Mazda MX-5 NA and ND owners trade keys for a day

As for its name, Emeequiscinco is a bit long and -we have to admit it- besides sounding terrible, it's tongue-tied, so many of us "miateros" know it by its American name, Miata.

Of course, for any Miatero, his MX-5 is the best, and the most beautiful, so there is a lot of talk -perhaps too much- about the differences between the four generations of the MX-5: how faithful -or not- the NB, NC, and ND have remained faithful to the NA, or which generation is the best of the four... The fact is that Mazda claims that the new MX-5 ND has returned to its roots and is now more faithful than ever to the original concept. Ok, it sounds like an advertising slogan, but the truth is that most of the press agrees.


On the other hand, its design is the most different from the original, being significant that it has even lost the side indicators, the only piece that until now, was common (in the European versions) of the three previous generations ...

Well, to find out if the ND is really faithful to the philosophy of the NA, we thought it would be best to have the owners of an NA and an ND exchange them for a day and test them on the road, and then, collect their impressions - and those of their co-drivers - who often end up deciding the purchase...

This isn't going to be a typical test, and we're not going to go into technical aspects, equipment or performance. I guess you'll agree that it doesn't make much sense to compare two cars designed a quarter of a century apart... Maybe comparing a NA 1.6 with a ND 2.0 is not entirely fair, and it would have been more appropriate to choose the ND with the 1.5 engine, but what are we going to do if they are the MX-5 we have...


Well, as one of the most discussed aspects is the obvious difference in design, before continuing with the "test" I will briefly analyze the design of both, not to establish which of the two is more beautiful, or is better designed (I would not know how to tell you) but to put each in context.

Mazda MX-5 NA Design

It's clear that the MX-5 NA's design has aged extremely well, and that's primarily due to its well-proportioned, well-crafted shapes... and also because Mazda decided not to take too many risks with the first-generation MX-5's design. The NA adopted a language that took on the one hand elements that were fashionable at the time, and on the other hand, was inspired by more classic lines, such as the almost imperceptibly sinuous waistline, or its timeless rounded shapes. It has the beauty of simple, elegant and functional things, and I like that it is a design that depending on the color, upholstery, wheels or customization, can go from the elegant to the badass, passing through the discreet.

Some say that its resemblance to the first Lotus Elise can not be accidental, but although it may seem obvious in some details, I tend to think that it is actually more of a coincidence than a plagiarism, because after all, the NA has design details quite common in its time, and a more sinuous and worked general forms.

A detail that I love is the horizontal line that divides the body (and if I had one, I would seriously think about painting it in two colors), the front turn signals are just great, the taillights are in the MOMA in New York ... It's a beautiful car as it came out of series, and the only thing I would definitely do to "my" NA would be to paint the windshield frame in black, and put those MiniLite style wheels that suit it so well.


Mazda MX-5 ND Design

While the second and third generations of the MX-5 had their own personality, they retained the smooth, curvy, oval shapes of the original model, with no styling ribs, and a rounded, horizontal, and very unaggressive design, making them immediately identifiable as an MX-5.

Most NA, NB, and NC owners would probably have preferred a more continuist design for the ND, so Mazda took a major risk when it decided not to please them by designing such a different ND.... No, it's not that the people at Mazda had gone crazy, it's just that the average age of the NA, NB and NC customers is relatively high, and Mazda knew that in reality, few of them need to change their MX-5, because whatever MX-5 you have, they all go great, and in most cases, it's a second car.

So, the goal was to find new customers, younger buyers, customers who found the previous MX-5s nice, but maybe too classic. True, the new ND doesn't appeal to many of the customers who already have an MX-5, but after all, they weren't planning to change it either...

And it looks like Mazda got it right, because sales of the new ND are booming.

Like it or not, the ND is a car full of character, with a very personal front, an extremely small overall volume, with forms that express the minimalist and agile character of the car, and an extroverted line, which, however, contrasts with functional elements always restrained, such as the small optical groups.


The overall proportions are adapted to the architecture of the car, without unnecessary volumes, less is more and it is a car that more than drawn, seems molded (which is partly true ...) The language is an interesting evolution of the style that Mazda calls Kodo, and has interesting details such as the diagonal rib on the side, just behind the door handles, or the character lines of the hood.

I also like that Mazda has designed front daytime running lights that visually replace the trendy fake grilles, a really imaginative solution. But since perfection doesn't exist, and if I'm going to criticize, I don't think the ribs on the lower part of the doors are consistent with the rest of the design, and I think the lower part of the rear bumper lacks some styling.

Pep, the MX-5 NA owner

I was 10 years old when I drove my father's car for the first time, I remember having previously driven in the karting of Empuriabrava and at 14 I had my first motorbike. Those were followed by another 20, some of them "racing" as I participated for three seasons in the RACC Series Circuit de Catalunya.

