For this review, I decided to look at all 3 generations of the fun little Mazda Miata (or MX-5 as it’s now called).
Performance – If you’re looking for power, then look at another car. The Miata is not known for brute power even during its brief “power hungry” phase with the Mazdapeed Miata. The first generation Miata produced around 130hp which was more than enough to beat its European counterparts such as the Fiat Barchetta and the Alfa Romeo Spider. The real performance of this little car is the way it goes around corners. It doesn’t matter in which direction you point the steering wheel, it will go there. The steering is light and incredibly responsive thanks in part to the double wishbone suspension all-round and also the fact that the first generation Miata only weighs around 960kg. Another great thing about this little fun sized car, is how easily it can drift and how easily it is to control a drift. If you want to learn how to drift, then this is the car to do it in (obviously do this responsibly and on a closed circuit).
The second generation Miata had very minor changes to the 1.8L engine but power was bumped to 140hp. However in 2004 Mazda produced the Mazdaspeed version which was fitted with a turbo. Power went up to 180hp and although this wasn’t enough to keep up with a Corvette or anything like that, the extra oomph (along with the aid of a limited slip differential) made the car even easier to drift and powerslide. Sadly, Mazda only produced the Mazdaspeed Miata for two years and in 2006 the Miata was completely redesigned. Now called the MX-5, the new Mazda lost the turbo but it now comes with a 2.0L 167hp engine and a very close ration 6-speed or 5-speed manual gearbox (an automatic is offered too but why have that in a sports car when the manual is so much more fun?). Sadly the weight has gone up to approximately 1100kg, but with the extra power the third generation MX-5 feels a lot like the original Miata from 1989 in terms of handling.
The steering is extremely responsive and nicely weighted but that’s where the similarities end between the old and the new. The MX-5 feels much more solid and planted when going through turns or when just cruising. Overall the MX-5 (Miata) is one of the best cars to buy if you just want to enjoy the pleasures of driving and personally, I’d buy the current third generation MX-5 for the fact that it is just as fun as the original but is also much more refined.
Comfort – While the MX-5 is one of the best performance cars to buy on a budget, it unfortunately isn’t the best car overall. If you’re under 5’10” (or 6’ at most) then there is plenty of room for you and a passenger in the cabin. If you’re over 6’, then not only will you be uncomfortable but you will also look like a giraffe in a tiny car with the top down. If you can fit comfortably in the car, then you’ll find a very simple interior with the usual features such as A/C, cruise control, and even climate control on the latest generation. The ride is surprisingly soft for a sports car, you can take it for a Sunday drive through the mountains and then drive it to work during the weekday, just don’t expect to carry a lot of luggage. Although the trunk space has improved over the generations, the original Miata has the second worst trunk space I’ve ever seen (top honors go to the Nissan 350Z Roadster).
Odds and Ends – For those who love to drive cars, the Miata has always put a smile on the face of the drivers and it too looks like it’s constantly smiling as well. The first generation has a small “smile” in its front bumper, then the second generation has a slightly larger “smile” and now the third generation is grinning from end to end. I think the current MX-5 looks great. I also like the fact that you can now buy the MX-5 with a folding hardtop roof which offers a bit more sense of “security” when driving compared to the traditional soft top. But best of all is the price of the MX-5. When it was first sold in 1989, it was the equivalent of $25,000 in today’s money and since then the current MX-5 has kept roughly the same price.
As I said before, this is one of the best cars, either old or new, to buy if you’re the type of person who enjoys the pleasures of driving but my only problem with it (apart from fitting in one) is the fact that most see it as a “chick car”. Maybe more women bought the car when it was first introduced but today I see more and more men driving these cars and especially at autocross events.
Editor at large and gearhead. Can drive anything on 4 or 2 wheels... sometimes 3 wheels too.