When the Mazda MX-5 Miata roadster debuted in 1989, this snazzy little convertible was an instant hit. Marking a revival of the affordable roadster format that was once dominated by British automakers, the Mazda Miata introduced a modern approach to reliability and engineering. Buyers lined up outside Mazda dealerships and gladly paid sticker price-plus-some for the fetching new Miata.
Though the initial mania has long since faded, the Mazda Miata continues to be a very popular convertible. Over the years, Mazda's little roadster has gotten bigger and heftier due to the addition of comfort and safety equipment. But it's also gotten more powerful and capable. The first major redesign came in 1999. Our editors found that Mazda improved the second-generation Miata with a larger interior, a stiffened chassis, exposed headlamps and more aggressive styling, without bumping up the price or diluting its perky personality.
The third-generation car continues the trend. It still changes direction like a go-kart, communicates clearly to the driver and accelerates with an inspiring inline-4 growl. If you're in the market for an affordable car that provides plenty of top-down, open-road thrills, we highly recommend putting a new or used Mazda Miata on your list.
The current MX-5 Miata has gone upscale with the inclusion of an available power hardtop on Grand Touring, Touring and Sport models, with regular power soft tops standard in these models, as well as a value-filled Base version. This somewhat simplified new lineup replaces the six multiple personalities -- Club Spec, Base, Touring, Sport, Grand Touring and Limited -- previously offered since the third-generation redesign in 2006.
All Mazda Miatas are powered by a 2.0-liter, inline four-cylinder engine good for 170 horsepower -- nearly as much as previous turbocharged Mazdaspeed high-performance models. Depending on trim levels you'll find this power routed to the rear wheels through a five- or six-speed manual transmission, or an available six-speed automatic for shiftless types -- though with the automatic, horsepower drops to 166.
In terms of options, luxurious items like leather seats and a seven-speaker Bose audio system are available. But with the Mazda MX-5 Miata, we feel "less" may actually be "more." If you're piling a ton of extras on this little sports car, you're missing the point: The essence of this Mazda roadster is about simplicity in design and operation, and about having fun and feeling unencumbered behind the wheel on a warm summer night.
If you're such a purist (or a racing enthusiast) and shopping for a used Mazda Miata, we suggest you save a few bucks and shop for a non-special edition or Club Spec model with just the basics like a five-speed manual, tilt wheel, CD player and power windows/mirrors -- or a simple Base model, which adds air-conditioning and a leather-wrapped steering wheel to the mix.
To meet the ever-increasing demand for comfort and safety equipment, the MX-5 Miata was carefully redesigned in 1999 and improved over the original in almost every way. The following year, a streamlined model lineup included the Miata and Miata LS with three simplified option packages available. In 2001, horsepower was bumped again to 155 and a six-speed manual was optional on the Miata LS. The MX-5 received a Mazdaspeed makeover and newfound life in 2004, featuring a 178-hp turbocharged engine, high-performance suspension and exterior styling enhancements.
The original Mazda Miata roadster of 1990 offered one engine, one transmission and three colors: red, white and blue. Detail improvements saw the Miata through its first several years, with revised option packages, more power and a stunning M-edition with Merlot Mica paint, tan top and matching leather interior and 15-inch BBS wheels available in 1995. Competition-minded individuals might want to focus on R-Package-equipped Miatas introduced in 1994, which turned the Miata into a race-ready street machine with drivetrain and suspension modifications. The final year for this model was 1997, and there was no 1998 model.