Crucial Cars: Mazda MX-5 Miata, Part 2

In Part 1 of this retrospective, we covered the first two generations of the Mazda MX-5 Miata. For Part 2, we're taking a good look at the third and fourth generations of Mazda's incredibly popular sports car.

More exciting than it may look

When the third generation of the Miata debuted for the 2006 model year, some automotive critics weren't too kind to the new look. Some described it as boring, and this journalist recalls describing the styling as having all the pizzazz of a Tic Tac mint. Still, it had rather aggressively flared wheel well arches. Perhaps the latter signaled to the Miata faithful that there was something greater under the car's otherwise conservative skin.

2006 Miata

The 2006 Miata

Compared to the second-gen Miata (the "NB"), the third-gen car (the "NC") was slightly larger. Although it also gained a little weight, it still tipped the scales at only around 2,500 pounds. It also gained a somewhat roomier cockpit and trunk, a few more standard features, and a more powerful standard engine (there would be no Mazdaspeed version).

2006 Miata interior

The third-gen's interior

Initially, there were no less than six trim levels offered: Club Spec, Base, Sport, Touring, Grand Touring, and Limited. The sparsely equipped Club Spec was aimed at track enthusiasts on a tight budget, while running up through the trims added features such as fog lights, 17-inch (versus 16-inch) alloy wheels, a cloth (versus vinyl) convertible top, upgraded audio, and leather seating. Bilstein shocks and a limited-slip differential could be had on the upper trims.

All were powered by a 2.0 liter inline four that eagerly spun out 170 horsepower, while transmission choices included five- and six-speed manuals and a six-speed automatic. With a 0-to-60 mph time of around seven seconds flat (six-speed manual), this Miata was a bit quicker than its predecessors. Although it provided a more civilized ride over broken pavement, the NC still handled like a go-kart and still boasted very communicative steering. Once again, there wasn't much on four wheels that could touch it for sheer driving enjoyment. Apart from the occasional appearance of various Special Editions with their unique color schemes, the more notable changes as this generation matured included the 2007 introduction of the power retractable hardtop (PRHT) versions.

Offering swift operation as well as added security and comfort, the retractable hardtop added just 70 pounds to the car's weight. That year also saw minor changes to the engine's output rating, as well as a shuffling and reduction in the number of trim levels. Two years later, the Miata sported a more aggressive grille and front/rear light designs, while 2012 saw stability control become standard across the board. The last year for this generation was 2015.

2009 Mazda Miata

2009 Mazda Miatas (PRHT version at right)

Alluring looks, athletic moves

For 2016, the fourth-generation ("ND") Mazda Miata debuted. Sporting sexy styling that seemed inspired by the Jaguar F-type, the newest Miata was a smash hit right off the bat. Indeed, it embodied, and in some cases improved upon, all the traditional tenets of the Miata: a high fun factor, affordability, reliability, and low running costs.

2016 Mazda Miata

Initially offered in three trim levels — Sport, Club, and Grand Touring — the new Miata has embraced the latest advances in automotive technology by including features (depending on trim level) such as a touchscreen infotainment system and blind-spot monitoring. It also achieved something unheard of in modern cars — a weight loss rather than a weight gain compared to the generation that preceded it. At around 2,330 pounds, the newest Miata weighs about 200 pounds less than the previous version.

2016 Mazda Miata

2016 Mazda Miata

Although still powered by a 2.0-liter inline four, paired to either a six-speed manual or six-speed automatic, the engine now produces 155 hp. Although that's about 12 less hp than before, it's been tuned for a broad power spread so that actual performance (aided by the car's lighter weight) and fuel economy are both improved. Specifically, the ND (with the six-speed manual) can sprint to 60 mph in just 6.3 seconds while boasting fuel economy of 30 mpg in combined driving, compared to about seven seconds and 24 mpg combined for the previous Miata. That's about the perfect definition of a win-win.

For the fourth gen's sophomore year, Mazda gave buyers another roof option. In place of the other manually folding soft top, the new Miata RF (Retractable Fastback) features a power retractable top roof panel and rear window. Yet, as with past Miatas, no matter which trim level or top configuration you lean toward, you are guaranteed one of the most entertaining rides this side of a roller coaster.

2017 Mazda Miata RF

The 2016 Miata RF

Last updated November 14, 2017

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