Four generations in, is the NA Miata still the best answer?

David S.
By David S. Wallens
Jan 7, 2024 | Mazda, Miata, Mazda Miata, Garage Rescue Miata, NA Miata | Posted in Features | From the May 2023 issue | Never miss an article

Photography Credit: David S. Wallens

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We lived through the ’80s and ’90s and spent a lot of time with the era’s greatest hits–drove them, raced them, even knew them when they still had that new car smell. We fondly remember shopping for Kamei air dams, Hella lamps and 14-inch tires.

But were the cars of those times really that rad? 

We wondered that ourselves, so we ditched the rose-colored glasses for a few to take a look back. Were they all winners, or did a few duds get released? Let’s slip on some Vans, break out the vinyl and take a trip back in time.

This week, we're looking back at the original NA-chassis Mazda Miata.

My arrival at GRM coincided with the welcoming of our latest project car, a 1994 Miata. And not just any Miata, but the track-ready Miata R, complete with factory stripes. This was the one that traded the creature comforts for the Torsen rear, Bilstein suspension and aero add-ons. 

I can’t recall autocrossing this one much–J.G. took a trophy with it at the SCCA Solo Nationals–but I remember taking it on late-night drives. I was smitten. I had seen the Miata at the New York Auto Show, but the experience surpassed those dreams, even if at legal speeds. 

Four years later, I bought my own from an Orlando Chevy dealer: $6850 for a 1992 fitted with the A Package, so leather steering wheel, cassette deck and the Daisy alloys. The odometer showed about 64,000 miles. 

[Project Car: 1992 Mazda Miata]

Between 1999 and 2001, we built it out as a magazine project. Using Jackson Racing bolt-ons plus Ed Senf’s special tuning, we boosted horsepower at the wheels from 92 to 112–pretty impressive for the day. 

Two years ago, I pulled the Miata from its eight-year slumber. The Garage Rescue Miata has been getting regular online updates since, and we recently ran our 24th autocross since rekindling the relationship. 

Verdict: Despite newer and faster options, the Miata remains the answer to most of life’s questions.

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Comments
alfadriver
alfadriver MegaDork
7/6/23 9:04 a.m.

The one part you get wrong is the specific NA part. It should be any one that fits in your overall budget. And can find. I think they are all just that good. 

Keith Tanner
Keith Tanner GRM+ Memberand MegaDork
7/6/23 10:53 a.m.

Doesn't that '92 project car also have a Flyin' Miata Link ECU? That's where most of the power gains came from.

An NA in good stock condition is something everyone should experience. I took a customer along in my survivor 1990 on one of our tours during the FM Summer Camp and it was the first time he'd ever been in an NA that wasn't a rat. It's easy to forget how good they feel when they're not rattling and shuddering and constantly bottoming out and cosmetically challenged. Heck, I'd forgotten and I know!

DirtyBird222
DirtyBird222 PowerDork
7/6/23 2:23 p.m.
Keith Tanner said:

Doesn't that '92 project car also have a Flyin' Miata Link ECU? That's where most of the power gains came from.

An NA in good stock condition is something everyone should experience. I took a customer along in my survivor 1990 on one of our tours during the FM Summer Camp and it was the first time he'd ever been in an NA that wasn't a rat. It's easy to forget how good they feel when they're not rattling and shuddering and constantly bottoming out and cosmetically challenged. Heck, I'd forgotten and I know!

Remember that clean 94 I had for sale for my parents? My mom now drives that more than her C6 Corvette and it's no longer for sale. I still think my S2000 is a better car by leaps and bounds but I love driving that NA around whenever I'm at their house. 

And like you said, you just don't see clean ones around anymore. I think as a family we'll collectively hold on to this one for that sake alone. 

bmw88rider
bmw88rider GRM+ Memberand UberDork
7/6/23 7:54 p.m.

I have had a few as Keith know. I will say my 94 with just koni's and a FSB set up for ES was an absolute blast.

My MSM with bolt ons and a proper ECU sure is a ton of fun and has been a great add to the stable.

The few clean, unmodified NA's that remain command higher and higher prices while the early ND's are going to hit the bottom of their depreciation curve in the next 5 years. Nostalgia aside, the ND1 is a superior car in every way and they can now be had well below $20k. 

z31maniac
z31maniac MegaDork
7/7/23 9:44 a.m.

I haven't had a chance to drive an ND, but tracked an NA and an NB. Had a few NCs, but never got a chance to track either. 

The NC is definitely a better street car than the first two gens. And I've never understood the "NCs are too fat" either. The base models are lighter then Mazdaspeed NBs. And have much more power/TQ than the normal NBs.

Keith Tanner
Keith Tanner GRM+ Memberand MegaDork
7/7/23 10:42 a.m.

In reply to z31maniac :

But they are bigger and feel bigger. That's a selling point to some, a problem for others.

The ND feels more like an NA. I've personally never wanted an NB or an NC for my personal fleet, but I want an ND to go with my NAs.

Regardless, other than the headline, this article wasn't a "the NA is the best Miata" article. It's part of the series on cars from the 80s and 90s, and the NA is the only Miata that really falls in that category so it's about the NA.

Tom1200
Tom1200 PowerDork
7/7/23 11:13 a.m.

As an old car guy I'd have to say I like the NA the most.

The ND is phenomenal but it's not really a slow car anymore (14 second 1/4 mile and 140-145 mph). It's not really a fast car in todays terms but again it's not slow.

If I were to buy a Miata now it would be an NB or NC simply because my wife would actually ride in it if we went somewhere.

RyanGreener (Forum Supporter)
RyanGreener (Forum Supporter) Reader
7/7/23 1:37 p.m.

I guess I am in the weird camp. I think the NB Miata is just a better version of the NA Miata. The ND is the best street Miata, but is expensive but also has electric assist steering which is a turn off to some, which leaves the NC as the next best street Miata.

Keith Tanner
Keith Tanner GRM+ Memberand MegaDork
7/7/23 2:29 p.m.

Technically, the NB is an evolved NA. There's not much argument there. I personally don't like the styling direction taken in the interior but it's a better car by most objective measurements.

The 16-17 soft top NDs had a lesser steering rack than all other NDs, with a dead spot in the middle. They all benefit from a proper alignment. Then the steering is quite good, but it does have a different feel than the hydraulic. 

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