The original Mazda Miata brought driving enjoyment to the masses. Like the great British and Italian roadsters before it, the Miata offered the full wind-in-your-hair experience, but it did so without all of the reliability problems suffered by the european cars. It was a simple, affordable, enjoyable machine. They basically materialized fun, and gave it four wheels.
Some have criticized the Miata for being soft as a sports car, though, even saying that it isn’t really a sports car at all. For the original NA Miata in stock form, I have to I agree. It’s a lot of fun, and is surely a great roadster, but a stock NA Miata lacks the handling composure that really defines a true sports car.
As the Miata has grown and evolved over the years, Mazda has worked to make it more of a sports car, while keeping it a great roadster as well. When I took the new ND Miata out for a spin, it became clear that Mazda has finally found the right balance for the total Miata experience.
In some regards Mazda has taken the Miata back to its roots. In other ways it has benefitted from many modern technological improvements. All in all, I am confident in saying that it is the best Miata they’ve ever made. Here’s why…
It no longer lacks in performance
Mazda has gone over and above with their new SKYACTIV-G engine in the ND Miata. It has variable valve timing (or “VTEC” to noobs) on both its intake and exhaust camshafts with a trick new ECU acting as the brain. The result is a naturally aspirated 2.0L four-banger with some mid-range performance that you wouldn’t believe.
Older Miatas all required you to rev the hell out of them to see any decent performance. In the ND Miata, things are very different. Anywhere above 3500 rpm you’ve got meaningful punch that goes all the way to redline.
This makes the ND’s performance much easier to access in real world driving. It feels a whole lot more willing to get up and go fast. I was even able to pass people on the highway without downshifting from 6th gear.
Where the original Miata’s straightline performance was laughable, even dangerously slow at times, the ND Miata Club’s performance is actually quite serious now.
From the driver’s seat the Miata feels pretty darn quick, especially in 2nd and 3rd gear. It gives you a nice kick in the butt when you get on the gas, and it has no trouble at all accelerating past what we’ll call “reasonable highway speeds”… something that could not be said of the original Miata.
Motor Trend’s performance test yielded 0-60 mph in just 5.8 seconds and a 1/4 mile run of 14.5 sec @ 94 mph. Not bad at all for a car with only 155hp. Those brisk numbers come thanks to significant weight savings and a wonderful close-ratio gearbox.
Speed wise, the Miata is a little quicker than a Subaru BRZ or a Civic Si, and it wouldn’t be too far behind a Volkswagen GTI. Very competitive performance at it’s price point.
Significantly Better Fuel Economy
The new SKYACTIV G engine also gives the ND Miata a significant bump in fuel economy over all previous generation Miatas. Those who know Miatas will know that the fuel economy has pretty much remained the same over the years, with real world averages around 27-28 MPG. Owners of ND Miatas are reporting averages of around 33 MPG in real world driving. Thats roughly a 20% increase.
But wait, theres more! Previous Miatas can reach into the low 30 MPG range if you try to drive for fuel economy. The ND Miata, on the other hand, has proven able to surpass the 40 MPG mark. Ten years ago you needed a Toyota Prius to do that, now you can do it in a car that’s actually worth driving!
I think this is a huge achievement for the ND Miata. It helps to further justify buying one because it can double as an “economy car” as well as a sports car.
A True Sports Car Experience
In many regards, Mazda makes the ND Miata just as I modified my old NA Miata to be. The ND Miata Club has a solid suspension, performance brakes, and, most importantly, some decently sticky 205-section tires all around.
On the road, there is still a good bit of body roll as you enter a corner, but then the chassis settles into a beautiful balance. I found it similar to the handling of an old-school BMW, if even a bit tighter.
I actually enjoy having some body roll in a Miata on the street because it enhances the feeling of connection with the road, and it makes me really “feel” like I’m hauling ass… whether I am or not.
Those seeking to partake in autocross or trackdays may want to stiffen up the suspension. But for use on the road, I love it just the way it is. You see, aside from being able to “feel” the road more, the softer suspension also gives the ND Miata a very comfortable ride – great if you plan to do any commuting with it.
In terms of driving dynamics, the ND Miata aims to please.
Like most modern cars, it has electric-assisted power steering, so it doesn’t feel as analogue as the original Miata. But it makes up for it with razor sharp response and pinpoint accuracy. It feels similar to the steering in a Porsche 911 or Boxster, which is about as good as electric-assisted steering can be.
Running through the gears is a total pleasure. The Miata’s gear shift is nice and crisp, with a medum throw. The engine gives off a satisfying hum as the revs climb. And the wind blows through your hair with increasing vigor as the speed piles on.
The clutch pedal is light, with firm engagement. The brakes are immediate and solid. And the engine revs willingly.
The chassis feels extremely solid at higher speeds, I’d even say it feels relaxed on the highway. Where cruising at 80mph in my old NA Miata felt like I was giving her everything she’s got, the ND Miata seems to barely lift a finger. Part of it is the chassis and part of it is the new engine’s mid-range punch, the 2016 Miata is a pleasant highway cruiser.
