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Mazda MX-5 Miata Through The Years

Darrek Olson
mazda mx-5 miata through the years (2)

Mazda MX-5 Miata Overview

In 1990, there was a hole in the automotive market. The world had a hunger for an affordable true sports car, and Mazda filled that desire with 4 cylinders, popup headlights, and 116 horsepower. Known as the Miata in the US, the Mazda MX-5 is the most popular roadster of all time. Over the last 26 years, the Mazda MX-5 Miata has evolved, while sticking to the same formula. This legendary little car has been wildly successful by committing to affordability, simplicity, balance, and driver-centric fun. Rather than flexing testosterone, horsepower, and muscle, the Miata prides itself in simply showing drivers a good time on the road. Today, we’re taking a look back at the history of the Mazda MX-5 Miata through the years.

Mazda Miata Through the Years

1st Generation (1990 – 1997)

first generation miata

  • Introduced in 1989 as a 1990 model, the first Miata had a base price of $13,800.
  • Styling cues were very simple, rounded, and clean.
  • This 2,100 lb. Miata was powered by a 1.6L inline 4-cylinder engine that produced 116 hp.
  • The first Miatas could travel 0-60 in around 9 seconds.
  • The Miata relied on a 4-wheel double-wishbone suspension.
  • Power steering was optional, and a 5-speed manual came standard
  • In 1991, an optional 4-speed automatic was added.
  • The Miata’s engine grew in 1994 to 1.8L, producing 128 hp.
  • Mazda juiced 5 more horsepower out of the 1.8L engine in the 1996 model year.
  • The MX-5 phased out pop-up headlights in 1998, hinting at a new generation of the Miata.

Check out the 1990 Mazda MX-5 Miata Brochure to dig deeper into Miata history and nostalgia.

2nd Generation (1999 – 2005)

2nd generation mx-5 miata

  • In 1998, Mazda began selling the 1999 Miata.
  • Exterior design was slightly updated, with exposed almond-shaped headlamps and curvaceous sculpting.
  • While the chassis was virtually the same, the trunk size was increased.
  • Horsepower was bumped up to 140 hp, driving the new MX-5 to 0-60 in under 8 seconds.
  • A 1999 10th Anniversary Edition was released, with a 6-speed manual, a new exterior paint color, interior visual enhancements, firmer suspension, and more.
  • In 2001, Mazda updated the front fascia, headlights, and taillights.
  • In 2002, a 6-disc CD changer, leather seating, Vivid Yellow paint, and Laser Blue Mica paint were added as options.
  • The Mazdaspeed Miata was introduced in 2004, offering a turbocharged 1.8L engine that produced 178 hp.
  • The turbocharged Mazdaspeed Miata could travel 0-60 in under 6 seconds.

3rd Generation (2006 – 2015)

3rd generation miata

  • Mazda completely overhauled the MX-5 in 2006, while holding true to the same formula.
  • The Miata was now bigger both inside and out, growing to over 2,400 lbs.
  • Exterior design reflected the 1st gen Miata, with mostly smooth lines. Notable cues were subtle fender flares and a divot in the center of the hood.
  • The new engine was a 2.0L 4-cylinder that produced around 170 hp.
  • A 5-speed manual came standard, while a 6-speed manual and auto were optional.
  • In 2007, a power-retractable hardtop was added to the lineup.
  • For 2009, headlights, fascia, and taillights were refreshed.
  • Mazda updated the fascia again in 2013.
  • Mazda created and sold 100 25th Anniversary Editions in 2015. This edition featured hand-selected pistons, exterior and interior design enhancements, a serial number on the front fender (1-100), and much more.

4th Generation (2016 –          )

4th generation mazda mx-5 miata

  • The 4th generation, 2016 Mazda MX-5 Miata features sharp Kodo design cues, LED headlamps, and more of an aggressive stance (if the Miata could ever be called “aggressive”).
  • It’s powered by a SKYACTIV 4-cylinder that produces 155 hp and 148 lb ft of torque.
  • Drivers choose between a 6-speed automatic or manual transmission.
  • The 2016 Miata has recorded 0-60 times under 6 seconds.
  • Mazda switched from hydraulic steering to electric power steering.
  • To create a little more headroom, Mazda slightly lowered the seats and redesigned the roof.
  • While exterior dimensions are smaller, the interior and trunk are more spacious.
  • The cars weigh in at just over 2,300 lbs.
  • Manual transmission EPA estimate fuel economy is increased significantly to 27 mpg city and 34 mpg highway.
  • The power-retractable hardtop has been removed from the lineup for the time being.
  • The MX-5 Miata now comes with the latest active safety features like blind spot monitors and lane departure warnings.

