Rarely you’ll find a second-hand car with a decent dose of performance and styling that stands well against time. Even harder is one that is also affordable. Something that won’t require you to renegotiate your mortgage. The Mazda MX-5 sold in droves when it came out in 1989, and since then it’s been a best-seller. It’s a small, nimble car that’s also fast, doesn’t cost much used, and most importantly is a blast to drive. The best part is that there’s a huge range of aftermarket parts and accessories if you need to change anything not to your liking.
Besides the timeless looks, the Miata had what many British roadsters didn’t – reliability. Even early models had few, if any mechanical issues to speak of. And this is one of the myriad reasons why the car has become a cult classic.
Exteriors will be well maintained, besides the odd hiccup from careless owners. The same goes for the engines and transmission. Another area though to look out for, especially if you’re considering getting an older model, is the interior. The condition of the seats speaks volumes of the level of care and overall maintenance the car has received over the years. Replacement seats are readily available at affordable prices for stock variants that have seen more than their fair share of wear. Particularly good looking are MX-5 leather seats, which you can get in a range of colours and colour schemes, as well as the comfy option of heating.
Why Replace the Seats in the Miata?
If there’s rain damage due to a leaky roof, the seats are the first to take the hit. Visible signs of staining and mould mean that it’s advanced. This will be more noticeable on cloth than leather. In addition, telltale signs of wear and damage, like tears and fading in cloth and cracks and wrinkling in leather, meaning it’s time for a new pair. The same can be said of disproportionate padding, non-existent side bolsters, and sagging headrests. A test drive down a few twisties will tell you how the seats fare in bends, the level of side and back support and overall cushioning.
You also might want a sportier feel than the stock seats offer, even if they’re perfectly fine. Moulded sports seats, that fit the contours of the body, will be great around the track, or anywhere where you’ll be picking good bouts of speed. Racing sports seats will give drivers the control they need. They prevent slipping, and provide better grip on the steering wheel, and better foot placement on the pedals. The downside is that most are fixed, so there’s no adjustment, and favour stability over comfort. Something to take in mind if you’re planning to do serious miles in your MX-5.
Besides comfort, stability and safety, you’ll probably want a more upmarket feel. Cloth seats in early models and entry-level trims are easily upgraded with leather. The choice of materials is more about personal preference. There are some buyers that swear by cloth seats, and others that will choose only leather. Aftermarket MX5 leather seats, in finer grains, add some sophistication to an otherwise utilitarian interior in older cars, judged by today’s standards anyway.
What to Look for in Miata Seats
With several seat types available, here’s what you need to tick in order to get the right pair for you:
Sports vs Conventional Bucket Seats
The shape of the seat determines the level of engagement in driving. Are you after better laps times or more comfort in everyday driving? Sports seats are better contoured, offer better side support, and help in maintaining speed with better control. As mentioned, they’re not the last word in comfort, and maybe too confined for bigger drivers. Conventional seats can be fun, but you miss out on side bolstering, and slipping along the seat is more common as there aren’t integrated harnesses – a standard feature in sports seats. What you do gain is better padding, so a cushier ride on the slightly firm suspension of the Miata. Lumbar support is also differently addressed in both styles. High-end sports seats will have more lumbar support, but cheaper variations are often lacking. Conventional seats will have some adjustment here, so no mid or lower back pain.
This largely depends on the materials going in the seat frame. Sportier seats are made either of carbon composites, or lightweight metals and retain better rigidity. Regular bucket seats, along with cheaper sports seats have steel frames, that are considerably heavier. And we all know that weight and speed don’t mix.
This is where there is huge variation, not only in the types of materials, but the quality as well. Leather seats can be optioned in full-grain or processed leather and here grades and prices differ. Full-grain seats are thicker and have all the imperfections, but will last longer. They’re less susceptible to cracking, punctures and wrinkling, and handle direct sunlight better. Top grain or genuine leather are often terms to denote some sort of smoothing, and as such is the most common material in affordable aftermarket options.
All leather grains are much better in adverse weather than fabric and synthetics, and won’t stain or soak when in contact with liquids and food. To make it look as good as new, leather needs more upkeep. If you want the leather look, but cannot shelve out for full leather seats, a good idea is re-upholstering your existing seats with leather covers. This though does require some work and doesn’t come cheap.
Faux leather, or leatherette, has the look and feel of leather, without the price tag. The downside is that it cracks easily and won’t last as long. Some seats are a combination of both real leather and leatherette, mostly in places not in direct contact with the body.
Then there are natural and synthetic fibres. Neoprene is the cheapest, though not much help in the looks department as it easily picks up stains. Wool and sheepskin are the more expensive options here, as they provide the best breathability, stay cool in summer and warm in winter, and have comfort comparable to leather seats.
Mazda added heating in seats optioned in leather in the NC cars. For older models, heating kits include all necessary parts, including fuses, thermostats, the heating body, and wiring. There are also aftermarket leather seats with optioned heating kits.
Other Things to Consider
When you’ve chosen the type of seat and materials, the next thing is to consider colours. Seats can be optioned in one or a combination of colours, as well as different stitching. For a secure fit, you may also want to swap out the old plates and rails, and think of sizing. Plates set lower will also allow for bigger seats, so you can make better use of the limited space.