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Mazda’s perfect little sports car, the MX-5 Miata began life in 1989 and hasn’t changed much. Fundamentally, it’s always used a front mid-mounted naturally aspirated inline-four, powering the rear wheels, under a soft top and two seats, with a manual transmission in between. Owners always praise its “50/50” weight distribution. Indeed the car handles like a dream. There’s certainly not enough power to satisfy V8-bred shenanigan mongering, but for its lightweight platform, the engine has almost always had enough power to conjure a ton of fun behind the wheel. Here’s a look at what each generation had to offer.

NA Generation: lightest Miata ever made

1990 Mazda MX-5 Miata on display in Chicago
1990 Mazda MX-5 Miata on display in Chicago | Timothy Hiatt/WireImage

At first Mazda was to copy Toyota’s MR2 layout, which was rear-mounted, rear-wheel-drive. Thankfully Mazda opted for the front-engine mounting. NA Miatas started with 1.6-liter inline-four engines producing 114 horsepower, and ended with 1.8-liters producing 133 horsepower, and an optional Torsen limited-slip differential. Not bad for a car that weighed just over 2,100 pounds. 

The interior is as tight as can be expected. Taller drivers should be aware that the top edge of the windshield has a good chance of smacking them in the forehead if they aren’t careful. There were a few special editions peppered into the NA generation. One of which hit the 1993 model year, dubbed the Limited Edition (LE). It got aluminum wheels and Bilstein suspension, along with a few other aesthetic choices like a body kit and red seatbelts. 

NB Generation: the Miata XKR

The Mazda Miata MX-5 and Jaguar XKR parked outside
The Mazda Miata MX-5 and Jaguar XKR | David Cooper/Toronto Star via Getty Images

After 10 years the NB generation arrived, with a different but not necessarily new look. The popup headlights were ditched for fixed sideways tear-drops, and the body seems sleeker and closer to a stubbly Jaguar XKR. NB Miatas got the same 1.8-liter engine but with 140 horsepower, mated to a five-speed transmission as standard. 

2001 saw a few changes, notably to the engine which made 155 horsepower. Other changes included 15-inch wheels and variable valve intake timing. Special editions once again featured for this generation, including 16-inch aluminum wheels and a six-speed manual transmission.

One of the biggest special editions to ever hit a Miata came in 2004, in the name of Mazdaspeed. This edition turbocharged the engine to send 178 horsepower to a torque-sensing limited-slip differential, perched the car on 17-inch wheels, and stiffened and lowered the suspension. 

NC Generation: heavy but powerful

NC Miata on display
NC Miata on display | Getty Images

The third “NC” generation Miata featured the car’s biggest departure from its original style. Arguably one of the ugliest Miatas, it performed better than the previous two generations. Its engine was upgraded to 2.0-liters pumping 170 horsepower to the rear wheels, and used a timing chain instead of a belt, as was the case with previous generations. The Miata leapt into a more elegant class with the NC generation, especially considering its retractable hardtop models in 2007. 

The NC Miata went largely unchanged until 2013 when it got the Club trim. It gave the car a sixth gear for manual versions, as well as a limited slip differential and sport-tuned Bilstein suspension. 

ND Generation: back to classic Miata roots

2017 Mazda MX-5 RF
2017 Mazda MX-5 RF | Getty Images

The Miata’s latest generation brought the car back to its roots. Its shorter than NA Miatas and almost as light. It looks more aggressive than any other Miata, with sharp contours and an angry front end. It looks unique from all other generations. However, it retains almost the same sensations. 

Its interior is just as cramped, but the throttle and steering are just as responsive. It’s a more solid, complete package than ever before. Mazda made few changes to the ND, save for in 2019 when it upped the horsepower to 181, and raised the redline to 7500. It’s more than enough power for the platform

Is any one generation better than the other?

Mazda MX-5 Miata NB driving on the street
Mazda MX-5 Miata NB driving on the street | Getty Images

A lot of factors go into deciding which generation Miata to purchase. The first generation is the lightest, but also the least powerful. The most recent is almost as light, far more powerful, but also many more times as expensive. The NB seems to be a good compromise between adequate, yet affordable power. Its style isn’t as unique as the current, or even the NC generations, but it handles just as well as the others. Whichever generation you choose, you can’t really go wrong.


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