The first generation of the Mazda Miata has been jokingly referred to as a hairdresser’s car. This was largely due to its puny size and cute demeanor. However, the first generation Miata’s reputation slowly evolved over time. People realized after a while that the car actually handled pretty well. Car enthusiasts started to take notice. These days, the car is praised as one of the best handling cars of all time.
With it’s almost perfect 50/50 balance, the car is recommended as the car to get for any enthusiasts looking to get a car out to the track. I finally got the opportunity to take this now-famous car to see what all the hype is all about.
The first thing I noticed right off the bat was how small the car is as it sits close to the ground. Perhaps it is because cars have been getting larger and larger ever since the first gen Miata went into production, being in this car made me feel like I was driving around in a go-kart. I know many people over-use this term, but out of most cars out there this car truly feels like you’re driving a go-kart.
Although the car feels small by today’s standards, I understand how this car can still be described as peppy. Accelerating with this 1.6 liter engine may be a bit slow (0-60 in 9.2 seconds), however with the Mazda Miata weighing in at only 2200 lbs, it does feel quick especially when you’re going around town.
The first generation Miata wasn’t really made for long commutes or any prolonged amount of highway driving. A convertible top means a lot of noise leaking through the roof at higher speeds. In addition to wind noise, the engine noise can drone a bit since you’ll be cruising at about 3 RPM’s at 65mph and getting close to 4 as your approach 75mph. A sixth gear would have helped, however this wasn’t introduced until the 2nd generation about a decade later.
It is a bit discomforting driving on the highway with all of the larger vehicles of today driving beside you at high speeds. With the Miata sitting so low to the ground, it feels like you can really be in some serious trouble if you were to get in an accident.
Driving the NA Miata, you will feel similar to the way motorcycle riders do: as if everyone is out to get you. You’ll need to be more aware as a driver; to constantly be aware of your surroundings as you’ll fit neatly into everyone’s blind spots.
In regards to crash ratings, the Miata does sufficiently with frontal and side impacts, but can be worrisome when you think about scenarios with rollovers or being lower than most other cars’ center of gravity.
The first generation Miata (1990-1997) is known as the NA Miata. Subsequent generations would be named NB, NC, and currently the ND. To add to the various letter-naming conventions of the Miata, there are also A, B, and C packages that refer to the options offered for the NA Miata.
Package A includes A/C, power steering, power mirrors, a leather wrapped steering wheel, and power brakes. Package B added power windows, cruise control, and sometimes a CD player. Finally, Package C added leather seats, a tan interior and top on top of the B package. The Miata I drove included was likely had Package A as it had A/C, and some of the power features minus the power windows. I’m just glad that it has power steering. Some people may prefer the manual steering on the NA Miata, but I prefer to get my arm workouts at the gym instead.
Clutch engagement is on the higher side, so it may be a bit uncomfortable if you rest your heel on the floor like I do. Besides that, the clutch is pretty forgiving and easy to operate.
The shifter is short and precise in stock form. The combination of this gearbox and incredible handling characteristics feels blissful during more spirited driving. The car is so well-balanced and feels like you’re driving around in a go-kart. The 14 inch alloy wheels weigh in just over 12 pounds each and really matches the handling characteristics well.
I can’t say that anything in particular really stands out to me with the NA Miata’s styling although it is unique in its own right. Reminiscent of the Lotus Elan, it has developed its own style that most people (car fanatic or not) would be able to identify.
The exterior doesn’t have much going on for it in my opinion and nothing really stands out in particular. However, I must say that the now-extinct pop-up headlights is a definite cool factor. Surprisingly, the open and close movement is especially smooth. There’s even a button on the center dash right below the emergency hazard lights to pop them up and down manually; just in case you need to “wink” at fellow NA Miata drivers.
This Miata is in the Classic Red color, which is just that… classic. You might encounter this color more often than other colors as it is one of the more popular colors of this generation of the Miata. Because the Miata is not an aggressive-looking car, I would prefer to own one with a darker paint color. However, given how desirable these cars are now, the condition and history of these vehicles is of higher concern.
