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While most automakers have one or two rough models across their lineups each year, Mazda generally stays out of the fray. Its approach to engineering and scaling their manufacturing all seem guided by consistency. The Japanese automaker’s cars aren’t always the most exciting on the market, but they’re almost always among the best buys for the average consumer.

The one-time cork-maker turned powerhouse motor company got started making vehicles aimed squarely at Japanese commercial use. That may explain their approach to consistent engineering that persists to this day. But even among the most no-drama lineup of cars—perhaps of all time—there can only be one Mazda dubbed the best of all time.

The consensus pick for Mazda’s best

Mazda has an interesting history in the automotive business. Its interest in racing has led to all sorts of prototypes, some of which were further developed into consumer vehicles. It regularly collaborates with other automakers, sharing their sometimes oddball designs and helping elevate the entire industry.

Consider Mazda’s dedication to the rotary engine. The remarkable 787B prototype racing car used the nearly ancient Mazda rotary engine platform as late as 1991. That same year, the unique race car won the 24 Hours of LeMans.

But in the consumer space, being historically notable isn’t enough. There’s one Mazda that Goodwood Road & Racing reports as the top pick among car aficionados: the MX-5.

The history of the best Mazda

The Miata was a risky proposition for Mazda. Small roadsters were a moribund category in 1989, when the MX-5 debuted at the Chicago Auto Show, Autoweek reports. After years of eye-wateringly expensive models slowly dropping out of the market, Mazda took their shot at revitalizing the niche.

The basic design principles were to keep the car light, and balance the weight between the front and back halves of the car. This balance makes technical driving maneuvers more accessible than most vehicles, including far more expensive sports cars that prioritize comfort or roominess.

That’s part of why the Miata has been a popular choice for racing throughout its entire run. Today’s MX-5 (ND) is the fourth generation chassis, which first emerged in 2015.

It’s somehow even smaller and lighter: 4 inches shorter, with 20 lbs. shaved off. Boosted by Mazda Skyactiv technology, it’s one of the most fuel-efficient sports cars available. 

The world’s favorite Mazda has many models that people love for different reasons

According to Car and Driver, the Miata attracts so much praise in part because of how little it has changed since its 1989 debut. It was a truly global effort, the product of Mazda’s American studio. The MX-5’s rear-drive, front-engine design takes heavy inspiration from British sports cars.

The Miata took the 1990s by storm thanks to all of the above. It was like driving something out of James Bond, when many automakers were ignoring that niche. It’s small, almost frustratingly so, but that’s part of its charm. This is a car that catches attention: a sports car that’s as fun to drive as it is to look at.

To this day, the formula has largely remained the same. Small, performance that seems to outpace its on-paper specs, and small lineups with yearly limited editions. That’s why it’s so hard to pick a consensus favorite among the entire run of the MX-5—everybody has their own favorite. And another big divide is coming soon:  in 2025, the first hybrid Miata will roll off the production line.


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