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Mazda MX-5 Miata Turns 25

  • The Mazda MX-5 Miata hits its silver anniversary
  • It’s the best-selling roadster ever
  • Buying suggestions and what to look out for

The 2014 Mazda MX-5 Miata celebrates 25 years of being the most fun and affordable 2-seater. It was at the 1989 Chicago Auto Show when this little beauty was unveiled to a world that didn’t know what the Internet was. Airbags and traction control had yet to proliferate into mainstream car production, and the Iron Curtain was still several months from falling.

Everything the baby boomer generation liked in the sports cars of its youth was available in a well-made and reliable package. The basic version had windup windows and steel wheels but no power steering or air conditioning. (They have since become standard equipment.) Only 116 horsepower and 100 lb-ft of torque went to the back axle, but that was the point.

Send a lot of power to the rear axle and, sooner or later, there’s going to be trouble, or a few heart palpitations at least. But the MX-5’s chassis was (and is) a perfect introduction to the joys of rear-wheel drive, letting the tail slide out a touch and then catching it with the steering, all at speeds within the comfort zone of most people.

Between then and now, the MX-5 Miata has become the best-selling 2-seater sports car ever, according to Guinness World Records. It’s been counted among the top vehicles by various enthusiast publications and is a mainstay of weekend warrior racers.

Now in its third generation, the car is still the cherry on Mazda’s cake. Engine output is punchier these days — 167 hp and 140 lb-ft — but that philosophy of engaging the driver without intimidation remains. And don’t think it’s a gas guzzler. The Environmental Protection Agency rates it at 22 miles per gallon city/28 mpg highway for the 5-speed manual version. (The 6-speeder automatic uses 1 mpg more in the city.) Servicing costs are bearable, too.

The 2014 model starts at $24,515 (including destination charges). Considering the original started at $13,800 (approximately $26,700 in today’s prices), that’s not bad. If such a figure is still beyond your budget, there’s always the possibility of buying pre-owned.

Resale values tend to stay strong, but there might be the chance of a new family wanting to sell because they need an SUV. A quick look through the listings on uncovered a 2006 model in top-of-the-range Grand Touring trim with 21,000 miles for $15,000 and a second-generation 1999 with 94,000 miles for $5,500.

Be careful that some speed demon hasn’t been abusing and/or modifying the car. If there’s a power retractable hardtop (available on more recent versions), make sure it works as it should. Check that the soft-top is in good condition and fits well, and get one with a glass rear window. The plastic ones go cloudy, which is irritating at best and unsafe at worst.

Not a great idea to go for one of the first-generation models with pop-up headlights: It’s just another thing that can go wrong. Early cars also had problems with rust along the sides.

If you’re looking at sports cars, presumably you’re cool with driving stick, and you’ll have a wider range of choices that way.

There’s talk that Mazda will collaborate with FIAT/Chrysler to produce an Alfa Romeo roadster. Cars like this are becoming rarer, since almost every maker wants to gravitate to personality-free self-driving machines. So treat your MX-5 Miata well; it could become a collector’s item.

What it means to you: The Mazda MX-5 Miata celebrates 25 years of affordable and reliable open-top fun. Now might be the perfect time to get one.


Colin Ryan
Colin Ryan
Colin Ryan specializes in writing about new cars. But he has also covered trucks, vans, 3-wheelers, even the occasional motorbike. That’s the kind of thing that happens while contributing to the Los Angeles Times, Autotrader, Kelley Blue Book, Popular Mechanics, Variety, Mazda and Lexus customer magazines, as well as many enthusiast sites and publications. He was also a staff writer at BBC Top... Read More about Colin Ryan

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