While it’s not the only affordable sports car on the market, Mazda’s MX-5 Miata is one of the best. That’s largely been the case over the Miata’s 30-plus years on the market. However, while all 4 generations of Mazda’s convertible sports car enjoy loyal fanbases, there’s one model that tends to get the least amount of love. It’s the 3rd-gen NC Miata—but is it really the worst of the bunch?
What happened in going from the NB to the NC Miata?
The 1st-gen ‘NA’ Mazda Miata was designed as a tribute to classic British roadsters like the Austin-Healy Sprite. It’s light and simple, with a four-cylinder engine, a standard 5-speed manual, and rear-wheel drive. Its successor, the NB, has a bit more power and day-to-day refinement. However, it’s still built on a reinforced and stiffened version of the NA’s chassis.
That changed with the 2006 NC Miata, Road & Track reports. It rides on a modified version of the contemporary RX-8’s platform. Even without a roof, that makes it the heaviest Mazda MX-5, with a roughly 2500-lb curb weight, R&T reports. The available power-retractable hardtop, a Mazda Miata first, exacerbated the issue, Torque News reports. So, although its 2.0-liter four-cylinder makes 167 hp and 140 lb-ft, Roadshow reports, it’s not necessarily faster than the NA or NB.
Plus, in standard form, its suspension is softer than the NB’s is, CarBuzz reports. And it didn’t help that the early ‘NC1’ models rode higher than both the NB and later NCs, R&T reports. Neither did the inclusion of traction and stability control, The Drive reports. Plus, while ABS was optional on early NBs, it’s standard on the NC.
MX-5 purists maintain that in stacking on the weight, extra luxuries, and electronic ‘nannies,’ the NC Miata lost some of the NA’s and NB’s spark. Plus, the Subaru BRZ and Toyota 86 debuted in the middle of the NC’s production run. All of a sudden, the Mazda Miata had genuine rivals, which boasted extra practicality, Motor Trend explains.
But is the NC Miata really that bad? Not quite.
Does the NC Mazda MX-5 Miata drive worse than the others?
The NC Miata is still a Mazda MX-5 Miata, Autotrader reports. Which means it’s still fun to drive, especially when the road gets twisty. There’s a reason the now-defunct Skip Barber Racing School used them as training vehicles, R&T reports. And although it’s heavier than the other Miatas, the NC isn’t exactly a G-Wagon.
As with every other Miata, the NC’s main detraction was a relative lack of power, R&T reports. But that’s never been the point of the MX-5, Jalopnik explains. The steering is well-weighted and full of tactile sensations. The 6-speed manual shifts well, with short and tight throws, Autoweek reports. Also, the brakes, even on the base model, are both effective and easy to modulate. Plus, trims like the Grand Touring offer heated seats, Bose audio, and leather upholstery.
Then there’s the NC Mazda MX-5 Miata Club, which beat the Toyota 86’s Scion counterpart in Motor Trend’s comparison. It comes with Bilstein dampers, sportier suspension components, a limited-slip differential, a strut-tower brace, and higher-performance tires. TFLCar sums it up best: “[p]ure driving joy.”
Ultimately, Jalopnik muses, what separates the NC Miata from its predecessors, and its ND successor, is intent. I admit that, while the NB can road-trip, it’s not necessarily the best at it. But with the NC’s wider seats and additional trunk and cabin space, long-distance touring is potentially less tiring. Outside of the Club model, the NC Miata’s appeal is meant to be broader, more daily-drivable. Whether or not that makes it a poorer MX-5 is up to your own personal definition.
Pricing and buyers guide
Luckily, as with the 996 911, the 2006-2015 NC Mazda Miata’s ‘black sheep’ status makes it relatively affordable. It’s possible to find a sub-100k NC Miata on Autotrader for noticeably less than $10,000. Club and special-edition models, though, due to their sportier features, do command a premium. Still, Autotrader lists several for under $15,000.
And if the stock suspension does annoy you, there’s plenty of aftermarket support from companies like Flyin’ Miata to fix it. There’s also no shortage of engine swap builds, including ones with Mazda’s own torquier 2.5-liter four-cylinder, which is practically bolt-on, R&T reports.
So, is the NC Miata really the worst one? That depends. Out of the box, it was softer-edged and more luxurious. But on the road, it’s no less fun than an NA, NB, or ND. It’s definitely part of the family.
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