I premiered my MX-5 NA 1.6 in 1997, which at that time (nobody in my city knew that this car existed) I thought it was a great car. Convinced Miatero, in 2013 I bought another MX-5, a NC 1.8 Roadster Coupé. Since I bought it, I have participated in several forums dedicated to the MX-5, and in all of them I have enjoyed sharing my passion for the MX-5 and enjoying their tourist outings. Currently I collaborate with MX-5forum.es, a very active forum that organizes many activities.

In addition, I have been participating in regularity rallies for years, first with a Fiat 128 Sport Coupé from 73, and since a few years ago, with a Porsche 944 from 85 and a 911 3.2 Carrera Coupé also from 85. In short, I consider myself above all a fan of the motor world, a hobby that has led me to live life in a particular way, and has given me the opportunity to meet very good people, as well as traveling and getting to know beautiful places.

Me, the owner of the MX-5 ND

I started my first MX-5 at the beginning of 2006, it was a NC 1.8 Active which I did 40,000 kms during the two years I had it. I changed it for a NC 1.8 Active+ that I had for more than 7 years, and that I enjoyed during each and every one of the 110,000 kms I did, changing it a year ago for a ND, to which I have already done 18,000 km. My MX-5 ND is a 2.0 Sport Pack, and comes equipped with a self-locking differential, a "sporty" suspension a bit firmer than standard, Recaro seats, and a quite complete equipment, which includes -among other goodies- some incredible directional headlights.

Official data MX-5 NA 1.6 (1997) MX-5 ND 2.0 (2015)
Displacement (Bore x Stroke) 1597 cc / 78 x 83.6 mm 1998 cc / 83.5 x 91.2 mm
Compression 9,0:1 13,0 a 1
Power 90 HP @ 6,000 RPM 160 HP @ 6,000 RPM
Maximum Torque 13,5 kg/m @ 4.000 RPM 20 kg/m @ 4,600 RPM
Length 3,950 mm 3,915 mm
Width 1,675 mm 1,735 mm
Height 1,230 mm 1,230 mm
Wheelbase 2,265 mm 2.310 mm
Official weight 965 kg 1090 kg
Tyres 185/60 R14 205/45 R17

The "test

As I said above, the idea was not to compare performance, fuel consumption or other practical aspects, but to find out if the ND remains faithful to the spirit of the original Miata, the unrepeatable MX-5 NA 1.6. So, we met one Saturday morning in a bar in the region of La Garrotxa -which has some fantastic roads- we had a coffee, exchanged the keys, and went for a typical Miata drive of about 80 km, stopping from time to time to take some pictures and exchange impressions...

Then, as almost every time we meet to do some curvitas, we ended up in a restaurant to regain strength (the famous potatoes of Olot would not miss on the menu) and after eating, and between glass and glass of ratafia, we entertained ourselves in answering an improvised questionnaire.

The interview

What I think makes this test and interview special is first of all to have two "testers": the first has had his NA for 20 years, and the second, a ND for a year, and after having exchanged cars for a day to make the same route, both could give an objective opinion about the NA and the ND. We've arranged the "double" interview so that both testers answer each question (and then the co-pilots) so that you can form your own opinion on whether the ND is as much of a Miata as the original NA:

When did you decide you wanted an MX-5?

Pep: A friend of mine and I used to meet up on Sunday afternoons to read international magazines like Quattoroute, Echappement and national magazines like Autopista, Motor 16 and others. In one of them I found a small review saying that the 1.6 engine had been reintroduced for the MX-5 and therefore the price was more affordable. I went to ask the local Mazda agent in my city and he told me that he had a red MX-5 to show to a possible customer, so we met on September 11th 1996 to test it, and that day I decided that I wanted an MX-5.

J. Antonio: I must admit that deciding for an MX-5 was a more logical than passionate decision, because in fact, long before, I had already decided that I wanted a roadster, but not which one... I remember very well that at that time, I had a Fiat Tipo and two small children, and during Christmas 1995 we went to the cinema to see Goldeneye... do you remember the scene where Pierce Brosnan was driving that beautiful light blue Z3? Well, I do, and also that when we left the cinema I told my wife that someday I would have one of those cars: short and with two seats. Time passed (a long time), and after reading many magazines and asking friends, it became very clear to me that the MX-5 was the ideal roadster, so when I finally could, I started looking for a second hand NB, which I think would have been a good buy. But when I saw the then new NC at the Barcelona Show in 2005, I fell madly in love, and a few months later, I gave the deposit for what would be the first NC that came to my town.

How do you use your MX-5?

