Today I bring you all a very special gift. Yes, that’s right. The internet’s first ever Miata Review. And not just any Miata, Oh no. Today we’ll be diving into the unknown depths of MY Miata, proud recipient of Comment of the Day, honorary Jeep, and as many more other titles as there are stars in the night sky. Strap in.
(Disclaimer: Mazda wanted me to buy an NA Miata so bad, they used a combination of brilliant engineering and marketing to eventually make the Jalopnik crowd consider it “the answer”. When young me was exposed to Jalopnik.com, he quickly realized a Miata had to happen. The rest was history... )
Now, you’re probably wondering exactly what that gorgeous red blob above is. I don’t blame you. Built by Mazda in 1995, this was their exceedingly rare two seat roadster callback to a bygone age. All but impossible to find today, some say Mazda produced no more than a scant 100 individual cars for the entire world. Others put the total at somewhere north of 1,000,000. Shrouded in mystery. Unfortunately we’ll never know where the true production numbers lie. Suffice to say, each sighting of a wild Miata, be it any of the three generations in existence—NA, NB, and ND—is a life-changing experience akin to that of a Catholics first visit by the Pope. If you’ve yet to have been touched by the light, fret not. Let me show you the path of enlightenment.
Nary a sharp edge to be found from stern to bow. Smooth 90's styling in a stunningly preserved “freedom red” that looks pristine at ten feet. A closer look reveals minor bumps and bruises, some scratching, paint chips over the front driver’s side fender and a hint of white along the bumper from a directionally challenged neighbor whose parking endeavors are sitcom-worthy. This is a car equally at home atop the finest concours level auto show podium as it is conquering the Moab Rim in the dead of summer.
Pop-up headlights bring joy to the masses, and ironically obstruct forward vision when in use. A beefy gusseted x-brace rollbar is a much-needed dose of masculine style, but don’t mistake it for a style bar. Powder coated in a pearl metallic mid-sheen battleship—also know as grey—the bar doesn’t quite match the polished silver wheels or polished aluminium luggage rack.
Speaking of wheels, these rotate-o potatoes are 15x8 6ul’s, a wheel ubiquitous in the Miata scene and used on 95% of all track Miatas. Looks are a matter of personal taste, so I’ll just say that these wheels are hard to hate, hard to love. They look good. Not great. Not awful. They’re fine. No one buys them for their sexy styling, and if anyone says otherwise chances are they’re attempting to make a sale. Tires are either low pro race rubber in “wide as all hell” or gnarly snow driving spec in “fender chewing height,” depending on the season. Adjustable suspension allows for that nice fitment regardless of tire size.
The rear end is highly deserving of some attention as well. A restrained Fujitsubo catback exhaust (JDM, YO!) peeks from the bumper cutout and perfectly straddles the line between “stock” and “that guy who LS-swapped a Supra and has duel 4" side exhaust dumps behind the front wheels”. The taillights for the NA Miata are in some famous French museum as one of the 100 most beautiful designs in the world. No, I’m not making that up! I’m also not providing a link you lazy bums, you’re staying right here with me until the end.
Overall, the combination of stock Mazda design and aftermarket functional pieces has made this quite the looker. As long as the soft top is down...
The almost new soft to—
“Wait just a second... You put the rollbar in “exterior” and the soft top in “interior?” That doesn’t make a lick of sense!”
“Wassat? Yous gots a problems with the ways I be doing thingses..? Allright Zoidberg, me thinks someone’s in need of a knuckle sammich.”
As I was saying.... the Robbins soft top is about as luxurious as a Miata soft top gets. Vinyl, with a glass rear window and extra fabric for noise reduction (and headspace reduction). It’s by far the best Miata soft top I’ve ever seen, which is to say it’s easily 85% effective at stopping water from entering the cabin. Somehow it took Mazda 15 years to develop a soft top that wasn’t trailing behind an MG in functionality. Do you realize how insane that is as a Japanese automaker to benchmark a British car company in... Well, ANYTHING, and still lose the comparison? Shameful, Mazda.
So the overall interior is quite cramped. I’m currently 185 lbs at 6" with long legs and broad shoulders. Plus, tall hair. My head hits the roof. My knees touch the dash/steering column/wheel depending on positioning. My shoulder hits the door. I can’t heel toe at all due to knee clearance, despite the substantially smaller diameter Sparco wheel currently residing inside. Leg room is pretty good, I can almost straighten my knees out completely.