So the new Miata is a capable sports car when you push it hard, but also remains a supple roadster when you don’t. I love the fact that, despite its high performance capability, it’s still just as happy to cruise along at 35 mph as the original Miata was. I’m very glad they didn’t try and turn it into some hard-edged thing like a Honda S2000 or a Subaru BRZ. The Miata’s character has always been friendly and joyful, a perpetual state of Nirvanna, if you will.
Now it’s just a state of Nirvanna that is happy to run around with its pants on fire, too.
How does the ND Miata compare to the original NA Miata?
Right after driving the ND Miata, my friend Shane and I spent the afternoon cruising around in his lightly modded NA Miata to compare the two cars.
My biggest takeaway was not the differences between them, but more how similar they feel when chucking them around on the road. It comes right down to the weight of the ND returning to the level of the orgininal NA. In light cars like these, an extra 200lbs is a difference you’ll feel, and that extra weight was the biggest complaint with the previous-gen NC Miata. Mazda has taken the ND back to where it belongs.
Simplicity was also a trademark of the original Miata, with a manual folding soft top and not much other than a basic radio to distract you from driving. The new Miata does have a touchscreen infotainment system, which can connect with your gadgets and apps, but other than that, the it keeps to the original’s beautiful simplicity. I love how quick and easy it is to put up or down from inside the car. I’m one of those people who will drive around top-down right until the rain starts to pour, so it’s nice to know I can throw up the roof in just a quick second or two.
In terms of differences, many would say part of the fun of the orginal Miata was that it was a total “momentum car” with very little straight line performance at all. It required the driver to get the most out of it, even just to merge onto the highway safely. I won’t deny that was a fun, even endearing, trait of my NA Miata. But at the same time, I’d be lying if I said the ND Miata’s increased speed didn’t make it a much more appealing sports car package.
Dollars and Sense
The ND Mazda Miata Club is a lightweight convertible sports car that is quick enough to excite and can touch 40 MPG. There aren’t many other cars like it for any money, let alone for around $30,000. So it’s a great purchase to make if you’re looking for all of those features.
The only other car like the Miata on the horizon is the new Fiat 124 Spider, which shares the exact same chassis and many parts with the Miata. The difference is the 124 Spider has the turbocharged engine from the Fiat 500 Abarth under its hood. Stock performance won’t be too different, but the turbo engine will certainly be more tuneable with aftermarket mods. That said, the Miata will likely be the more reliable option of the two. So choose what matters most to you.
For anyone looking for a brand new car, or if you wouldn’t be stretching your budget, the NA Mazda Miata Club is one of the best ways you could spend around $30,000. In terms of smiles per mile, I don’t think any other new cars in the same range can even come close.
The hardest thing to sell about the ND Miata is that it is a $30,000 Miata. You can buy a decent NA Miata for 1/10th of that price, and you’d still get to have the same top-down fun on sunny days. Obviously the maintenance on a 20+ year old NA Miata will be far more of a hassle than it would be for a brand new ND Miata. But even if you want a totally reliable newer Miata, you can still have a solid NC Miata with under 50,000 miles on it for around $15,000, or less.
That makes the ND Miata a tough sell for anyone willing to look used. Yes, the ND is a better car in many ways, and it may very well be worth springing for. But the value for money factor has to come into play here for any thinking buyer. If you’re stretching your budget to afford the $30,000, then I’d say the ND Miata probably isn’t worth it over a decent NC Miata. Just wait a couple years and there will be much more value in used ND Miatas.
Full disclosure: I’m currently considering the possibility of buying an ND Miata Club, but this is the hangup I’m having, especially with the other used cars I could have for the same budget… cars that have already done most of their depreciating.
All that said, I do think the ND Mazda Miata Club is a great buy for many people, maybe even myself. Adjusted for inflation, it actually costs even less in relative terms than the original Miata did back in 1990. No other car will do everything the ND will do for the money. Buying an older Miata for less money requires compromise in many regards.
So weigh your options…
I was totally captivated by this car when I drove it. If you have one thing to take away from this review, just know that the ND Miata Club still feels like Mazda managed to fashion a car out of pure joy.
Sure, it’s faster, more efficient and more well-rounded as a sports car, but those improvements are all piled on top of it’s identity as a Miata at heart.
The Mazda Miata is still the blissful roadster it always has been, and now it’s better than ever.
PS: A very special thanks to Hamilton Mazda for providing me with the gray 2016 Miata for this review. Contact Neal Simon to get behind the wheel of an ND Miata for yourself!
MoM Score: 2016 Mazda ND Miata
Primary Function: Performance: 2
Secondary Functions: Fuel Economy(2) Practicality(1): 1.5
Visual Appeal: 2
Build Quality: 2
Value for Money: 2
Final Score: 9.5 /10