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A 14-Year-Old Mazda Miata May Be Better Than a New One

Mazda's newest interpretation of their "Jinba Ittai" engineering philosophy for the Miata, which refers to perfect unity between a horse and rider, reflects this unity well enough that it had earned a slew of accolades, and made it onto the "Best Of" lists of a myriad magazines since it was released in 2016. However, there is an often-forgotten Mazda model from the early 2000's which may still have an edge over the new one: the factory-turbocharged Mazdaspeed MX-5 Miata.
Posted: June 13, 2018 - 10:38AM
Author: Max Marck

The two cars certainly have their various strengths and weaknesses, but if we're talking about two of the best Miata models in the roadster's history, it's a comparison worth looking into.

The Young Buck: 2018 Miata

The newest Mazda Miata is, without a doubt, a hall-of-fame quality work of automotive engineering. In contrast with the trend in many other segments of the market, the current iteration of this heavy hitting model is--well, not so heavy. In fact, what has given many the impression that the new car returns to the most fundamental aspects of the Miata is the visceral, intuitive driving experience which results from the 300lb diet which the car benefits from.

Float Like a Butterfly

Even over the older Mazdaspeed Miata, the new car has a 100 lbs advantage--a significant amount which the Mazdaspeed carries around. Neither of these cars is heavy, so seemingly small differences in weight can make a bigger difference than one might expect.

The Mazdaspeed's Secret Weapon

The Mazdaspeed doesn't seem to suffer terribly from the weight. The car feels taught and nimble, a signature characteristic of the Miata. The driving experience is exactly what you'd expect from the rear-wheel-drive, 6-speed manual autocross legend. In fact, it may be a little more than you expect, because an option which has not been available on a Miata before or since: a Turbocharger.

Still Kicking

The turbocharger which boosts engine output considerably is not a home-brew kit, it's a factory installed, purposefully engineered system, which pushes the horsepower number to a whopping 178bhp. That's 32 more than the non-turbo models, and--critically--23 more than the 155bhp 2018 model.

The Clash of (tiny) Titans

So how do the two stack up? To begin with the numbers, the 2018 Mazda Miata does edge out by about half a second in 0-60 times with a 6.1 second run, but times for the 2004 Mazdaspeed MX-5 vary from 6.4 to 6.7. The new car has a higher top speed, although the Mazdaspeed reaches its rev-limiter just 3 miles per hour shy of the 2018 Miata. In terms of measurable performance, these cars are very close.

The Mazda Driving Experience

The reviews of the Mazdaspeed vary quite drastically. While most reviewers agree that the car benefits from the additional power, many drivers saw the car as unrefined and harsh. Others wrote that the bare-bones feel of the car, and its stiff ride contributed to the pure driving experience. The new Miata has been almost universally applauded, although its drawbacks are similar: noise and a harsh ride. When either of these cars are in the bends, their native environment, the simple, even raw design starts to pay dividends.

The Verdict

Both the 2004 Mazdaspeed MX-5 Miata and the 2018 Miata have well-earned places among the great Miatas, and indeed the greatest sports cars. They both preserve the simplicity which sacrifices some comfort for a thrilling drive. For a 14-year old car, the Mazdaspeed competes remarkably well against a brand-new car, and a very good brand-new car at that. The extra horsepower is noticed the most in the mid-range, just as the turbo is starting to spool. From an enthusiast's point of view, the turbocharged engine provides a great platform for future modifications. The 2018 Mazda Miata has the light-weight advantage, but this has not been enough to ward off critiques that the car is underpowered, a criticism never levied at the Mazdaspeed.

A Close Call

Practical differences make this an unlikely buyer's guide. While the Mazdaspeed does seem to have a slight edge over the 2018 Miata, they are hard to find, and of course, will always have miles on them. This is not a problem when buying a new car, which is of course reflected in the price. I cannot tell you which is the better buy, although the decision may be made easier by the upcoming 2019 model, which is set to be the most powerful yet


Sean (not verified)    June 13, 2018 - 11:26AM

Here is why a 14-year-old Mazda Miata could be better. Same performance, marginally less comfort, half of the computerized bs to deal with. Simple.

Jack (not verified)    June 13, 2018 - 11:31AM

You must not know there’s not many computers in the mazda Miata ... computers are literally just for monitoring and protecting your car. In some cases enhancing features further than it can be mechanically. They’re more advantageous than harmful

Rick (not verified)    June 13, 2018 - 11:31AM

Here is why 14 year old Miata could be a better car vs a new Miata. Ease of repair, availability and cost of aftermarket parts.

Matthew (not verified)    June 13, 2018 - 11:34AM

Let's take stock to stock. If we are talking modding potential I could concede that because the ND is far behind the development of the NA NB still. Like aero etc. Testing. Total parts available. Etc. But I can’t buy the ND is worse than an NB stock. I’ve never let good drivers familiar with the older generations who haven’t loved my car immediately over theirs trim for trim.

Justin (not verified)    June 13, 2018 - 11:36AM

The simplicity of builds. I'd rather build and maintain Japanese sports cars from the 90s than any other decade. Partially due to a bias and partially due to the engineering put into them being maintainable and easily tunable. I don't buy cars for the end value. I buy cars I'm passionate about.

Matt (not verified)    June 13, 2018 - 11:41AM

Considering racecars and the significant advantage the NC holds over the NB alone (do I even need to mention the suspension advances of the ND over the NC). This is picking at straws at best. regardless I will find out as I have just made the switch from the NB to ND with track work in mind.

Brad (not verified)    June 13, 2018 - 11:45AM

Lighter, more simple, easier to work on, easier to diagnose when it breaks, much, much cheaper.. only ups I can think of would be interior comfort and suspension design.

Frank (not verified)    June 13, 2018 - 11:55AM

A 14 year old Miata will never be better than a new one. Each generation has been better than the previous.

Taylor (not verified)    June 13, 2018 - 12:46PM

Considering I’ve out paced much newer cars on track and in autocross in my stock powertrain 25 year old Miata, I’d say it’s not hard.

Justin (not verified)    June 13, 2018 - 12:48PM

Take them both for a spin. I never had an MSM but I've had a speed swap in my nb1. The ND doesn't have the same low end grunt, especially on the highway going 70mph.

Axel Foley (not verified)    June 13, 2018 - 10:08PM

In reply to by Justin (not verified)

MSM has different tuning than NBs, more low end torque and redline at 6500. Probably valve timing. Also, the MSM has a beefed up trans and stiffer suspension. I have both a '93 NA and an '05 MSM. The best I can say is : NBs are better cars, the NAs are better Miata's. The MSM is FAST.

Kelly C (not verified)    June 14, 2018 - 7:34AM

My 04 turbo is a blast to drive. Only 55,000 miles and it runs great. Every time I think about trading it in on a new one I change my mind after driving one. Nothing has compared to the acceleration of my 04.

Jim (not verified)    April 19, 2019 - 7:36PM

Sold my base '90 NA (97k) 6 mos. ago to snag a super deal on an MSM (150k). (both 9/10) I find the NA to be more comfortable, fun, easier to drive in normal every day. The MSM obviously runs circles around the NA in performance. It's twitchy fast, hard riding with about half the character. BOTH bring on a grin. Yeah. OK. I'm happy with the move.