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Second Gear: Mazda Miata

The warm-weather season is fast approaching, and this just might be youryear to get into that zippy convertible for weekend getaways.

History/Description: The warm-weather season is fast approaching, and this just might be your year to get into that zippy convertible for weekend getaways. Are fun, affordability and fuel economy key priorities in your upcoming used droptop? If so, be sure to check out the last-generation Mazda MX-5 Miata.

The last generation of this popular two-seat roadster was available from 1999 to 2005 inclusive, and featured a lightweight body and four-cylinder engine for a pleasing combination of performance and fuel efficiency.

Thousands of owners enjoy the Miata’s driving character, maneuverability, performance, economy and styling. Of course, trunk space is limited and there’s no rear seat. If these are issues for you, look for a bigger convertible like a Ford Mustang or Mitsubishi Eclipse.

Second-generation Miata’s got a 1.8-litre four-cylinder engine with between 122 and 142 horsepower, depending on the year in question. All units were rear-wheel drive, and shifted by a five- or six-speed manual gearbox. A four-speed automatic was also available.

GX or GS designations were given to basic and mid-range models, while GT and Limited models topped out the model range. Look for features like antilock brakes, Bose audio, power accessories, leather seating and a CD changer.

Note that a special high-performance Mazdaspeed MX-5 Miata was available as well, with a 178-horsepower turbo engine. These models are fairly rare, and will cost more to fuel, maintain and insure -- though they’re a hoot to drive.

What Owners Like: Not surprisingly, MX-5 owners say they enjoy agile handling dynamics, fun-to-drive performance, and nearly instant access to that ‘fun in the sun’ motoring experience their rides are famous for. Most report excellent shifter feel and fuel economy, too.

What Owners Hate: Larger drivers typically wish the MX-5 offered more room for occupants and cargo, and some owners complain of a rough ride on some surfaces.

Common Issues: Inspect the convertible roof mechanism for smooth operation, checking closely for signs of rips or excessive wear. Does the roof or its storage area smell like mildew? If so, there may be a leak. A duct tape patch job is a bad sign, too.

You’ll also want to check for signs of mildew, moisture or rust in the foot wells and under the carpeting in the trunk area. Have a look around the body for rust — especially under the rocker panels and on the bottom of the doors.

Under the hood, check for signs of oil leakage down the side of the block, which could indicate a bad gasket. Avoid models with extensive aftermarket upgrades unless you’re familiar with Mazda tuning, and have a Mazda mechanic give the car a once-over ahead of your purchase, just to be safe. Finally, remember that sports cars are likely to have been driven hard -- so check the condition of the clutch, brakes and tires before agreeing to purchase.

The Verdict: Find a good deal on a clean, used Miata, and you’ll join a proud and happy community of thousands of loyal owners.

 
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