Hard to believe that 26 years ago, no one really knew what a Miata was.
With its immense success over the past two and a half decades, it’s hard to remember a world PM (pre-Miata). With lightweight, lightning reflexes and a fun factor that can’t be measured in this or most worlds, the Mazda MX-5 Miata redefined what an affordable sports car should be.
Lasting 26 years a low volume sports car is no small feat. To keep the thrill alive, many great Miatas have rolled out of the factory during its history. Here is our list of the top 10 best Mazda MX-5 Miata models of all time.
10. 2007 Mazda MX-5 Miata PRHT
In 2007 the third generation MX-5 Miata received a new feature not offered on any previous version of the car. A three-piece, power folding retractable hard top convertible roof could now be ordered from the factory. Although it did add weight to the car, it also added a new level of all-weather capability and practicality that couldn’t be matched by the older car’s one piece removable hardtop that required two people to remove and couldn’t be brought along for a drive.
In 1996 the most powerful version of the first generation MX-5 Miata was introduced. The 1.8-liter four cylinder engine that had been installed in the car two years earlier now received OBD-II engine management system software. This helped bump power up from 128 HP to 133 HP.
In 1998, the second generation MX-5 Miata burst onto the scene as a 1999 model. Gone were the pop-up headlights, replaced by more modern looking fixed lights. The 1.8-liter engine remained, but power was up once again to now total 140 HP.
Although the end of the third generation MX-5 Miata was near, that didn’t stop Mazda from given it a bit more performance. Called the Club, the new MX-5 trim included all sorts of good go-fast bits like Bilstein dampers, a limited-slip differential and larger front and rear splitters. As well, some of the interior trim was body colored and MX-5 decals ran down the side of the car.
In 2001, the second generation Mazda MX-5 Miata received a mid-cycle refresh that gave the car a more aggressive appearance. Many consider this sub-generation the best looking Miata of all time. Available in the 2001 model was a six-speed manual transmission and limited-slip differential.
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Power was once again up for the 1.8-liter engine, now making 143 HP total for North America. Unfortunately, Mazda quoted the overseas power output of 155 HP initially which lead to a lot of apologies and an offer to buy the car back off of customers.
Anniversary editions for a lot of cars are little more than a few graphics and new badges. The 10th anniversary MX-5 Miata was a lot more than that. In 1999, it was the only way to get the six-speed manual transmission instead of the regular five-speed. The car also came with other unique features like Bilstein shocks and two tone seats with Alcantara inserts.
In 1994 the MX-5 Miata received its first substantial upgrade. The 1.6-liter engine was replaced a larger 1.8-liter engine that upped power by 15 HP to a total of 131 HP. Weighing nearly the same as the original 1990 Miata, the 1994 model was significantly faster.
To complement the new power plant, the R Package was available that include Bilstein shocks, under-body aerodynamics and the removal of the power steering system.
We’d be re-missed to not include the car that started it all on this list. In 1990 the Mazda MX-5 Miata burst on the scene as a two seat roadster weighing just over 2,000 lbs. Even if the small 1.6-liter engine only made 116 HP, the car’s chassis was designed to exploit every last pony.
Responsive and properly balanced, a novice driver could easily drive the MX-5 near its limit. With weight so low, the suspension didn’t have to be overly stiff either which had a side benefit of a comfortable ride.
Although we’ve only driven the new MX-5 Miata briefly, our initial impressions are that it’s fantastic. Weighing 2,332 lbs. the new MX-5 continues the Miata tradition of exploiting every one of its 155 HP from the 2.0-liter engine. Early instrument tests have the 2016 MX-5 Miata as the faster Miata every produced – even faster than the car residing in the number one position on the list.
Great steering, amazing grip and the best transmission yet in any MX-5, the new “ND” MX-5 delivers. So why is it only in second place? Well, we’ve spent so little time in the car that it’s hard to declare it the best MX-5 ever without a few more drives. Chances are though, after some more time with the 2016 Miata, it will become our favorite.
With a 1.8-liter turbocharged four-cylinder engine making 178 HP and 166 lb-ft. of torque, the 2004-2005 Mazdaspeed MX-5 Miata is the most powerful Miata ever produced. But claiming the Mazdaspeed as the best Miata of all time based on power alone wouldn’t make much sense as the MX-5 has never been about outright power.
SEE ALSO: 2016 Mazda MX-5 Miata First Drive
What made the Mazdaspeed so special was that it’s a complete package. It came with a whack of chassis and suspension upgrades that included Bilstien shocks, beefier springs, wider tires, thicker anti-roll bars and a strut tower brace. To let passersby know this car was something special, the exterior also received upgrades include a tasteful skirt package, 17-inch wheels and a rear spoiler.
Although the new 2016 MX-5 Miata may be faster, there’s something undeniably cool about a second generation Miata with a factory turbo engine and all the upgrades to match. Over ten years later, it’s still the coolest MX-5 Miata ever produced.
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