When the Mazda MX-5 Miata debuted for 1990, this snazzy little convertible was an instant hit. Inspired by British roadsters of the 1950s and 1960s, the MX-5 Miata combined open-top sports-car thrills with modern engineering and Japanese quality. Buyers queued up outside Mazda dealerships and gladly paid well over sticker price for the fetching new Miata.
That initial buzz has long since faded, but the Miata continues to set the standard for what an affordable roadster should and can be. The latest Miata still changes direction like a go-kart, communicates the character of the road clearly to the driver and accelerates with an inspiring growl from its inline-four engine. If you're in the market for an affordable sports car that provides plenty of top-down, open-road thrills, we highly recommend putting a new or used Mazda Miata on your list.
Current Mazda MX-5 Miata
The Mazda MX-5 Miata is a two-seat roadster with either a cloth convertible top or a metal retractable hardtop. All variants are powered by a 2.0-liter inline four-cylinder engine tuned for 155 horsepower and 148 pound-feet of torque; it drives the rear wheels through either a six-speed manual or six-speed automatic transmission. The soft top is manually operated, but it's small and light enough to be opened and closed one-handed while sitting in the car.
The Miata is available in three trims, Sport, Club and Grand Touring. The Sport is fairly basic, with air-conditioning, power accessories, and a Bluetooth-compatible stereo with six speakers (including speakers in the driver's headrest) coming as standard. The Club model gets a Bose audio system, extra safety features and, on models with the manual transmission, a sport-tuned suspension, a shock tower brace, an induction sound enhancer and a limited-slip differential. The Grand Touring model does without the stiffer suspension and the limited-slip diff but adds heated leather seats, a navigation system and automatic climate control.
Because of its small size, the Miata isn't for everyone: The very tall and the very-well-fed will find the cabin cramped, and the tiny trunk provides space for a few grocery bags or a small suitcase at best. But what do you expect from a petite roadster that weighs about 2,350 pounds? Driving the Miata is a sublime experience. It's quick and incredibly agile, and the four-cylinder engine provides plenty of midrange power. Whether you buy one as a weekend toy or a daily driver, the Mazda MX-5 Miata remains one of the purest forms of automotive fun.
Used Mazda MX-5 Miata Models
The current Miata represents the fourth-generation MX-5 Miata, which Mazda introduced for the 2016 model year. Compared to the previous-generation car, this Miata has sleeker and more aggressive styling, a lighter curb weight (about 200 pounds), quicker acceleration, and new technology and safety features.
The third-generation Mazda MX-5 Miata was produced from 2006 to 2015. The styling was more rounded than that of the first- and second-gen Miatas. It also had a stiffer, more sophisticated chassis, a more powerful engine, a roomier interior and greater interior refinement. Power came from a 2.0-liter inline four-cylinder engine. The power ratings varied a bit through the years, but, in general, expect 167 hp (158 on automatic-equipped cars). Transmission choices were a five- or six-speed manual transmission (depending on trim level) or a six-speed automatic.
Customers who like the idea of combining open-air exhilaration with fixed-roof refinement could also order a Miata with a power-operated retractable hardtop (PRHT). The PRHT might seem to run counter to the Miata's less-is-more philosophy, but its simple design added just 70 pounds to the car's curb weight and transformed top-up motoring into a much quieter, more weatherproof experience.
A lot of incremental changes were made throughout this Miata's run, so it might be a good idea to get familiar with them if you're shopping for one. Initially, the lineup consisted of six trim levels: Club Spec, Base, Touring, Sport, Grand Touring and Third-Generation Limited Edition. For 2007, equipment was reshuffled into four trims — SV, Sport, Touring and Grand Touring — and the PRHT also arrived that year.
A Special Edition model in Icy Blue paint was offered for 2008. That year also saw a 5-hp drop for cars with the automatic transmission. The following year the Miata received a mild refresh with tweaked exterior styling, engine revisions for a bit more power and fuel economy, a more aggressive suspension and some new convenience features. For '10, the PRHT was discontinued in Sport trim, and the value-oriented SV trim (available from 2007 to '09) was dropped. Special editions continued to be offered and were essentially loaded Grand Touring PRHT models sporting unique colors and trim.
Right up through 2011, stability control was only available on the Grand Touring and then only as an option. For 2012, that safety technology became standard equipment across the board. For 2013, the Miata got a slight styling refresh and a Club model to replace the Touring model. There were no significant changes for 2014, but in 2015, the last year of the third-gen car, the Sport switched from a vinyl to a cloth roof and a 25th Anniversary Edition model was introduced.
In reviews, we found this Miata was — surprise! — a blast to drive. It was talented enough to spike even the most mundane excursions with ample doses of pleasure and excitement. The steering is sharp and precise, communicating information with an immediacy that never leaves the driver guessing. Handling is just as dialed-in, making this Mazda an ideal companion for wind-blown jaunts down winding canyon roads.
The second-generation MX-5 Miata was in production from 1999 to 2005. This Miata was the same size as the original MX-5, so while the cockpit was more cramped, the car felt much livelier and more responsive to drive, though its cornering limits were much lower and its ride was much worse. The addition of a glass rear window to the cloth convertible top made visibility better. (The previous plastic window would become cloudy from sunlight, requiring replacement.)
This second-generation Mazda Miata was powered by a 1.8-liter four-cylinder engine that produced 140 hp and 119 lb-ft of torque. A five-speed manual transmission was standard, and a four-speed automatic was optional. As before, base models were sparsely equipped, but items such as leather upholstery and Bose audio were available on upper trims. In its second year, a streamlined model lineup including the Miata and Miata LS with three simplified option packages was introduced, while a Miata Special Edition with a six-speed manual debuted. For 2001, the adoption of variable valve timing bumped output to 142 hp and 125 lb-ft of torque, while the Special Edition's six-speed manual became optional on the Miata LS. For '04 a turbocharged Mazdaspeed model arrived, featuring a 178-hp turbocharged engine, high-performance suspension and unique exterior styling enhancements.
The original, first-generation Mazda MX-5 Miata of 1990 offered a 1.6-liter four-cylinder engine that delivered 116 hp and 100 lb-ft of torque. It was matched with a five-speed manual transmission. Just three colors were initially available: red, white and blue. Detail improvements saw the Miata through its first several years, with revised option packages, more power from a 128-hp 1.8-liter engine introduced for '94, and ultimately even luxuriously appointed M editions (special paint colors, a tan convertible top, tan leather interior and 15-inch BBS wheels). Competition-minded individuals might want to focus on the Miata R package introduced for 1994, which turned the Miata into a race-ready street machine with drivetrain and suspension modifications. The final year for this first-generation model was 1997 (there was no 1998 MX-5 Miata).