without a doubt. But for the sticker price in the mid 20ís, I would hesitate. Although itís a great handling car, I donít feel that thereís "enough car" to justify the mid to high 20ís sticker price. For this price, I would look for a used BMW Z3 with the 6 cylinder engine.

11/14/01 Update - Regretably, I sold my Miata on 4/01 to make room for a (yikes) 2001 Toyota RAV4 which I ordered on 4/28/01 (more on this hell-ish ordering experience soon - I actually took delivery on 9/24/01 - 5 MONTHS LATER!!!). I took the very, very, very wrong advice of my friends in that "no single person should own 3 cars". Well, now I'm paying for it! I've missed this car the 2nd day that the buyer drove it out of my sight. I've actually dreamt of owning this car again - in the same color. Even now, I'm wanting to buy it again. Still, this is the best handling car I've ever driven with the Honda S2000 close on it's heels...
Product Rating: 4.0
Recommended: Yes 
Handling And Control:  

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