Introducing Tim's Early-Life Crisis: 2004 Mazda MX-5 Miata Long-Term Test

Timothy Cain
by Timothy Cain

Silver was not my first choice. But after spending weeks on the prowl for an older Mazda Miata, I found the right car within walking distance of my childhood home.

Our new-to-us Miata is a 2004 model with a six-speed manual and only 43,000 miles under its belt. Always stored for the winter, as most Miatas are in this part of eastern Canada, the car is in ridiculously good condition, revving seductively and shifting like nothing else shifts this side of an RX-8.

I’m not a huge fan of the MY2004-2005 OEM wheels. I’d prefer cloth seats. It’s silver, not the black I was after.

But after considering German droptops and Jeep Wranglers and numerous vehicles that did not come close to fulfilling my list of requirements, I couldn’t deny my initial instincts.

I wanted a Miata for 28 years. I have one now.

What caused me to avoid the other cars on the list we showed you earlier this week?

The Jeep Wrangler was let down on a few counts. First, tedious softtop operation, combined with hardtop removal, make it less of a spur-of-the-moment convertible. Pre-owned Wrangler prices are also exceptionally high. I’m moving to an area with some exceptionally fun roads, and while the Wrangler would’ve been a great winter companion in Prince Edward Island, it wouldn’t have been any fun on the undulating rural roads of central PEI.

The European convertibles, particularly the BMW 3 Series, are undeniably desirable. But I was frightened by long-term maintenance costs for German cars that often appeared tired and worn when I’d examine them in daylight. I’d have appreciated the power of a BMW inline-six, no doubt, but power isn’t really what I’m after. Moreover, the rate of depreciation for these cars — cars which other buyers likewise believe to be costly to maintain as they age — wasn’t encouraging.

I couldn’t help but consider other four-wheel-drive SUVs: GM brutes and oddballs like the Land Rover LR3 and Volkswagen Touareg. There was even a Hummer H3 Alpha that intrigued me. Then there were Minis and Golf GTIs, tuned Preludes and RSXs. But we weren’t looking for a second vehicle so much as we were looking for a financially sane convertible purchase. Mrs. Cain and I both work from home; vehicles in our possession rack up very little mileage.

If, for some reason, our new Miata must be sold in the coming months or years, it’ll be a car without much more mileage than it currently possesses, a car that was stored in the garage all winter, a car that will be more fastidiously maintained than our 2015 Honda Odyssey.

If the $7,500 USD price I paid concerns you, consider the fact that there were other Miatas — older and more costly Miatas — selling around the same time. (Canada’s average asking price for a 2004 MX-5 Miata GT is $8,800 USD.) Finding a Miata that wasn’t roughed up or ostentatiously modified wasn’t easy for me, nor will it be for the buyer who’s looking for a Miata when I’m selling mine.

Selling? Nah, I certainly don’t plan to. I love this car.

Although it’s heresy among Miataphiles, I’m actually not a huge fan of the NA’s look. The NC is a sweet little car, and I’m a big fan of the style, but I don’t find the driving experience as engaging. Obviously, the new MX-5 Miata — the ND — is a spectacular device, but it was far outside my price range. This leaves the NB, the 1999-2005 car with its 142-horsepower 1.8-liter four-cylinder and sub-2,500-pound curb weight and 28 mile per gallon highway efficiency.

The Miata heads to the Mazda dealer this afternoon for an oil change. I’ve already de-fogged the headlamps, brought the drainholes up to snuff, and cleaned the roof.

It’s not perfect. The 12v outlet doesn’t work. The floor mat attachment doesn’t stay firmly in place. A three-year-old boy has already left crumbs in the passenger seat.

It’s also silver.

That’s okay. I’ll survive.

[Images: © 2017 Timothy Cain]

Timothy Cain is the founder of and a contributing analyst at The Truth About Cars and Follow on Twitter @timcaincars.

Timothy Cain
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  • Car Ramrod Car Ramrod on May 21, 2017

    The answer is always Miata (unless you're over 6'1"). Good luck!

  • Bloodnok Bloodnok on May 21, 2017

    although i'm driving and loving driving a 2017 roadster, the nb model is still the best looking mx-5 made. so you have a winner, mr cain. may your roads always be twisting cuz that's the most fun.

  • Dartdude Having the queen of nothing as the head of Dodge is a recipe for disaster. She hasn't done anything with Chrysler for 4 years, May as well fold up Chrysler and Dodge.
  • Pau65792686 I think there is a need for more sedans. Some people would rather drive a car over SUV’s or CUV’s. If Honda and Toyota can do it why not American brands. We need more affordable sedans.
  • Tassos Obsolete relic is NOT a used car.It might have attracted some buyers in ITS DAY, 1985, 40 years ago, but NOT today, unless you are a damned fool.
  • Stan Reither Jr. Part throttle efficiency was mentioned earlier in a postThis type of reciprocating engine opens the door to achieve(slightly) variable stroke which would provide variable mechanical compression ratio adjustments for high vacuum (light load) or boost(power) conditions IMO
  • Joe65688619 Keep in mind some of these suppliers are not just supplying parts, but assembled components (easy example is transmissions). But there are far more, and the more they are electronically connected and integrated with rest of the platform the more complex to design, engineer, and manufacture. Most contract manufacturers don't make a lot of money in the design and engineering space because their customers to that. Commodity components can be sourced anywhere, but there are only a handful of contract manufacturers (usually diversified companies that build all kinds of stuff for other brands) can engineer and build the more complex components, especially with electronics. Every single new car I've purchased in the last few years has had some sort of electronic component issue: Infinti (battery drain caused by software bug and poorly grounded wires), Acura (radio hiss, pops, burps, dash and infotainment screens occasionally throw errors and the ignition must be killed to reboot them, voice nav, whether using the car's system or CarPlay can't seem to make up its mind as to which speakers to use and how loud, even using the same app on the same trip - I almost jumped in my seat once), GMC drivetrain EMF causing a whine in the speakers that even when "off" that phased with engine RPM), Nissan (didn't have issues until 120K miles, but occassionally blew fuses for interior components - likely not a manufacturing defect other than a short developed somewhere, but on a high-mileage car that was mechanically sound was too expensive to fix (a lot of trial and error and tracing connections = labor costs). What I suspect will happen is that only the largest commodity suppliers that can really leverage their supply chain will remain, and for the more complex components (think bumper assemblies or the electronics for them supporting all kinds of sensors) will likley consolidate to a handful of manufacturers who may eventually specialize in what they produce. This is part of the reason why seemingly minor crashes cost so much - an auto brand does nst have the parts on hand to replace an integrated sensor , nor the expertice as they never built them, but bought them). And their suppliers, in attempt to cut costs, build them in way that is cheap to manufacture (not necessarily poorly bulit) but difficult to replace without swapping entire assemblies or units).I've love to see an article on repair costs and how those are impacting insurance rates. You almost need gap insurance now because of how quickly cars depreciate yet remain expensive to fix (orders more to originally build, in some cases). No way I would buy a CyberTruck - don't want one, but if I did, this would stop me. And it's not just EVs.