Mazda NA Miata MX-5 Buyers Guide
Austin holds a technical writing degree and has 5 years of experience working as a Technical Product Specialist at BMW. He is an avid car enthusiast who is constantly watching F1, consuming automotive content, racing on his simulator, and working on his Toyota’s and BMW’s. Austin’s technical writing skills, extensive automotive knowledge, and hands-on experience make him an excellent resource for our readers.
The Mazda NA Miata has always epitomized the 90’s sports car. They are light, nimble, and endlessly modifiable. Since the MX-5s release in 1989, they have been the weapon of choice for enthusiasts looking for rear-wheel roadster fun on a budget. In the 30 years since then, the MX-5 community has blossomed into a massive group of diehard Miata devotees that encourage all kinds of Miata builds.
The first-generation NA Miata is the most sought-after model in the Miata lineup. The subsequent NB, NC, and ND Miatas to follow are all touted as fantastic drivers’ cars as well, but the NA holds a special place in many enthusiasts’ hearts. The NA is the most barebone, pure, and animated Miata of the bunch and will likely always be seen that way.
In this article, we’ll cover some of the key considerations when it comes to NA Miata ownership. This guide is intended to help you find the perfect NA Miata for your particular needs.
MX-5 Miata History
Japan in the 1990s was a haven for affordable sports cars. Manufacturers like Nissan and Toyota released some of their most iconic models at the time, including the R32 GTR and MKIV Supra. Mazda joined the party with the RX-7. While most of those cars were affordable in comparison with the higher-end cars that they were competing with, they were still a bit of a stretch for the general population.
Released with a $14,000 MSRP, the NA Miata was Mazda’s answer to a lightweight performance car on a budget. This was a huge reason for the Miata’s immediate sales success, as people jumped at the chance to buy a fun, reliable, and cheap roadster.
Classic British sports car ideology informed the Miata’s design. Mazda focused on making the NA Miata as lightweight as possible to enhance cornering characteristics and agility. Because of the featherweight nature of the NA, power was not high on Mazda’s priority list. Even the most powerful factory NA MX-5 made a measly 150hp in M2-1028 Special Edition form.
While NA MX-5s are underwhelming from a power perspective, high horsepower was never the point of a Miata. The Miata’s selling point was its lightweight construction and ability to corner well. The general population seemingly agreed.
Between 1989 and 1998, Mazda sold over 400,000 NA Miatas worldwide. That makes the Miata one of the most successful sports cars in the world to this day.
1990-1998 NA Miata Variants
Throughout the NA Miata’s 9-year build cycle, Mazda released a wide array of special edition MX-5s with unique upgrades and additions. There were two distinct engines available in the NA as well, including a 1.6L naturally aspirated 4-cylinder and a 1.8L naturally aspirated 4-cylinder. Unsurprisingly, the 1.8L is the most powerful of the two engine options and is typically the most sought after. If you want to know more about Mazda engines, click here.
1.6L Mazda Miata Specs
The NA Miata was initially sold with a 1.6L inline-4 B6ZE engine which produced 116 hp and 100 lb-ft of torque. Despite having low power and torque output, the B6 engine revs comparably high to most other 4-cylinder engines, with a 7,200 rpm redline. Most of the fun is to be found in the high-rev ranges, especially from the 1.6L engine. The 1.6L NA was available with a 5-speed manual transmission or an optional automatic transmission.
Well-spec’d 1.6L Miatas feature a viscous LSD, which was an option from the factory. With all factory performance options, Mazda claimed that the early NA 1.6L Miata could do 0-60 mph in 8.6 seconds and reach a top speed of 117 mph.
1.8L Mazda Miata Specs
After the initial success of the 1.6L NA Miata, Mazda decided to release a beefier 1.8L model for the 1994 model year. The 1.8L BP-ZE engine featured in the 1994 Miata was based on Mazda’s refreshed B8 engine platform and featured upgraded engine technology like a forged crankshaft, piston oil-squirters, and an oil pan with cooling fins.
1.8L Miatas saw a horsepower increase to 129 hp and 110 lb-ft of torque. The 1.8L had a decreased 7,000 rpm redline compared to the 1.6Ls 7,200 rpm redline. The 1.8L NA MX-5 was also available with an optional Torsen LSD, which is a slight upgrade over the viscous LSD found in the 1.6L model.
NA Miata Special Editions
Mazda also released 15 special edition variants of the MX-5 over its build cycle. In general, special edition NA Miatas carry a price premium depending on the model, even on the secondhand market.
Most NA Miata special editions featured a unique interior/exterior color combination specific to the region that they were released or what the edition was honoring. Some special editions featured performance upgrades, including stiffer suspension, upgraded sway bars, a special differential, and aftermarket wheels. A few SEs also feature unique aesthetic upgrades as well.
Here is a list of the NA Miata special editions released between 1990 and 1998:
1991 Limited Edition (UK)
1991 Special Edition
1992 Black Miata
1993 Limited Edition
1993 Energia Electric Vehicle
1995 M Speedster Concept
1996 M Coupe Concept
1996 Speedster Edition
1997 Special Touring Option
How Much is an NA Miata?
