The introduction of the simply gorgeous 2016 Mazda Miata has also allowed us to take a trip down memory lane: Mazda is letting us drive some of their heritage cars. Here's what it's like in the 14th, 15th, and 700,000th Miatas ever made. It's an amazing look at what made the Miata just so brilliant.
(Full Disclosure: Mazda flew me out to Miatas at Mazda Raceway for the unveil of the ND Miata as well as a whole weekend of Miata goodness. These short drives — 15 miles total in each car — are just a small part of it.)
Mazda has this magical basement and museum where they keep a number of concept and unique cars. That's where the Eunos we drove around Pebble Beach came from, and that's where some of the cars we're driving today were also stored. That includes Miatas number 14 and 15, two of the original cars that were on the stand at the Chicago Auto Show in 1989 and car 700,000, a Mazdaspeed Miata with barely any mileage on it at all.
As the owner of a 1996 Miata, I'm used to the 1.8 liter engine that was in the car for years. It's not the greatest engine in the world, but it has some balls and enough power when you need it. Cars 14 and 15 have the original 1.6 liter mill. It has absolutely no balls. None at all.
Driving these cars is an exercise in momentum, which is frustrating if you don't care about driving but super rewarding on the mountain roads here in Monterey. Steering is light but communicative, effort builds in the corner, as it should. These cars also have no optional extras that came with later cars.
No power windows. No power mirrors. No passenger airbags. No air conditioning. This is as pure as the Miata gets. The feel is distinctly Lotus Elan, how it gains speed, how it reacts in a corner, how it stops. I could go on from there, but I really don't need to.
And that's because there's the 700,000th Miata, a pristine Mazdaspeed with less than 500 miles on the clock. Everything about it looks and feels brand new. Compared to the NA, it's no bigger inside, but for some reason it feels more dated, in that late 1990s it's not quite nostalgic it's just kind of crappy sort of way.
The difference between this and the 1.6 is that this is a Miata with balls. A Miata that has actual top end thrust. Get on the throttle over 3,500 and your greeted with a VTEC-esque whoosh of acceleration. It's a Miata that doesn't need to be slammed in every gear in order to get up to speed.
It has gentle thrust when you are just tooling along, but is properly (sorry for the Britishism) and satisfyingly quick when you're caning it. The six speed gearbox is super sweet, just like the 14th and 15th cars's five speed, with short, direct throws. It's a joy to drive.
Seating position in the NB is slightly higher than the NA, which makes me look a bit like a fat guy in a little coat while I'm driving it. But I can deal with that, because it has the power and response I've wanted out of my car for years.
So, if you can't get an ND Miata, you'll be just fine with an NA or an NB Mazdaspeed... if you can find a clean one.