This future classic delivers maximum smiles per mile.
A classic for the future?! We think the Mazda Miata is actually a classic right now.
After selling more than a million Miatas in less than three decades, Mazda isn’t slowing down production. People love this little sports car.
The first Miatas reached Mazda dealers at the end of 1989. You kinda wore one of these early cars more than you sat in one — and they were a modern-day take on the classic, lightweight, front-engine/rear-wheel-drive sports car. At this writing, it’s the best-selling twin-seat convertible ever.
Below you’ll find six reasons why we love the Mazda Miata, a breakdown of some of the late- model trims, and a short history of the Miata.
- It’s descended from classic 1960s roadsters. Mazda pulled DNA from classic sports cars like the Lotus Elan, Morgan, Austin-Healey, and Alfa Romeo and left out some of the bugs that made the classics a challenge (no air conditioning, dicey electrics, etc.) to make the Miata a great sports car you could drive every day, in sun or rain.
- Unlimited smiles per hour. This car is just plain fun. It revs high and it handles great. Earlier models came with a manually-operated cloth top that drops into the trunk — it’s easy enough to do while you’re waiting at a stoplight. Newer models, like the 2017 Mazda MX5 Miata RF, let you remove the overhead panel and drop the rear window for a targa look and feel.
- Smooth-shifting manual transmission. Earlier Miatas came with a manual, five-speed transmission that let drivers shift precisely, with short gear throws, rather than rowing through the gears. It’s a proper stickshift for a small sports car like the Miata. In the newer cars, like the 2017 Mazda MX-5 Miata Club, you’ll find an equally-precise six-speed manual. All manual-shift models’ brake and gas pedals are placed well to allow for heel-and-toe shifting. Yes, some cars do come with an automatic, like the 2015 Mazda MX-5 Miata Grand Touring model.
- Nearly-perfect weight distribution. The engine’s mounted lengthwise in the front but mounted close to the driver’s feet, and it pushes power to the rear wheels. An even balance in a light vehicle like the Miata means lively, responsive handling.
- There’s like a million of them. No, really, Mazda actually has built more than one million of these little cars. And they’re still making them today. A 2017 Mazda Miata is a little longer and wider than the first-generation cars, but there’s no confusing its lineage.
- The Miata started something. Or, at least it picked the sports car mantle up again, dusted it off, and helped create a new, small roadster segment that’s still popular today. The Miata is the car that helped make way for cars like the BMW Z4, the Mercedes SLK250 and SLK350, and the Porsche Boxster.
Here’s a good way to break down three late-model Miata trims: Sport, Club, and Grand Touring.
This is a base-level model that doesn’t skimp on the fun factor. For example, the 2015 Mazda Miata Sport gives you a four-cylinder engine that’s good for 167 hp and a five-speed manual transmission. There aren’t too many creature comforts here, besides air conditioning, alloy wheels, and cruise control. But its soft top can be lowered by hand in a matter of seconds, so you can make the most of a sunny day.
Go up a level from Sport and you’ve got the Club model, a Miata version with more serious sports car credentials. You can find some of these models, like the 2017 Miata Club, with a limited-slip differential, shock tower bracing for stiffer handling, Bilstein® shocks, and bigger front brakes that come with Brembo® calipers.
If there’s a cushier version of the Miata, it’s the Grand Touring trim. This version comes with additional driver features for more comfortable cruising. Take a look at the 2016 Mazda Miata Grand Touring and you’ll find heated front seats, a navigation system, lane-departure warning, and leather seats.
What’s the history of the Mazda Miata?
The Miata looks like a classic British sports car because it was modeled on small, two-seat, open roadsters like the Lotus Elan, the Austin Healey Sprite, and the MGB. Those cars gave owners the full open-air driving experience, plus all the gremlins and bugs that sometimes made owning them a love-hate relationship.
Mazda designers insisted on a small, four-banger engine in the front, rear-wheel drive, and updated brakes and electricals, plus — to make all the purist Brit car drivers drool — air conditioning. All in slightly larger overall dimensions. The original Miata was a worthy direct descendent of these 1960s roadsters.
The Miatas that followed stayed true to this first design and the car’s original mission: top-down fun and a pure driving experience.
All this adds up to give the Miata a kind of cult following, and one with a relatively low cost of entry.
What are the downsides to owning a Miata?
There are a few. If you take lots of road trips, you’ll need to pack light. The trunk of a 2016 Mazda Miata Sport holds right around five cubic feet of gear — that’s it. And, obviously, there’s only room for one passenger in the cockpit besides you.
Is the Miata the best sports car ever?
We think it’s right up there, for sure. There are so many around, and they’re so modifiable for your kind of driving, including carving through canyons or racing at your local track. One of our CarMax Home Office data analysts thinks the Miata is a classic right now — he babies his own 2003, one-year-only, Garnet Red Mica-paint-job Miata, and plans to buy another for racing one day.
“The Miata isn’t the fastest car out there to drive,” our analyst says, “but for me, it might be the most fun to drive. I call the Miata ‘slow-car fast.’ There’s so much direct feedback from the road, through the car, to the driver and driving engaging cars like this is becoming a lost art. Plus, I can put the top down in four seconds without unbuckling my seatbelt.
“There’s something really satisfying about driving a car that’s so eager to play along. And I think the Miata will be in demand as long as drivers appreciate a car that exists to make people grin.”
The Miatas you’ll find at CarMax are quality-certified, meaning they’ve been closely inspected like all of the cars on our lots. Certain vehicles may have unrepaired safety recalls. Click here to look up a specific vehicle. During these inspections, we check our Miatas’ frames and look closely for flood damage before they’re OK’d to go out on our lots.
Ready to shop? Check out our supply of used Mazda Miatas at CarMax.
You can also read about the Miata in our Best Sports Cars for 2018 article. Or you can browse our full inventory of CarMax sports cars for a broad look at sports cars, muscle cars, and other enthusiast vehicles.
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