“It’s [the 2016 Miata] reasonably priced, attractive and provides an ideal experience of driving a sports car. I felt every bump, careened around corners, felt the breeze in my hair (what’s left of it.) It’s sheer enjoyment. Is that what driving convertible is all about?” – James Raia, The Weekly Driver

Expert Interview

Tom Voelk, New York Times contributor and producer of Driven Car Reviews, still owns a 1990 Miata (purchased new) and recently spent quality time with the 2016 Miata. Here’s our interview with Tom, getting his take on Miata Fever and Mazda’s latest installment.

From your experience, what makes the Miata so legendary?

“No other manufacturer has stuck their neck out to make an affordable purpose-built sports car for the masses for so long. Corvette is too expensive, Honda abandoned it, Toyota never quite hit the mark with the Scion FR-S (now 86).”

What was most memorable about your time driving the 2016 Miata?

“That it reminded me of driving my original year Miata, only with a stiffer chassis structure and more refinement. The fact that the engineers kept the best parts and refined the rest is no small feat. It could have easily ended up larger, heavier and more expensive. Most cars end up that way, don’t they?”

Is the 2016 Miata worth the price tag? Why or why not?

“It’s a bargain. There’s really nothing else like it (until the Fiat Spyder hits the market anyway).”

What do you like or dislike about the interior of the 2016 Miata? 

“I like the interior. Just the right amount of polish but nothing too fancy. It really hits the right balance. Some don’t like the data screen, I’m fine with it.”

What do you like or dislike about the exterior design of the 2016 Miata?

“I’m on record that, to my eye, the taillights look out of place on the car and there’s a bit too much happening on the back end. I prefer very clean simple lines. That said, the car won design of the year at the NY Auto Show so who am I to judge, huh?”

What do you like or dislike about the performance of the 2016 Miata?

I wouldn’t change a thing. For those who want a bigger car with more horsepower, buy a Vette or Mustang. The MX-5 is all about balance and any kind of change would upset it. The manual shift action is among the best in the biz, regardless of price.”

Any other thoughts on the Miata, past or present?

I’m just happy to know this car is being built. Most manufacturers go only for mass markets these days. Mazda has been building this car for 27 years now and somehow managed to not screw with the secret sauce. It’s a gift. I’ve owned mine for 26 years and it’s never failed to put a smile on my face when I slip behind the wheel, even after driving cars that cost 4 times more. If something were to happen to it, I would walk over to the Mazda dealership and buy another.”

Owner Spotlight

Miata Owner“There are prettier Miatas out there, and faster Miatas, lower Miatas, and newer Miatas. But to me, this is the car that sparked maybe the biggest passion I’ve ever had. She taught me to drive stick, to autocross, to wrench on her, and showed me what it feels like to reap the benefits of your hard labor. I treat her well, and she returns the favor.” – JD Russo, 2000 Mazda Miata LS


Miata owner“I truly do consider this car my therapist, feeling down and out after a stressful day, just drive into the mountains and throw the top down. I’ve never bought a product that wholeheartedly changed my entire perspective on a topic. From what started as a fear of the road and what began as a chore has become something I yearn for, an absolute obsession, something I chase just to let go again to chase once more even faster.” –Moneeb Nain, 1991 Pearl White Mazda Miata



1st generation miata“I love my Miata and how it’s not your everyday car to see around here. It’s lightweight and loves going on canyon runs.” – Aaron Johnson, 1992 Mazda Miata





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Want your own MX-5? Search Mazda Miatas on Carsforsale.com to find the best deals near you.


Darrek Olson
Darrek Olson

Darrek is an enthusiast driver who values the journey more than the destination. A self-proclaimed Miata fanboy, his obscure knowledge of cars sometimes prevents him from remembering what he had for breakfast.

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