Here’s How You Can Love the Mazda MX-5 Miata and Save $25,000

A used first-generation Miata will leave you just as happy as the new one.

Mazda Miata
Mazda

The Drive loves the Mazda MX-5 Miata. I mean we really love the Mazda MX-5 Miata. For more than 20 years, across four generations of two-seat roadsters, this improbable little two-seater has provided the most generous dollar-to-smile ratio of probably any car on the market. The current generation, the ND Miata, crackles with the same pleasing fun factor that made the first-generation MX-5s such a massive cult phenomenon. That first-gen NA, on the market from 1990 to 1997, are still out there—in droves.

And that raises the question: Why spend the money on a brand new car when an example for one tenth the price leaves you just as pleased?

Driving a 2016 Miata Club a few weeks ago, I did what any respectable MX-5 owner would do: I took it off the beat-up, heartless streets of New York City and drove it north to the winding, tree-crowded ribbons of road in the Hudson Valley—the true habitat of the species roadster.

Equipped with the Club package's Bilstein sport suspension setup and a limited-slip differential, the Miata Club hugs corners tighter than a grandmother grips her grandchildren. It grips, it grips, and it grips –that can come as a surprise to those who have experienced the ND Miata's odd surplus of body roll. It might list, but it sticks.

Aaron Brown

The $3,400 "Brembo/BBS" package that our tester was equipped with left us satisfied with the Miata’s braking abilities. The Brembos gave us the confidence to to carry momentum through tight turns, and at no time when we were driving the car were we wishing for any additional braking power. Though we were by no means hammering the middle pedal, the Brembo setup seemed more than capable to handle a spirited mountain drive. Though, if you’re not in love with the BBS setup, we would bet the more patient Miata owner could scavenge up an aftermarket brake and wheel setup that do the job just as well, while probably being cheaper and subjectively more aesthetically pleasing.

At a scant 2,332-pounds, the roadster's naturally-aspirated 2.0-liter four-cylinder motor allows the Miata to blissfully puff down the road. It’s *adjective* of power without the driver ever having to be concerned that if he or she mashes the pedal to the floor, their car will end up on top of a curb with their ego spilled everywhere. The four-banger’s power delivery feels linear– and just quick enough to be useful for an enjoyable drive.

The ND Miata is confidence inspiring, smile-inducing, stress reducing, and it offers a straight-up perfect driving experience for anyone who enjoys an open-top car. But the car's fatal flaw falls in that description. The roadster has been doing those exact things for more than 20 years now, which is exactly why enthusiasts shouldn’t bother buying a new one.

If you’re an enthusiast with $4,000 and a little patience, you can buy an NA or NB generation Miata that will tick almost all of the same boxes that a new Miata would.

Granted, there are a few potential flaws with this argument.

From the factory, some of the earlier Miatas, with zero to 60 times of 9.6 seconds, felt slower than a riding lawn mower. Meanwhile, the new MX-5 is capable of running from zero to 60 in just under six seconds. For this point, some used Miata owners would argue they would rather spend the extra coin on a couple thousand dollar turbocharger kit for their roadster, rather than shell out the cash for a totally new car. Either way, we usually find that with that whole wind-in-your-face sensation while behind the wheel of a Miata, whether new or used, you're not really stressing all that much about acceleration times.

For safety, assuming we're speaking about a relatively rust-free example, Miatas have always been impressively safe considering their size - especially when equipped with a sturdy and functional aftermarket roll bar. Though, one of the main arguments for buying a Miata is that it handles so tight that the driver should be able to avoid most crashes, except for well, the ones that he or she can't.

As Car & Driver has noted, the first-generation Miata passed all government crash tests that it was required to go against. It scored threes and fours out of five on its safety tests and was even considered to be safer in a multi-vehicle crash than the Corvette of its time. Similarly, the new Miata was given a four-star overall rating by the European New Car Assessment Program. So either way, you'll be safe.

But then there are its looks. The new Miata is a surprising attention-getter. Driving it around the streets of New York City attracts eyes from pedestrians and other motorists. Several times when we had the new vehicle out, we were approached by curious and excited people who would ask about how we enjoyed the car, its price, and by some who just wanted to offer complements.

The same can't be said with a 20-year-old or so Miata.

Though enthusiasts often show their support for the Miata-saving cause, non-car lovers are usually nowhere near as attracted to used examples of the roadster. But who buys a Miata for attention?

There's also the tech argument. The new Miata can be had with a navigation system, keyless entry, LED headlights, and other features that offer the sorts of tech one would expect to find a new sports car. While some of those things could be retrofitted to an older Miata, optional safety technologies like rain-sensing wipers, blindspot monitoring, rear cross-traffic alert, and the lane departure warning system cannot. If those kinds of features are vital to your driving habits, then stick with a car that's fresh off the lot. To us, though, it's still not worth ponying up the cash.

In the end, there are really only two reasons you should acquire a new Miata. One, you only lease cars. Or two, you want the enjoyment of owning something new, with all the gizmos and tech that comes with it.

Whether you choose a new or used Miata, you'll be left with one of the most enjoyable and backroad-friendly cars you can buy. You can't really go wrong with either.