Naturally, one of the first questions that will always arise when purchasing a new vehicle is what you should expect in terms of price. As with any car, the secondhand price of an NA Miata varies depending on a few factors.
It is extremely difficult to find an unmolested NA MX-5 in good condition nowadays. To be fair, it has been 30 years since their initial release, so time plays a large factor in that. Since Miatas are so modifiable and beloved by the aftermarket community, it is also hard to find one that hasn’t been “upgraded” in a tinkerer’s garage. Those factors tend to drive NA Miata prices even higher than they probably should be.
Obviously, the condition of the car is also a huge factor in terms of price. The presence of rust on NA Miatas is a huge factor in sale price, as extensive rust repair isn’t usually worth the hassle. Other cosmetic issues are common on Miatas, including ripped or broken soft tops, cracked interior trim, and fading paint. While Miatas are notorious for being truly bulletproof, certain issues, like crankshaft issues on early models, certainly have a bearing on price as well.
How much is a 1.6L Miata?
Early, automatic, 1.6L cars with few options and without an LSD are the least sought-after models which is reflected in typical asking prices. It is common to find less desirable early model NA Miatas somewhere in the ballpark of $3/3,500. Most enthusiasts don’t consider these worth purchasing. While all Miatas are fun, base model 1.6L NAs with automatic transmissions zap some of the magic from the Miata formula.
Early model 1.6L NA MX-5s with manual transmissions and an LSD will deliver a much more enjoyable experience, albeit at a slightly increased premium. In driver’s condition, it is possible to find this spec for around $4/4,500. Since the 1.6L engine lacks the much-desired oomph that the 1.8L possesses, Miatas powered by the 1.6L tend to be less expensive. This is likely the best jumping-in point as far as NA ownership is concerned. Even though the 1.6L is lacking, the 5-speed, LSD combination won’t fail to put a smile on your face.
How Much is a 1.8L Miata?
Compared to early 1.6L NAs, 1.8L Miatas are a much hotter commodity. Everyone in the MX-5 community knows that the 1.8L BP-ZE-powered cars are superior in nearly every way, resulting in pumped prices. Of the 1.8L range, cars equipped with an automatic transmission that lack an LSD sell for less on the secondhand market. The same general principle stands here in the same way it did for 1.6L models. Automatic, open-diff NA Miatas just aren’t as fun. While you can likely pick one up for around $4/4500, it is important to ask yourself if something else would be more worthwhile.
Good quality, stock, 1.8L Miatas with a 5-speed transmission, and LSD are the cream of the crop. For that reason, they are the most expensive. Since the Miata community is so large these days, they are in high demand and typically sell very quickly. If you do happen to find one for sale, a price between $6,000 and $10,000 isn’t uncommon. Low mileage examples can sell for upwards of $12,000. That’s a bit ridiculous for a 30-year-old Mazda with 120 horsepower. I suppose beauty is in the eye of the beholder.
Special Edition Miata Price
NA special edition Miatas are where sellers start to get a bit delusional in terms of sales price. As most special edition Miatas were only manufactured in small numbers for their respective markets, the exclusivity factor is often oversold. Even so, many hardcore Miata fans are willing to shell out the extra cash for one.
The 1995 M-Edition NA Miata is among the most popular special edition models, with only 3,500 having been made for the US market. With average mileage, it isn’t uncommon for M-Edition spec cars to sell for $15,000.
Low mileage cars are typically the examples that sell for the most. A recent auction for a 1993 Limited Edition NA with only 8,000 miles on the clock sold for a ludicrous $36,750.
What to Look For When Buying a Miata
By all accounts, NA Miatas are notoriously reliable. That’s one of the main reasons that people love them so much. Typically, with scheduled light maintenance and general care, Miatas can hit the 200,000-mile mark without breaking a sweat. However, they are 30 years old at this point, and often experience issues typically associated with cars of their age.
There are three primary areas that you’ll want to pay close attention to in order to make sure the NA that you are purchasing is a quality example. Those three areas are the drivetrain, body/cosmetics, and suspension components. As an overall indicator, if these three areas are in good shape, it is typically a good car.
Luckily, Mazda still manufactures new parts for NA Miatas even three decades on, so it is relatively easy to replace failing parts or refresh elements that are failing due to age or wear. While most mechanical problems can be fixed easily on NA Miatas, issues like extensive rust or a damaged frame from a previous collision cannot.
MX-5 Body/Cosmetic Issues
The enemy of any aging car, especially in parts of the country where roads are salted in the winter, is rust. Unfortunately, Miatas rust often. The most common spot for rust to take hold of an NA Miata is on the lower rocker panels. Even if visible rust isn’t present, if the paint on the rocker panels is bubbling or warped, that is a pretty good indication that rust is present underneath.
Rust is also common on NA Miata fender arches as well, on both the inside and outside surfaces. The worst part about rust is the fact that it will certainly spread; it isn’t a question of if but when. Chances are if a Miata has rust on the rocker panels or fender arches, the rust has penetrated deeper into structural elements. If the NA MX-5 that you are considering has significant rust issues, it would likely be more cost-efficient to find another one.
