A Brief History of the Mazda MX-5 Miata: Exploring Four Generations of Driving Joy

With over 1,000,000 Mazda Miatas and MX-5s sold over the years, there’s a very good chance you’ve seen at least one of the four generations of roadsters. These cars have a cult-ish following and for a very good reason.

Over the four generations of Miata, there’s one thing you can count on: it’s going to be a lot of fun to drive. That all started with the first generation car, called the NA, which was sold from 1989 to 1997. It weighed practically nothing, just around 2,100 lbs. and under the hood was a small four cylinder engine. You can always tell a first generation model apart thanks to its pop-up headlights. Early models came with 1.6-liter four cylinder engines making around 115 horsepower, while later models came with a bigger 1.8-liter engine that made around 130 horsepower.

That doesn’t sound like much, but like that’s the point of the MX-5, its low power and low weight was paired to a rear wheel drive platform and convertible body style, making it one of the most fun cars on the road.

The process continued in 1998, when the second generation “NB” Miata debuted. Easily identifiable by its fixed headlights compared to the first gen’s pop-ups the second generation was also slightly bigger. It also looked a bit sleeker, but still packed that 1.8-liter four cylinder engine that, at its peak, made 146 horsepower. That’s good enough for this little roadster to hit highway speeds in under 8 seconds.

One interesting thing to point out about the second generation model is that you could also get a turbocharged version, straight from the factory. These Mazdaspeed models make a whopping 180 horsepower, helping them reach highway speeds in a little over 6 seconds.

In 2005, Mazda tinkered a tiny bit with the formula for the NC or third generation Miata. Now called the MX-5, it grew in proportions, and now featured a 2.0-liter four cylinder engine, that peaked at 167 horsepower.

Mazda also introduced a new model of MX-5, with a power retractable hard-top. This top could open or close in about 12 seconds and helped the MX-5 reach a whole new audience.

The fourth generation vehicle arrived in 2016 and returned to its roots, by offering a smaller, less powerful engine, but also arriving with less weight. Base 2016 models weighed in at around 2,300 lbs, and use a new 2.0-liter four-cylinder engine that makes 155 horsepower. Despite the lower power, this car was still very fast. Around the AutoGuide test track it managed to set a lap time that was three seconds faster than the outgoing model.

For 2017 Mazda is bringing back a hard top model, but this time it has a bit more flair. Called the RF for retractable fastback, this upcoming model is an absolute stunner. You can get your hands on it early next year.

With over 1,000,000 Miata’s and MX-5s sold, it’s the most popular convertible ever, and based on our experiences on the Millionth Miata Tour, it’s clear that the enthusiasm of this car knows no bounds. One thing is for sure, over the years, Mazda hasn’t dared stepped away from the winning formula of its roadster, and each generation of the car delivers pure driving enjoyment.

The Millionth Miata Celebration Tour concludes this Saturday and Sunday at Mazda Raceway Laguna Seca in Monterey, California. For full details on tour’s last stop, check out our Millionth Miata Celebration Tour Hub. And if you take photos, you can become a part of the conversation by sharing them here and on Instagram using the #MX5Movement hashtag.

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