Mazda Miata MX-5

Topless in Singapore

When it comes to owning a car, any level-headed person will tell you it's not worth it in Singapore. Yet, when the time comes, they'll give a hundred reasons why they need it. I don't need a hundred reasons. I look for only one thing in a car: it must be a convertible. Only a convertible can capture the feeling of "one-ness" with the road, just like riding. Unfortunately, convertibles are treated as lifestyle cars here, so they are priced way beyond my means.

Enter the MX-5. It's the cheapest convertible around. There are three generations of MX-5: the NA, NB and NC. NA is the '91 model and is a COE car now. They list at $26k to $35k. NB is the '97 model. They list at $50k to $75k, depending on their age. NC is the '06 model and is too new for the secondhand market. The lowest entry model lists at $83k, including COE. Also, in the course of researching the MX-5, I realized that it is quite a classic car; it's not just another convertible. That's enough for me to like it.

How did I end up with this MX-5? It's old (15 years), with possibly hefty repair bills and unavailable parts. It's not really practical in this hot and wet climate. It has high running cost: high fuel consumption, road tax at 150%, insurance under the high-performance car category (60% higher premium) and annual inspection required. Also, it is a soft-top, which may be more prone to vandalism.

I did a back-of-the-envelope calculation that I could afford it ($6.5k depreciation/year and $600/month running cost) and went for it. Better get it before I become rational again!

When it comes to old cars, you need three essential things:

As for me, I'm very superficial and go for the looks only. Four things that caught my eyes:

The final step of the transfer of ownership. If the seller owns the car (no outstanding loan) and the buyer pays in full, the transaction is simple and straightforward.

Key dates

7/2/2007First viewing
10/2/2007Detailed lookover
11/2/2007Made my offer
13/2/2007Signed agreement
22/2/2007Inspection and transfer of ownership
A bunch of busybodies. :-D

I don't have the decal that allows me to park at the (sheltered) red lots at my office, so I parked at the outside lots. The word is that there's a long queue for the decal. Owning a car is no big deal these days.

Always look good with the top down. Too bad about the p-plate.

The front p-plate is just placed on top of the IU. It stays there without any problem. I pasted the back p-plate on the driver's seat, but it falls off very easily.

Mike is the official tester of this car.
Test drive. The car is rated to go 0-100 km/h in 9.4 seconds on its 116 bhp. Unfortunately, the speed humps get in the way.

9.4 seconds is pretty respectable even today, but straight-line performance was never MX-5's forte. It is famed for its handling — it doesn't have to slow down when navigating bends. But the driver has to be skillful too. This driver is not. :-P

Passed! Or not? Mike is much more particular about the engine/transmission than I am. He's not as attracted to this car as I am. :-)
Leong Kim sees something he doesn't like.
Are they looking at the spare tyre?

The spare tyre is stored within the boot. The NB does it like other cars by putting it below the boot. The solution for NA is simple: remove it. There's no need to have a spare tyre in Singapore.

One attractive feature of the MX-5 is the boot: the soft-top, when it's down, doesn't take up any space in the boot at all. This is often overlooked for people not familiar with convertibles. This allows you to drop the top any time, not just when your boot is empty.

First day only, but I've scrapped against the kerb in the MSCP (multi-storey carpark) already.

After navigating the tight MSCP turns a few times, I realized the position to start turning is exactly the same as the driving school's crank course. So that's what it's for! Unfortunately, parking is not quite the same due to the car's smaller dimensions.

Must park well away from the other cars.

The top unsheltered level tends to be empty. I like to park the car there overnight, because I can see it from my flat! When the sun comes up, I drive it to the levels below.

Something wrong already on the second day. Notice the rubber at the top of the window?

Mike is well acquainted with this car, having owned one before. Well, I'm glad I learnt how to dismantle the door frame so quickly!

A little oil never hurts.


From mild to serious:

You can't possibly catch everything before you buy the car. If you really want to nitpick, you can find a few more faults:

Rating this MX-5

I'll rate this MX-5 at 8.5/10 (absolute scale, not relative to its age). This is a very high rating considering its age. It certainly looks very well-kept. The things that prevent me from giving full marks:

I've put all the issues on a separate page to make them easier to follow-up with.

Driving the MX-5

The conventional thinking is that the MX-5 is not suitable as the first car, especially if you are a p-plater. You're getting used to driving, and on top of that, you are getting used to this car. First, it's manual transmission. Second, it has many blindspots when the soft-top is up. Third, it is lower than other cars. Luckily, I'm fine with manual, even in start-stop traffic. Controlling the clutch is second nature to me. As a rider, I'm also well aware of blindspots. As for the car's low profile, well, you got to keep your distance and drive more defensively.

Driving with the soft-top up is just like driving another other salon car. The ride is noisy from the engine and the road, but this is the nature of the car. People used to quiet rides may not be used to it, but I like it — noise is a part of riding! The ride could be harsh, depending on the suspensions. This car is described by my friends as "soft", meaning it is somewhat un - sports car - like, but this is good for day-to-day travel. Even so, it is harsher than a normal car.

Driving with the top down is extremely good, weather permitting. It is the closest you can get to riding in a car! In the local context, it's only enjoyable with the top down before 8 am and after 9 pm, or after a rain, when the air is cool. At other times, it's only for show only. It looks cool with the top down, but that's all it is — looks. It's really warm in the seats.

Running cost

There are two things that make the MX-5 expensive: road tax and insurance. The road tax is 150% of a normal 1.6L car due to its age, so I need to pay $1425 instead of $950. The MX-5 is categorized as a sports car, so my premium for TPFT, as a p-plater with 0% NCD, is $2071 instead of $1216.

The official fuel consumption is 10 km/l for city driving and 14 km/l for highway driving. I seem to be getting 8 – 9 km/l for city driving (too early to tell). It's definitely not suitable as a daily transport.

Getting an old car

Cars generally have a short lifespan in Singapore. The 2006 Annual Vehicle Statistics from LTA shows that 80.9% of the 472,308 cars are under 4 years old. 7.1% are over 10 years. The general impression you get is that people don't keep their cars for very long, so they don't usually maintain them very well, especially engine-wise.

Most people will raise an eyebrow at the MX-5 when they see how new it looks. It's amazing how deceptive a new coat of paint can be. But most of them will drop their jaw when they discover it's already 15 years old!

Beyond looks, it takes some risk-taking to buy such an old car. That's where your gearhead friend and the inspection comes in. Make sure the car is okay first. Subsequently, you got to do regular maintenance to keep the car in good shape. There's definitely more wear-n-tear, but that's the trade-off if you want it cheap.

One thing I like about old manual cars is that they are very simple. The good thing about the MX-5 is that the repair manuals are still available. I've bought two already and am buying three more! I'm trying to hands-on as much as possible, for both learning and saving cost!

I heard rumblings behind my back about getting such an old car. At such high depreciation too. Why not get newer cars? I like the NA model the most, so if I have a choice — and I do — I will choose this one. How about a cheap salon car, say, Toyota Vios at $48k then? To ask that question misses the point. A convertible, hello! It's completely different.

Best time to buy

If you like the NA MX-5, I believe the best bang-for-the-buck time to buy is two years later, when the car is left with 2 to 2.5 years of COE. Since the car depreciates at $6.5k, it would cost $15k to $18k. That's very affordable for a convertible. Get a good one, extend the COE for another ten years and you've yourself one dirt cheap classic convertible. However, since everyone know this, it may be hard to get one at a good price!

To sum up

The MX-5 is not practical for everyday use. However, it is great as a second car, one that you use for fun drives. I treat it that way, just that I got it first.

More pics

(void *) &NHY;