Sporty/performance car; Built in Japan
  • 2-door convertible
  • longitudinal front-engine/rear-wheel drive
Good condition price range: $1,600 – $4,400*


1996 Mazda Miata MX-5


1994 Mazda Miata MX-5


1994 Mazda Miata MX-5 interior


1995 Mazda Miata MX-5 engine


1994 Mazda Miata MX-5 R-Edition

Pros:
  • Acceleration (w/manual transmission)
  • Antilock brakes (optional)
  • Fuel economy
  • Steering/handling
Cons:
  • Cargo room
  • Road noise

The first-generation Miata still looks and feels as good as it did when it arrived in 1989. If you’re looking for an affordable, fun-to-drive sports car, there’s little need to search further.

Overview

The Miata performed an overnight resurrection in 1990 on what had previously been a virtually dead market–that of the affordable 2-seat roadster. Initial models arrived in one of three colors–red, white, or blue–with a powertrain consisting of a 116-horsepower, dual-cam 1.6-liter 4-cylinder and a 5-speed manual transmission. Late in the 1990 model year, a 4-speed automatic was added, which dropped the horsepower rating from 116 to 105. All models could be ordered with a removable hardtop. Standard first-year features included a driver-side airbag and a manual folding top.

Yearly Updates

1991 Miata
The most important change for 1991 was the availability of optional antilock brakes. ABS was offered as a stand-alone option and not part of any package.
1992 Miata
For 1992, mechanical and appearance changes were limited to a few convenience items.
1993 Miata
Minor trim and equipment revisions mark the fourth edition of the popular 2-seat convertible sports car.
1994 Miata
A larger engine, a passenger-side airbag, and some structural stiffening mark the first major changes to Mazda’s popular roadster since the Miata made its debut in 1990. The 1.6-liter engine gives way to a 1.8-liter unit. While the standard 4-wheel disc brakes have been enlarged, antilock brakes remain optional. Structural stiffening consists of new braces placed in the front and rear suspensions, as well as between the shoulder-belt anchors. Other changes include a new 12.7-gallon fuel tank in place of the 11.9-gallon unit and a new 7-spoke design for the optional alloy wheels. Arriving in the spring were two new versions of the Miata. The M-edition features both leather seating surfaces and wood trim on interior panels. Select the extra-cost R-edition and you find such performance upgrades as a sport-tuned suspension, limited-slip differential, alloy wheels, front/rear spoilers, and an “aero” rear skirt.
1995 Miata
The 1995 Miata returns with only minor changes.
1996 Miata
Like many cars, Mazda made changes inside both doors in order to meet 1997 federal standard for side-impact protection a year early. Along with structural changes to the doors, there’s a redesigned interior door panel with map pockets as an added feature. Underneath the hood, Mazda tinkered with the 1.8-liter engine to lower emissions, and in the process managed to squeeze out some extra horsepower and torque.
1997 Miata
The popular Miata convertible shuffles a few optional features, but is otherwise unchanged.
1998 Miata
The original Miata made a short run in anticipation of the spring 1998 arrival of a new model.

Engines

longitudinal front-engine/rear-wheel drive

The first Miatas arrived with an aggressive little 16-valve, 1.6-liter twin-cam 4-cylinder delivering 116 horsepower. While the power output seems small, so is the Miata–tipping the scales at just over 2100 lbs. Acceleration is lively, especially with the slick-shifting 5-speed. The automatic dropped both fuel economy and horsepower output for the 1.6-liter. The Miata also loses much of its spunk with the automatic. There’s just not enough torque to compensate. A larger 1.8-liter engine replaces the original 1.6-liter unit in 1994. The optional automatic also incorporates electronic shift controls. With the new powertrains, both manual and automatic transmissions deliver the same horsepower ratings–128 at 6500 rpm. Engine tuning to reduce emissions adds five more horsepower and four more pound-feet of torque for 1996, resulting in respectable outputs of 133 and 114.

dohc I4
Engine Size (liters/cubic inches) 1.6/97
Engine HP 105-116
Engine Torque (lb-ft) 100
Avail. Trans. EPA MPG (city/hwy) MPG avg. as tested
5-speed manual
4-speed automatic
24/30
24/28
26.7

dohc I4
Engine Size (liters/cubic inches) 1.8/112
Engine HP 128-133
Engine Torque (lb-ft) 110-114
Avail. Trans. EPA MPG (city/hwy) MPG avg. as tested
5-speed manual
4-speed automatic
23/29
22/28
21.9

