Saturday, July 28, 2012

Best First Sports Car : Miata MX-5

You might be interested in this article if...
- You've just gotten your licence and you're motivated to hit the track/street with a slick car that will show you just how much fun driving is
- You're contemplating making auto racing your hobby and you want a car with balanced specs that will help you find your style
- You are buying a second car, and this time you want something more fun than the last civic you bought

The Mazda MX-5 is a modern classic. Dotingly called the "Miata" (Old German for "reward"), anyone who knows anything about autos won't argue that the Miata is an impressive machine with a well earned place in the world of sports car racing. The perfectly balanced 50/50 front/rear, RWD's layout and styling from any one of its generations are easily recognised at a glance. A modern incarnation of the old 1960s small British roadster formula, the Miata is in fact the single reason why the roadster style sports car is so popular today.

The Lotus Elan Roadster's body design heavily influenced the Miata's

Debuting at the Chicago Auto show in 1989, the Mazda MX-5 would take the world by storm, initially selling more models than production could match, and has become the best selling convertible sports car in history. Over 900,000 MX-5s have been sold worldwide since productions started. This is for good reason: the car is amazing. Anyone who has had the pleasure of owning a Miata would assure you that it was one of the best investments they've ever made, and many sports car enthusiasts are so satisfied with its performance that they stick with it indefinitely despite very appealing alternatives with higher specs.

There have been 3 generations of Miatas, the NA, NB, and NC. Each of them is a splendid example of engineering that brings performance, handling, a convertible roof, and an affordable price into a nimble 2 seater. The designers at Mazda had affordable purpose built sports performance at the forefront of their minds, and when they designed the Miata the result was a simple mechanical construction, short dimensions, light curb weight, and an engine layout that all offered as much performance as possible without breaching government safety regulations, or costing too much. Indeed, the Miata NA was only $18,590 and one of only three convertibles of the early 90s available for less than 20k. The other two were simply rag top versions of the chevrolet metro/pontiac firefly and weren't really competing with the Miata as they only pumped out 55hp a piece.

NA generation Miata with hard top roof equipped

The first generation of Miata is easily recognised by its unique pop-up head lights, which would be replaced by fixed head lights in the NB and NC models. The NA was actually quite sparse on comfort and was as performance focused as the Lotus Elan that inspired the body styling. There was no A/C, no power windows or power mirrors, no power steering, and not even a radio or stereo! Only higher level trims offered those luxuries, but all Miatas from base trim to top have always had the same purpose built racing heart and follow the Jinba Ittai ("Unity of Horse and Rider" or in this case Car and Driver) philosophy to create a unique and remarkable driving experience.

The original 1.6L in line 4 engine made a modest 116hp and 100 lb-ft of torque, but when coupled with the excellent suspension configuration and rigid but light monocoque body the roadster had all it needed to tear around corners at high speeds and pump out exhilaration in the twisties. One good turn deserves another and in the next few years Mazda would switch up to a 1.8L that produced a respectable 133hp and 109 lb-ft of torque. Both engines were sourced from the protege/323 of the time.

Monocopue - (Mono-coke) An auto body layout in which the entire body is joined into one solid unit to optimize vehicle rigidity. Also referred to as Unibody.

The next generation of Miata was prepared for '98 but was delayed and only appeared in the US and Canada by '99. This is the reason you will never finda '98 model year Miata. The NB had slight styling changes (sans pop-up lights) and was the worst selling of the three generations. This Miata was slightly heavier due to improved lateral rigidity to meet newer side impact crash test standards in the US and Canada, but compensated by upping the horse power to 140. In 1999 Mazda celebrated the 10th anniversary of the Miata with a special edition that included a slick 6 speed transmission that traded 0.1 seconds on the 0-60 time for and added 4km/h to top speed.  At the end of the NB generation Mazda introduced a MazdaSpeed version of the Miata in 2005 that came equipped with a 1.8L turbo that made and exciting 178hp. With an impressive 0-60 time of only 6.4 seconds and coupled with improved 17" alloys the MazdaSpeed model was a particularly capable track vehicle.

The current model year Miata was built for the 2006 model year and has a standard high performance 167hp, high revving (7000rpm redline) engine across all its trim levels so the base trim offers the same kick as the top of the line special edition - a true tribute to its demographic of enthusiasts. However, if one really wants to make full use of the Miata's racing potential, opting for a more expensive trim will get you some equipment that will  really make you smile, such as a 6 speed manual transmission, LSD and other suspension refinements. Whichever trim level you choose you'll still be driving a Miata, the world's most iconic roadster, and there isn't a thing on this car that isn't "zoom-zoom".

Some of the important changes that were made to the NC include an upgraded suspension system that substitutes the front/rear double wish bone configuration for a front double wish bone/rear multilink suspension that when coupled with the improved sport suspension, bilstein shocks, strut tower bars, front and rear stabilizer bars, LSD, and Dynamic Stability control (All of which are standard on the GS trim) the NC sees improved handling, and pulls 0.90g on the skid pad. Other improvements include greater customizability from options, exterior and interior colors, soft top, and a newly added power retractable hard top ($2,295 option on GS, standard on GT) that can automatically equip or stow the hard top in 12 seconds. When the hard top roof is equipped, the Miata takes a strikingly similar look to a coupĂ©.

Despite all these new options the Miata retains its slim weight at around 1,150kg. Furthermore, its dimensions are barely any different from the original NA and the Miata NC manages an impressive compact design:

Wheelbase = 2,330mm
Track(Fr/Rr) = 1,490/1,495mm
Length = 4,032mm
Width = 1,720mm
Height = 1,245
Ground Clearance = 118 mm

For the environmentally concerned sportsman, the Miata is one of the better choices for environmentally friendly racing. The 2012 model year Miata gets 21/28mpg city/highway and is only bested by 2 Audis, the Mini, and the new Hyundai Veloster. However, fuel costs will be rather high because high octane is the manufacturer recommended fuel.

Make no mistake, the Miata is a sportsman's car, and isn't for grocery runs or anyone with kids. It is also not a red light racing Mustang and prefers the dynamic conditions of a track over a simple straight stretch of road. The Miata is such a well designed racing machine that it stands in a class of its own. Literally, there are One Make/Model races specifically for the Miata called Miata spec races because few cars of similar specs can actually compete against a Miata.

Miata's racing in a one model event

For anyone who is serious about buying the Miata as a first car, or anyone who wants to plunge into the world of auto racing with a refined machine, but don't have the $28,995 to buy a new model, there is good news. Because the Miata has been the best selling roadster for the past 20 years there are plenty on the used market that are only a hair's width away from the performance of a brand new model.

J.D power and associates, and consumer reports both agree with me when I say that the Miata is an excellent used car. The quality control standards are as high as we have come to expect from Japanese auto manufacturers, and the British inspired 60s roadster look is still fresh and attractive today. Although other roadsters like the Saturn Sky, BMW Z4, and Pontiac Solstice will retain their value better over time, any one of the many special editions (some of which were turn key professional race ready machines) Mazda has produced of the Miata will only appreciate in value because many collectors see them as pieces of automotive history. But for everyone who can't find a LE this at least means the Miata you do buy will have a very agreeable sticker price.

Used 2004 MX-5 Speed being sold during a liquidation sale for $10,000 CAD or about 30% the cost of a new - equally well equipped - model

For more information on the Mazda Miata MX-5:
Miata online community website:



  1. This comment has been removed by the author.

  2. Buying a used car doesn't have to be risky. If you know what you want then it becomes a lot easier.