Recently I purchased used Mazda MX-5 2007, a third generation Miata, known as NC. The car has spent most of its time parked in a garage or a barn of the previous two owners and it has only 12,000 kilometres on it. Needless to say, it is almost new for the exception of a rock chip on passenger side mirror, few tiny scratches and couple of small dents – which have most likely originated from opening a door in a tight space.
Now, I always liked cars, however I never had an opportunity to dive into car culture and own some fun cars. I guess, one can say I was theoretical car enthusiast watching from a sideline. My past car ownership list is very short and consists of cheap, utility oriented vehicles that a friend of mine dubbed: “fridges”. Priority wise it’s always been: reliability, practicality, cost of ownership, price tag and I believe there is nothing wrong with that. However over the years I always dreamed of buying some light rear-wheel drive sports car that will be relatively cheap to buy, own, maintain and absolutely fun to drive. So how did I end up with a Miata? Well because the answer is always “Miata”. As fun as it is to perpetuate the meme, there is simply nothing else out there to satisfy all of the criteria, but let me explain.
Only a few to consider:
There are lots of cars on the market, starting with my favourite Kia Rio and all the way to super cars such as Lamborghini. However once you apply roughly $25,000 (USD) price range and rear wheel drive with manual transmission requirement, you will end up with fairly limited options:
- BMW 2 or 3 series (may be)
- 124 spider
Now, I never had much interest in BMWs, mostly due to monetary constraints. I drove a Mustang a while back and never felt a connection to the car. Camaro, I never tried but it doesn’t strike me as light weight car at 1,500-1,800 kilograms. 124 spider is a blast and I drove the old one (which reminded me of a Lada to some degree) and a new one (which I loved), however I couldn’t get passed the Fiat engine, which does not strike me as very reliable. Nissan 370Z is very appealing but dated and not light weight. Finally we end up with only Miata and GT86/BRZ. I drove both and this is where things get tough – both are good cars and I can see myself in either one. At this point I had to figure out my priorities, because the choice would come down to what I value more: practicality vs open top, boxer vs inline-4, devil I didn’t know vs devil I knew.
The devil I knew
About 5 years ago, friend of my wanted to buy a fun car. His budget was very limited but he was determined not to buy a “fridge”. After some searching he purchased Mazda Miata NB 1999 – base model with no options. It was old and rusted underneath. He drove it everywhere year around. We car-pooled in it for over a year, every day – sun, rain, snow, ice – doesn’t matter. The car impressed me, despite being, well, tired. It was fun all around. You can throw it into corners, you can floor it all the time, you can cruise it, you can easily wrench on it, it was just fun all around and at very small cost, not to mention it was speed safe – reap it through gears and you are still within acceptable speed limits.
Does it fit?
I heard about Mazda’s philosophy: “jinba ittai” – “rider and horse as one” but always though that it was marketing. Well, not in case of Miata. I think what finally drove me to it was exactly “jinba ittai”. Miata is not a practical car, hell, not everyone can even fit into it. It is not quiet or that comfortable either. But the ride feeling is awesome – every time I think to myself – “look at it, it is useless”, I drop the top, drive it and nothing else matters. But before I committed, I had to think through one final consideration: will it fit into my life? I have a family, small child, drive to work is 40 minutes on highway and I don’t have luxury of spending $24K+ on a car that might not workout when push comes to shove.
Right off the bet: my wife has a nice family car and she was ok with me buying a two seater since I can still pick up our baby from daycare. So I got down to research, as I live in Ontario, I found out that a child can ride in the front seat as long as airbag on passenger side is disabled. Good news since Miata (NA, NB, NC) allows you turn off passenger airbag with a simple turn of the key. Next I called friend of mine and asked if I can take his NB (second generation Miata) for a test drive. I took it on highway and within 20 minutes figured out: it will wear me out as a daily drive. Now I think NB is awesome car, but I have few issues with it. First and most important – I don’t fit quite right into it – I’m simply a little too tall and a bit too fat for it. Second the car is too bouncy for my taste – it is fun to drive it around, but every single day to work and back is too much for me. Yes it is possible to remedy all the issues by modifying stressing wheel (so it doesn’t saw off “important stuff”), add structural bracing and roll cage (for safety), adjust suspension for more comfort and few other things, but in my mind it was just too much.
Another friend told me to look at NC and I was feeling uneasy about it – mostly due to bias on the internet (and remember whatever you read on the internet must be true). NC is the black sheep of the family, no one wants it – it is too long, too heavy, too ugly, too Fordy and whatever else one can come up with. I personally never tried one and figured “what the heck”. It took me a while to find one for sale in my area, but once I got into it I instantly knew – I can live with it.
NC interior is bigger, more space for legs, steering wheel to body clearance is decent and I could heel-toe. Hard-plastic is not my favourite, but on the bright side it doesn’t require much maintenance and probably will not crack under the sun. But what about the drive? The drive is as engaging as ever, you are still positioned low to the ground, power delivery is nice, linear and definitely more powerful, shifts are crisp and it is ready to be thrown into any corner. There is a difference between NB and NC, you can definitely feel it and one can argue that NC is softer and less engaging but on the flip side it is considerably more civilized. You can most definitely daily drive it on the highway, it doesn’t wear you out as much. It is easier to take on road trips and if you want to harden it, change suspension to your liking. Not to mention that there are ton of performance options and ability to swap for 2.5 litre engine from Mazda 6.
In maintenance department NC is very similar to NB. Jacking points are basically the same, reaching for oil filter is a pain the in ass in both (when NB has air conditioning). Changing transmission & diff fluid is the same, coolant replacement is similar, spark plugs change is similar but easier in NB. Prices on all the parts are very reasonable and remember NC has been in production for a long time – there is big aftermarket availability and all the mods one’s heart desires.
I purchased NC during covid-19 pandemic and didn’t get to drive it much. I did all the maintenance and had some fun rides along with my 4 year old child – she loves cornering and open top. I didn’t have a chance to daily drive it to work and back 5 days per week, and so, much is left to be discovered. So far I have no regrets and will post more thought in the future as I get to drive it more.