The seats are Bride fixed back lowpro buckets. The fit is best described as “hugged by your wife after a year overseas”. Yeah, it’s a wee bit tight. But it’s a good tight. Seat bottom pads have been removed for extra head room (drivers side), and an additional pad has been added for lumbar support. Perfectly comfortable for short trips, and certainly not awful for longer trips. I’ve had a girl fall asleep in one of the seats, so they can’t be that bad. Oh... Just remember to remove the wallet from your back pocket otherwise your ass will go numb after about twenty minutes. I should mention the harnesses. If a race seat is a hug from the misses, the harness is adding a hug from the mistress at the same time. 3" 4-point Schroth harnesses with a quick release button have proven to be fantastic for street use and I have no desire to ever use any other system in this car. Once you do it a few times, hooking in is quick and easy. I still need to buy shoulder pads so I can wear a tank top in comfort during the summer, but I’m not paying $160 for some fabric, Schroth. Bite me.
Steering wheel duties are split between the beater NRG, the gorgeous but high maintenance Italian suede MOMO and the flat-bottomed perforated leather Sparco. It’s a shame you can’t get a good looking wheel OEM anymore.
There are zero soft touch materials in the cabin. Hard plastic everywhere. You want to be coddled, you better build that interior up yourself. That said.... It’s certainly not a pit of sadness, like say, a Mirage. Everything is purposeful, and some things in the cabin exist for the purpose of adding style. Like the door cards, which are black brushed aluminum. Subtle, but they provide a quiet impact. Miata “M” speaker grill covers as well.
And last but not least, there’s one other interior addition that makes quite the difference.
Upon looking through the steering wheel, your weary eyes are graced with a beautiful Japanese cherry blossom theme carried across the five gauges, from fuel level to water temperature. In a true display of luxury, some of those gauges even work.
Audio is a real treat here. Highly acclaimed Polk Audio DB component speakers and a Rockford Fosgate 10" sub are powered by a four channel amp and mounted in an OEM+ fashion. The bass is crisp, and does not get muddled at any volume level you’d ever actually use. It’s surprisingly punchy, if not teeth rattling, and is very noticeable even with the top down. The mids are strong and truly fill the cabin, providing a perfectly clear tone to everything from Lamb of God, to Kendrick Lamar, to Victor Wooton. The highs are crisp without approaching shrill. Handled primarily by tweeters set a hair below shoulder level and firing at a slight upwards angle, these things really take the soundstage to the next level.
Cementing Mazdas position as a tier one luxury manufacturer, the Miata came standard with heating, defrosting, power windows, manual locks, and cruise control. Because simplify and add lightness, I’ve removed cruise control. Because I needed a place to mount my tweeters and oil/water gauges, I’ve removed heat. Overall a net gain.
Headlights are GM units with a twenty year no questions asked warranty. They will pay for shipping both ways and send you a brand new product. That’s service. There isn’t a better DOT legal 7" headlight in the world, and the price reflects that unfortunately.
And last but not least, the sound. This thing sounds great for a 4 cylinder. The fujitsubo Exhaust is pretty rare, so it’s also likely that I’ll never see another Miata with one. Here’s a quick clip in car
And outside the car
The NA8 engine is as indestructible as it is bland. 325,000+ miles, absolutely beat on and still kicking. This isn’t a high revving screamer, or a torquey monster. But it’s 135hp is sufficient to make this 2100lb gokart feel fast enough. 0-60 official time is 8.4 seconds. Mine has consistently clocked about 7.3 seconds due to a huge diet, gobs of grip and a questionable official time. Slow car fast.
Now... Cornering speed on the other hand... Absolutely phenomenal. On the summer setup, I’d bet my lifesavings on this over damn near any other new car on the market under $100,000. The suspension setup on this car uses the same components as the HyperMiata competing in Time attack unlimited. Just for a bit of comparison... That Miata is not only the fastest RWD car in its class, it also spanked the awd class as well. Imagine you’re a huge racing company with a half a million into your GT-R only to get dominated by a grassroots Miata build. Beautiful. So yes, between the suspension, 200tw tires, insanely low center of gravity, perfect weight balance and almost square track... This thing is a god damn demon in the curves. The tears of M3 and Brz owners trying to follow or pass me can attest to that.
