But regardless of updates, the Miata has shown incredible clarity of vision over the last couple of decades. Only 99 pounds heavier than the original NA, it remains a lightweight unfussy sports car that is both more capable and more fun than you’d ever imagine if you hadn’t driven one. For that reason alone, the current Miata is my benchmark. If a sports car can attain Miata-like status in some small way, whether it is in the way it drives or the way it makes me feel, I’m more likely to view it favorably.
Design EvaluationSpeaking of viewing things, the Miata’s aesthetics have changed quite a lot across its different generations. A Porsche 911 this is not. Each of these iterations has its highlights- I love the retro looks and clean lines of the NA, the sleek face of the NB, the flared arches of the NC. But the ND stands out the most, arguably because of the RF trim, which this car is obviously not. Flying buttresses are always a winner in my book.
Interior AssessmentI tell that to myself when I sit down in a Miata too. There’s not much going on, and that feels refreshing when compared to other sports cars. Hell, it feels refreshing compared to just about anything new. Still, if you can fault the Mazda Miata, here is where it can be done. See, this Club car, options, delivery, and all, costs $37,510. It still has manual, single-zone climate control and the infotainment system must be at least a decade old. Now, much like some other cars at this price point (GR86, etc.) you can argue the money goes to the performance, and you’d be right. Making a car that sits on an in-house chassis in 2016 that weighs just 2,341 lbs. costs money.
I refute my own point there because sitting there with the 10-year-old infotainment and nowhere to put a cell phone, you will too. That’s because the little things add up. Mazda’s own David Coleman, an engineer who worked on the ND, pointed out to me that your feet line directly up with your shoulders. It’s a small detail, but big at the same time. So too is the pedal placement, which is so perfect I can’t help but wonder why Toyota let Quasimodo set the pedal placement on the GR86 and GR Corolla. In short, where this interior lacks features, it makes up for it in ergonomics. See also, movable cupholders.
I harp on this because the infotainment system is best when it is used with Carplay or Android Auto, which you’ll need a USB for if you own an Android. What with the battery toll wireless projection takes, Apple users will need somewhere to charge too, and running a USB from the center stack all the way back to the glovebox is annoying.
But that’s all nitpicking. The Miata’s interior is genuinely nice for the money. There’s very little crappy plastic, and both the stock and Recaro-branded seats feel premium and comfy. The leather on the wheel feels above this price point, and nothing feels cheap to handle or touch. This interior continues the remarkable clarity of vision that I so admire the Miata for.
Driving TakeIf you want to go driving in the Miata, the Club trim is the one to have. You’ll get a limited-slip diff, Bilstein suspension, and some other goodies. It’s also imperative to spec the $4,500 Brembo/BBS/Recaro pack. That adds Brembo front brakes that are red (very important) and larger than stock. The rear caliper is also red, but not the caliper carrier bracket, because money. It’s also why the rear brakes don’t change in diameter. The forged BBS wheels are lighter than the stock ones, but I wish you could have them in silver- I’m sick of black wheels. The Recaro seats are fantastic too, and they’re heated for year-round comfort. I also appreciate the extra bolstering over stock, but some lumbar adjustment could be useful here.
The engine didn’t need more power, but 181 feels like just enough here, especially because third now flirts with reckless driving charges in most states. I’ll be genuinely upset if the Miata becomes more powerful. I love the sound of it too, and the little huffs of air running through the engine can be heard on downshifts. It isn’t sonorous, but the Miata is honest, and no noise feels fake or intentionally manufactured. I actually now prefer it to my Boxster’s flat-six noise, which was the last vestige of preference I held for that car. The Miata has ruined my own small, light roadster for me.
Funny thing is, anyone reading this likely already knows all that. These things are quintessentially Miata. And that hasn’t changed for 20 years. While I’m sure my writing professors would be stoked I keep looping back to the overall theme of this story, it really does make a difference to have these traits be so omnipresent in the Miata lineup.
I can’t feed you anything revolutionary about the way the Miata drives. It drives like a Miata. And the fact that this has become a byword for the kind of driving experience enthusiasts want is a feat on its own.
Everyday LivingThis segment comes with a caveat. I’m a 26-year-old male living in a medium-sized city. The most I have to transport is my partner, or maybe a bike. Sometimes my friends can stomach my constant blabbing about cars long enough to be in one with me. So, the Miata fits my needs just great.
It has a very, very small trunk, but I don’t notice, even at 4.6 cubic feet. It holds groceries great, and I fit mine and my girlfriend’s luggage in a Miata on returning from a week in Hawaii. Now, obviously, some investment is required to carry more. RF models are great candidates for bike racks, and Mazda will sell you a tow hitch for a rack too. I suppose you could tow, which may be useful to carry tools to and from the track- but capacity is just 400 or so pounds.
The Miata’s small size makes it a joy to park. I can see the tops of the fenders and the curb in the rearview mirror, making parallel parking in the city a breeze. It also has a great turning radius, another bonus for city living. I’ve also heard these do well in the snow, and I’d love to have the Miata back come winter for some snow testing.
But the combination of a small motor and light weight also means fuel economy is a very un-sporty 37 mpg. I saw that figure, combined, with 700 or so miles of city, highway, and at-pace driving. Often, I’d go hit the canyons, watch the average dip to around 29 mpg, then see it slowly creep back up as I made my way home at more civil speeds. I would also do this multiple times over the course of my loan, something I’ve only done with a small group of other sports cars. Once work was done, it was time to go slide the Miata around and learn what it would teach me about lift-off oversteer, on-limit braking behavior, and understeer.
Test Drive RoundupI always say that when a good car leaves. “One day…” as it rounds the corner and dips out of sight. I said it with the Civic Si and a handful of others. But with the Miata I meant it. I’ll sell my Boxster sometime next fall, and ideally, by then I’ll have found my ideal spec: a Soul Red Crystal RF with the Brembo/BBS/Recaro pack.
Really, that’s all that needs to be said here. The Miata remains one thing: an affordable, usable car that is still better to drive than larger competitors like the BRZ/86, and yet is just useful enough for a car-obsessed person such as me to justify buying it. To boot, I made it all the way through this review without the tired “Miata is the answer” cliche, which I’m actually very proud of.
- Maybe the best six-speed in a series production car on sale today
- Classic driving dynamics still worthy of praise 20 years on
- It’s still just 2,300 pounds
- Cliches exist for a reason
- I guess they cost money?
- Infotainment just needs to be a touchscreen at this point
- Where am I supposed to put my phone?
- Why is there not a government incentive for first-time Miata buyers?