The third-generation MX-5 is now a very smart buy.
Since the Mazda Miata appeared on the market in 1989, it's been delivering grins for casual drivers and enthusiasts alike across the world. Based on the classic Lotus Elan, Mazda refined the rear-wheel-drive roadster format to create the perfect affordable small sports car. The first two generations are still sought after as examples of an ideal driver's car, but the third-generation MX-5 (internally designated NC by Mazda and losing the Miata name in the US) met with mixed reviews from the motoring press and got a luke-warm reception from Miata fans. It's time to take another look with the benefit of hindsight and because used prices are so good right now.
The main complaint handed to the NC MX-5 was that it wasn't as pure as the previous generation. It was seen as both a heavier and softer version that came as a contrast to the uncompromising approach Mazda previously took in terms of minimalism and lightness. Mazda made the NC larger and more comfortable, and with that came that extra size and weight.
The bottom line when looking at it today is that the NC isn't as small and light as the NB generation that proceeded it, or as sharp handling as the current ND generation. However, for perspective, it still only weighs 2,450 lbs. And while it may not be quite as sharp as the aggressive NB Miata, that's a high bar and falling just short of it still leaves an impressive handling car.
The NC also comes with a 2.0-liter naturally aspirated engine making 170 horsepower, which is more than the previous models produced. As a result, the 0-60 mph time still isn't buttock clinchingly fast, but it outpaces the older models.
Outright speed has never been what the MX-5 is about, driving dynamics are they key and that's where the drivetrain shines. The engine is snappy and fast-revving while the manual transmission is a delight, and still one a lot of companies would do well to use as a benchmark. What sells the NC even harder for us is that added refinement in the form of much more comfortable seats and an interior that's dating remarkably slowly. Taller drivers don't bang their knees on the steering column and dashboard so often compared to driving in previous models, there's more room to do the three-pedal shuffle, and it's an easier car on anyone's body to cover long distances in.
For those that want the shaper edge, there's the aftermarket. A change in shocks and springs can do absolute wonders. It's not necessary to start modifying the NC for daily driving and weekend fun though. Even the styling, which some considered to be on the bland side, is aging well. Particularly if you don't like your MX-5 to look like it's squinting or frowning like the current ND generation or super-cute like the previous generations.
The best bit about the NC now is the prices. Around $15,000 will get you an NC in upmarket Touring trim and at just 20-25,000 miles on the clock, which is barely broken in for an MX-5. For under $10,000, you can find examples of more basic trims with around 50,000 miles on the clock. Around the $8,000 mark, a well-maintained ND with around 100,000 miles on the drivetrain still has a hell of a lot of life left in it.