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.
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