NA Miata Frame Inspection
Another important consideration when checking out a Miata should be the trueness of the frame. It is always a good idea to ask if the vehicle has a clean title. If the Miata has a salvage title, that indicates a serious accident in the past that oftentimes caused frame damage. You can often identify the location of a serious accident by looking under the car for overspray paint. Chances are that parts have been replaced and repainted if paint is found on rubber trim pieces.
Fading paint is another common issue on NA Miatas, once again due to their age. Severe clear coat fade or paint damage is a good indicator of how long the car has been sitting in the sun, which can sometimes negatively correlate with how well the car has been taken care of overall. While bad paint won’t affect the drivability of the car, it is an important consideration in terms of price.
MX-5 Soft Top and Interior Check
As most NA Miatas come with a foldable soft top, it is important to make sure that it folds and unfolds correctly to prevent headaches in the future. Most NA soft tops have a zipper located above the rear windshield which needs to be zipped up before the soft top can be attached to the front windshield latch. Make sure that the zipper functions properly and that the soft top can open and close without any snags or resistance.
NA MX-5s came with either plastic or glass rear windows. For models with a plastic rear window, make sure that it is free of scratches, holes, or discolored spots. If the plastic window has colored spots accumulating on it, the window will eventually turn opaque and need a replacement.
In general, Miata interiors hold up pretty well to age. Leather seats are prone to cracking or wearing unevenly from age and use, which is to be expected. Plastic trim also cracks often but can be replaced with Mazda factory parts.
MX-5 Drivetrain Issues
The NA Miata is known as one of the most reliable sports cars ever sold. This stands for both the 1.6L and 1.8L variants. In general, if the previous owner regularly maintained the car with frequent oil changes and timing belt changes at 60-90k intervals, the drivetrain should be in pretty good shape. They really are pocket-sized tanks as far as reliability is concerned. However, there are a few things that you should be looking for.
1.6L Miata Drivetrain Check
Early model 1.6L NA Miatas are the most problematic of the bunch as far as drivetrain issues are concerned. 1990-1991 NA Miatas are known to have crankshaft issues that can ultimately lead to the failure of the engine. Unfortunately, there isn’t an easy way to test the strength of the crankshaft during a pre-purchase inspection. Checking the crankshaft pulley for wobbles is the easiest way to diagnose the issue.
NA MX-5 Engine Checklist
It is also a good idea to check coolant and vacuum hoses for leaks or cracks. Most NA Miata hoses are brittle and prone to cracking if they haven’t been replaced. They are easy and cheap to fix, but it is good to know beforehand.
“Lifter tick” is a very common sound to be heard coming from NA Miatas. Lifter tick is a very distinctive sound that increases in intensity and frequency when the throttle is applied. While annoying, it isn’t a serious issue and does not mean that there is damage present in the engine. Loud and pronounced knocking noises are a different story. Loud knocking from the lower part of the engine can be caused by rod and main bearing wear. Damaged or worn rods or main bearings could lead to severe issues in the future.
Oil leaks are also common on NA Miatas, particularly from the valve cover gasket and the O-ring below the crank angle sensor. If there is an oil leak present near the crank angle sensor, the heater hoses or water plug are nearing failure and will likely need to be replaced.
NA Miata Suspension Checklist
Last but certainly not least, is the importance of checking the Miata’s suspension. It is pretty easy to tell if an NA Miata’s suspension is out of whack. There are a few common places where Miata suspension fails, chief among them are the top hats, bump stops, and shock mounts.
A collapsed top hat will result in an extremely harsh ride when going over even minor bumps or imperfections in the road. It is possible to look for collapsed top hats from under the hood by locating their positions in the strut tower and checking to see if the top hat has separated from the rest of the suspension body.
Failed bump stops can also result in an extremely harsh ride. After years of abuse, many rubber bump stops have lost their rigidity or disintegrated. During a test drive, it is a good idea to look for other signs of failing suspension components. At higher highway speeds it is important to feel for any violent vibrations or excess bounciness from the suspension. Worn tie rods, failing ball joints, and imbalanced wheels can all cause violent shaking.
NA Miata Buyers Guide Summary
If you are looking for an authentic taste of 90s sports car pedigree, there aren’t many better options than an NA Miata. Due to the fact that NAs are relatively cheap, easy to maintain, and a blast to drive, they are in high demand in today’s market.
It is important to keep your ultimate goals in mind when shopping for a Miata. The 1.6L early models are up to par for some people, others might need the extra gusto from the 1.8L.
For most people, a Miata is usually only worthwhile if the car is equipped with a 5-speed manual and an LSD, as those two components compensate for the lack of speed and power. At this point, most people that purchase automatic NAs use the car as a platform for more extreme builds due to their lower price point.
Unlike most cars of the Miata’s age, there are relatively few serious issues to look for when buying one secondhand. Mazda clearly prioritized build quality and reliability when designing the NA, which rings true to this day. Even so, worn suspension components are perhaps the most notable issue that plagues the majority of MX-5s on the road today. However, with so many aftermarket solutions for NA Miatas, there are very few issues that cannot be fixed easily and on a budget.