There’s a reason the NA Miata is up there with the E30 M3 as a shining example of how to build a drivers car, and it sure as hell isn’t because of the power. Going from 6" all seasons to 8" race rubber lost me a bit of flickability, but gained me nearly limitless grip and near instantaneous directional input. You feel everything. There’s no ABS. No traction control. No computers controlling brake-based torque vectoring or launch control. You are at the wheel, and in control. A torsen limited slip helps you transfer power as needed. The connection is telepathic and for this reason alone I think a first gen Miata is the absolute most necessary car for an enthusiast to drive in their life.
Here’s something to consider. Imagine youre driving at 60mph and you suddenly turn your wheel all the way to one side. What happens? Chances are you’ll flip. The Mazda...? It’s so low, with so little body roll and such high grip that not only do you not lift, depending on the road conditions you may not even lose traction! You just... Change direction.
Now if you want some fun, it’s easy enough to get the tail sliding with some careful clutch use. My handbrake is garbage, so no e-brake turns for me.
4 piston lightweight Willwood calipers on each corner, with 11" disks. Braided lines, Willwood proportioning valve, new OEM master cylinder and more than enough stopping power to handle whatever I throw at the engine in the next few years. Pedal modulation feels great, unlike my super twitchy Outback. Brake dust is annoying on the front but fine in back (running different front and rear pads). The parking brake is insanely weak, I was told it’s a byproduct of the kit. Honestly, the parking brake is the only thing I’m not happy about, other than that the brakes are solid and I shouldn’t have to think about them at all outside of routine service.
The 5 speed found in early Miatas is the gold standard by which I rate all other manuals. They always say Honda had the market on solid manuals, but I’ve driven damn near a hundred 5 and 6 speed equipped Hondas in my life and not a single one came close to the Mazda gearbox. Very short throws, a short lever, and smooth as velvet, with just the right amount of solid *thunk* as you make it into gear. The best part? It can get better! There exists a short-throw shift kit that is absolutely shifting nirvana. The only issue is it’s insanely expensive.
Now where the gearbox shines, the clutch itself is average. Certainly miles better than the modern sporty cars like the ST twins and Gti (why do modern sports cars have such garbage clutch feel?) but nothing to write home about.
Perfectly safe until you crash. Next question?
Okay fine, I’ll give you a paragraph. It’s a tin can, and while the rollbar helps a bit, you’re still not walking away from an accident. Avoidance is key. With the top down, that’s easy, even with the reduced mobility and sight from all of the modifications. Top up? Well... Be careful on rainy nights. Other drivers will not see you. There’s no horn either. Before removing the bottom pads, my head was level with the rollbar which is no bueno. After removal and some seat position adjustments I’m two inches below. Hooray!
After pic: (imagine the top picture, but with less height)
Purchased originally for $2800. As a salvage-titled car with some issues, that was a bit high then. Today.... That’s probably a bit low. Values are unfortunately climbing. Cost of modifications so far is around $15,000 bringing the grand total to a bit under $20,000. Something worth mentioning is that many of the pricier parts can be resold for the exact same price as I paid for them, or even a bit more. I hope to never part this car out, but it is nice to know I could realistically get back the price of the car and about 80% of the money put into parts.
So... $20,000 all in. There’s not a single new car for that money that could even come close to touching this on the twisty mountain roads and tracks I love, while also being more than competent offroad and dirt cheap to maintain and insure. On the used market? I could get a nice, but certainly not perfect s2000. I love them, but realistically I’d be gaining a slight bit of straight line speed, losing a ton of curvy speed and moving to a platform that’s much more expensive to build. I could get a nice used Wrx or beat to shit STI for $20k, but the level of thrashing I put my car through would lead to some serious financial issues on the comparitely complex and fragile Subarus. I say that as a Subaru owner, so put down the pitchforks. No matter how I look at it, there’s no way I would have ended up with comparable performance for the money, without some deal-breaking compromises. I’m happy with my choice, and despite the obvious shortcomings of DD’ing a car like this, I’d do it over again in a heartbeat.