It’s a rewarding experience accelerating through any gear throughout the RPM range. The shifter is very comfortable with the throws feeling short and notchy, just the way I like it.
Although the engine is a little 4-cylinder, it’s not what makes the NA Miata so much fun to drive. It’s the combination of the amazing gearbox and beautifully balanced chassis that makes you want to take the the curvy detour rather than the boring straightaway.
If you are dead-set on a first gen Mazda Miata, but want the most power possible, you may want to opt for the 1.8L DOHC engine introduced in the 1994; the result is a modest power boost from 116hp to about 130hp (depending on which exact year you get).
The interior is simple; no frills. This is exactly how a driver’s car should be. The cloth seats have held up to the test of time. With the more-than-usual sun exposure on the interior of this convertible, the vinyl and plastic materials in the cabin have held up well.
It’s not a luxurious experience in the cabin, but it sure is durable. Just take a look at how well the interior has held up for a car that is almost two decades old.
The seating follows the same design philosophy with the rest of the interior. Simple, durable, and functional. I’m 5′-7″ in height and I felt the view out of the windshield was just about right. However, I can imagine anyone taller than me would have trouble seeing with the A-pillar blocking their view.
The climate controls look cheap, but my God I love me some 90’s switches and knobs. For what the Miata lacks in luxury, it makes up in functionality and ease-of-use. There’s no need for multiple button presses to increase the fan speed, nor is there any need to sift through multiple menus on a display screen just to adjust the temperature.
Need to change fan speed from 0 to 4? Twist the knob. Need to change the temperature from hot to cold? One swipe of the temperature slider does it. Everything you need to do here is swift and practical.
Almost everything about the interior is miniature. The glove compartment is laughably small and so is the armrest cubby. Even the sun visors are pint-sized, albeit a clever design. These sun visors fold in half to be stowed away behind the A-pillar.
You might expect the trunk also to be quite small too, but the boot has more room that you’d think. The space might be a bit on the shallow end, but still unexpectedly larger overall.
The Miata’s audio is what you’d expect from an economy car of the 90’s. The sound from the speakers is treble-heavy and airy with bass totally missing. You probably won’t be spending much time listening to the sound system. With the top down, you won’t be able to hear anything anyway.
Audio is not something I enjoy from this era, but cabin design is something I do. The simplistic design of the cabin not only allows the driver to focus on driving the car, but also has a particular charm to it.
The gauges are plain, but functional. A clean chrome bevel wraps the tachometer and speedometer. The steering wheel is a vinyl wrapped one. No special controls on it, just simply a steering wheel with horn controls that can be pressed with either one of your thumbs. There’s not much with the steering wheel nor the instrument cluster to distract you from the experience of driving.
It is impossible to describe the influence that the first generation Miata has had on the automotive world. It played a pivotal role in bringing an affordable and reliable sports roadster to the masses. Mazda brought the two-seat convertible back after a long hiatus from the British roadsters of the mid-20th century. To this day, the Miata is still highly sought after for its impressive driving ability.
|1990 Mazda Miata Specifications|
|Vehicle Type||Front-engine, RWD, 2-passenger, 2-door convertible|
|Engine||1.6 Liter DOHC 16V I4|
|Output||116 hp @ 6500 rpm, 100 lb-ft @ 5500 rpm|
|0-60 mph||9.2 sec. (Car & Driver)|
|1/4 mile||16.8 sec. (Car & Driver)|
|Curb Weight||2210 lb.|
|Turning Radius||30.6 ft.|
|Length x Width x Height||155.4 x 65.9 x 48.2 in.|
|Fuel Economy (EPA City/Hwy)||25/30 mpg|
|Fuel Type||Gasoline: Unleaded Regular|
|Fuel Capacity||Fuel Tank: 11.9 gal.|