Road Test

The Miata is lively, agile, simple, and fun-to-drive. While off-the-line acceleration is not terrific (0-60 in about 8.3 seconds), it shows flashes of brilliance in 2nd and 3rd gear, and it gets great mileage, with 25-27 mpg possible on a regular basis. The Miata maneuvers beautifully, is easy to handle, and hugs the road snugly. The ride can be choppy at times, given the fact body flex is the bane of all convertibles. Extra bracing added for the 1994 model year seems to improve the situation, however.

Though the prominent exhaust note isn’t inappropriate given the Miata’s mission, there are also above-average quantities of wind and road noise. The cozy cockpit has well-placed gauges and controls, plus enough space to give tall people adequate room, permitting full enjoyment of the car’s attributes. This is true despite the lack of any steering-wheel adjustment. Leg room is not a problem, but head room is tight.

One golf bag or a couple of gym bags and the tonneau cover are about all that will fit in the small trunk, which also holds the mini-spare. There’s also usable storage behind the seats (perhaps as much as afforded by the trunk).

Ratings

Model Tested: 1994 Mazda Miata

Ratings values are on a 1-10 scale, with 10 being the best. With the exception of Value, these numbers reflect how the vehicle compares against the universe of vehicles, not just against rivals in its class.

Performance

Acceleration - 5
50%
Fuel Economy - 5
50%
Ride Quality - 3
30%
Steering/Handling - 7
70%
Quietness - 2
20%

Accommodations

Controls/Materials - 5
50%
Room/Comfort Front - 4
40%
Room/Comfort Rear - 0
00%
Cargo Room - 1
10%

Other

Value - 8
80%

Total: 40

Specifications

2-door convertible
Wheelbase (in.) Length (in.) Width (in.) Height (in.) Weight (lbs)
89.2 155.4 65.9 48.2
Cargo Volume (cu/ft) Payload Capacity (cu/ft) Fuel Capacity (gal.) Seating Capacity
3.6 11.9n1 2
Headroom Legroom
Front Rear Front Rear
37.1 42.7
Safety Ratings

Model Tested: 1998 Miata 2-door convertible

NHTSA

(5 is the highest rating)

Front Impact Test

Driver Injury - 4
80%
Front Passenger Injury - 3
60%

Side Impact Test

Driver Injury - N/A
N/A0%
Rear Passenger Injury - N/A
N/A0%

HLDI

(A score of 100 is average. Lower is better)

Collision 104
Injury 92
Theft 116

Trouble Spots

Engine noise
Description: A ticking noise from the top of the engine is likely due to inadequate hydraulic lash adjusters for the valves. (1990-93)
Engine noise
Description: Valve tapping or clicking is caused by restricted oil flow through the hydraulic lash adjusters. Redesigned parts are available. (1990-93)
Oil leak
Description: Early models often developed an oil leak at the plug in the drain pan unless the plug was tightened by hand with the gasket squarely in place before snugging with a wrench. (1990)
Audio system
Description: If tapes get stuck in the Panasonic radio/tape player, the unit must be removed and sent to a factory service center. (1990)
Timing belt
Description: There is a revised, more-robust timing-belt tensioner pulley to replace the original. (1990-94)
Windows
Description: The windows may not fully open because a cable comes loose blocking the window’s travel. (1992-94)

Recall History

1990-91
Description: Rear turn-signal lamps may have insufficient amount of reflecting paint on inner surface.
1990-93 w/optional hardtop
Description: Plastic buckles on optional hoist accessory kit can break, causing hardtop to fall.
1991 w/ABS
Description: Return-fluid line of front-brake system on some cars is misconnected to return; when antilock comes into use, all fluid from front brakes goes to rear system, which may lead to increased stopping distance.
1995
Description: Airbag could deploy as a result of minor undercarriage impact.

Equipment Lists

Equipment lists are only viewable on larger screen sizes.

Pricing

Used-car pricing varies widely depending on local market conditions. Therefore, we recommend visiting websites that list used cars for sale to get a better idea of what a specific model is selling for in your area.