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Video | Here’s Why the Original Mazda Miata Is a Legend

I recently had the chance to spend the day with an original NA Mazda Miata. Actually, it was an original Eunos Roadster, but I’ll get to that in a second. What you need to know is this: I drove around in an NA Miata, I had an amazing time and I almost got hit by a person in a Tiguan.

I’ll start with the background. The NA Mazda Miata was sold in the United States from 1990 to 1997, and it featured a simple premise: It was a lightweight, two-door, two-seat, rear-wheel drive roadster without frills or luxuries or distractions. It was a pure, basic sports car, like MG or Triumph models from the 1960s — but, unlike those, the Miata didn’t really break down.

And it was a huge success. Released in an era where the small sports car was thought to be dead, the Miata proved it wasn’t — and, indeed, it singlehandedly resurrected the small convertible sports car, paving the way for many other models, from the forgotten Mercury Capri to the popular Porsche Boxster and BMW Z3. The NA Miata was the sports car of the 1990s, and it remains beloved today, as Mazda recently released the latest model, now dubbed the "ND" by enthusiasts.

I’ve driven an NA Miata before, but I hadn’t yet reviewed one for a video and a column here on Oversteer — so I borrowed a nice example from my friend, Alex. Actually, I borrowed a Eunos Roadster which is what Mazda called the original Miata in Japan. Back then, Mazda was trying to launch a new luxury-oriented sub-brand, Eunos, and the Roadster was intended to be the sports car model, much like the Z3 in BMW’s lineup. Eunos fizzled out, but, of course, the Miata stuck around. Alex imported the Eunos Roadster and kept it in stock and original just long enough for me to review it.

So what did I think? Well, it’s simple: The NA Miata is heavenly. Under the hood is a 115-horsepower 1.6-liter 4-cylinder engine, which isn’t something I normally associate with fun vehicles — except in this case. The Miata is just unendingly fun to drive, offering amazing balance and a truly thrilling driving experience and some of the best handling ever available in a car offered at this price.

I’ll start with that handling. The Miata is unusually light, weighing in around 2,100 pounds, and the steering is nicely balanced and precise, giving you the chance to throw around the Miata, truly treating it like a go-kart. The phrase "handles like a go-kart" is vastly overused, but it should be saved for vehicles like the Miata, which truly feel like a go-kart. It’s low, it’s wide and it changes directions in a millisecond. It’s wonderful.

Contributing to the fun factor, of course, is the open roof. The Miata is immensely tossable, and the top-down drive lets you experience all the tossing, with the removed roof giving you an open-air experience that truly lets you enjoy the vehicle. My personal feeling is that a true sports car has an open top, and the Miata reminds us exactly why: It’s just that much more exciting.

With that said, there are some aspects to the Miata experience that aren’t so exciting — like, for instance, the acceleration, which is mediocre, the interior, which is tight, and the ride, which is harsh. The Miata absolutely isn’t the car for drag racing, and it’s not the right vehicle for daily commuting, either, especially if you’re tall. There’s also the small factor: The aforementioned incident with the Tiguan came when a Tiguan made a lane change almost directly into me, likely as a result of simply not seeing the tiny Miata in a blind spot. Driving a Miata is like driving a motorcycle — and not just in your connection to the road, but also in that you have to be paying extra attention at all times.

But it’s worth paying attention, and it’s worth the cramped interior and the harsh ride because the driving experience is just so wonderful and so pure and so thrilling — especially when you consider you can pick up a Miata on the used market for well under 10 grand. It’s one of the best deals in the car world, and spending the day with one reminded me precisely why.

MORE FROM OVERSTEER:
Here’s Why This Porsche Speedster Isn’t Worth $200,000 — Because It’s a Volkswagen
Yes, I Really Do Need That Many Cup Holders
Here’s Everything That’s Broken on My Cheap V12 Mercedes SL600

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9 COMMENTS

  1. I just love my 2014 MX5 I believe you have to own one to really appreciate this car no doubt about it going through all six speeds is cool

  2. I miss the old videos where Doug did fun random things, and did more than just the quirks, features, and the review for cars, like hypermiling in a 1st gen Honda Insight, or driving the dougcar Aston Martin with the unlimited bumper to bumper warranty across a frozen lake, and on the bonneville salt flats, I also loved the comparison videos (Ferrari 360 vs Lexus LS, and Aston V8 vantage vs Honda oddessy). All I want is a little more variety… Please?

    • YES, agree completely. But it will never happen, because Doug is making too much Youtube money catering to the lowest common denominator of fans. He used to write very funny articles as well, those are long gone too. Sad.

  3. Ever since I’m part of the internet I keep hearing praise towards this car in any of its generations. I won’t deny the NA Miata is quite pretty in stock form -don’t really like the looks of this Japanese special edition- but to be honest, if money wasn’t a problem, I would much rather have a Boxster or a Cayman. They are simply cooler to me.

    • Cooler? Yes they are, but they cost 2-3 times as much as a Miata when new; and much more than that in the used market since Porsche’s hold their value much better than Mazda’s. So not a fair comparison at all.

    • A someone who’s had all three (NA Miata, 986 Boxster, and a 987 Cayman S) I can say the Boxster and Cayman are way cooler, quicker, and faster than a NA Miata. 

      With that said, the Miata is an insanely inexpensive car you can enjoy to the full of it’s capability much easier than either of the other two. 

      Especially if you turn it into a track car by addimg in a decent rollbar, a race seat with harness.  With those you’re good to go for most track days.  You may get passed on the straights, but a Miata can keep up with most cars in the twisties.

  4. I chuckled at the Tiguan bit. My weekend car is a bright-blue NC Miata. The number of times crossovers have lane-changed into me is staggering. I’m constantly eyeing the road ahead much like one does on a motorcycle! My best advice to any Miata owner is to install an air horn (and possibly a louder exhaust).

  5. How does the Miata hold up as a drivers car in the newer generations?  I really like the NB and NC versions better than the NA, but is the driving experience as good, better, or worse?

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Doug Demuro
Doug DeMuro writes articles and makes videos, mainly about cars. Doug was born in Denver, Colorado, and received an economics degree from Emory University in Atlanta. After graduation, Doug spent three years working for Porsche Cars North America. Eventually, he quit his job to become a writer, largely because it meant that he no longer had to wear pants. Doug’s work has been featured in a... Read More

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