Pep: For many years it was my only car, its use was normal: to go to work, for the weekend ... yes, always watching where I parked it and always in the garage. In 2013, with the arrival of a new MX-5 NC 1.8 RC, the NA has been now in the background and I basically use it for outings with the MX5forum group.

J. Antonio: I've had three MX-5s in just over ten years, and I've always used them every day, whether to go to work, to go to the cinema, to go for a Sunday drive, or to go on holiday. In total, I have done about 170,000 km to my three MX-5. Since we have another car at home (which my wife drives every day, and which I use if I ever have to park on the street at night), my MX-5 has a canvas roof, but if it were my only car, I wouldn't hesitate to choose the retractable hardtop version.

What makes the MX-5 a special car, different even from other roadsters?

Pep: There are many factors at the same time, and I wouldn't know what to say concretely, but it's a car that hooks you a lot, maybe its lightness and the feeling of freedom when driving it.

J. Antonio: The truth is that I can't think of any other car with which you can go to work, enjoy like a dwarf in a mountain pass, and go on holiday enjoying the scenic routes to the maximum.

Do you think the spirit of the NA continues in the new ND?

Pep: With new exterior shapes I think so, it keeps that direct two-way communication between the car and the driver. It's difficult to put it into words, but in both MX-5s you soon stop paying attention to the car and just look at the road, completely ignoring everything else. The driving flows by itself, focusing on the road and the sensations experienced.

J. Antonio: Yes, in fact, I think the spirit of the NA was kept in a high percentage in the NB and in the NC, but I would dare to say that the ND is -if possible- more faithful to the initial concept. OK, it's much more powerful, its design has very little in common, and the new one has a lot of gadgets... but the new ND is lighter and shorter than the NB and the ND, and after testing Josep María's NA, I've been surprised by how similar they are in driving feel. Not that the NC isn't a Miata, but the ND is more so, both in steering feel, shifting, handling, steering, throttle response... Even the forward view helps, as the bonnet of the ND is lower than the NC, so the view of the road is more like that of its great-grandfather.

Why do you think the MX-5 concept has been so successful?

Pep: Basically because it is an affordable car and because there is no other car on the market that for the price you pay gives you so much satisfaction.

J. Antonio: First of all, and until now that its cousin the 124 Spider is coming to the market, the price factor, and once the promotions are discounted, there is nothing that can give you back so much fun per euro in the market. It is also a reliable car and reasonably economical to maintain, so it can be used on a daily basis. The most important thing is that the rest of the roadsters are either much more luxurious and focused on their use as "luxury convertibles", or much more powerful and efficient, so at the end of the day, anyone who doesn't have Carlos Sainz's hands will have much more fun in an MX-5, and all this, fulfilling as a perfect convertible for touring.

Do you consider the MX-5 as a real sports car?

Pep: The sensations are, maybe the performance (especially in the NA) is quite fair but it is perfectly demonstrated that a sports car does not necessarily have to be very powerful.

J. Antonio: I think that actually the MX-5 fits better in the concept of "Sports Car" that the British have, because the concept of "sports car" that we have in our country implies the search for maximum effectiveness. Personally, and although -for example- a Subaru WRX seems to me to be a sportier car, I think the MX-5 is also a sportier car, although in its own way.

What values has the MX-5 contributed to the history of the automobile?

Pep: In that sense Mazda was the first to take up the idea of the 50/60's roadsters, their merit was to believe in that "niche" of the market and to demonstrate 15 or 20 years before anyone else that the past could be perfected. Apart from that they have been able to create a name "MX-5", which is already entering the history of motoring, a fact that is reserved for a few other names, read 911, read Mini or Beetle.

J. Antonio: At the time, it revived the concept of the roadster/spider, and I think we should thank Mazda for the fact that with the MX-5 it continues to defend the theory that it is still possible to enjoy driving, and that to do so, you don't need to be rich or drive at absurdly high speeds. Bravo Mazda!

What do you like most about the NA?

Pep: What can I say, I've had one for 20 years! Honestly, I like its dynamic behaviour, its reliability and its aesthetics, you have to take into account that its aesthetics and mechanical configuration was based on the Lotus Elan, that gives it a personality and sensations at the wheel that you can find in few cars. We have all heard of Mazda's reliability, but few like me and after 20 years we can speak with knowledge of cause, I have only had one incident with the clutch hydraulic system, the rest only the maintenance indicated and consumables worn, a 10 for Mazda.

I also highlight its austerity in the interior so typical of Japanese culture, so much so that it doesn't even have an hour clock, but that fits completely with the philosophy of the MX-5, "less is more" someone once said. Aesthetically for me it is very beautiful, its rounded lines give it a very marked sensuality, they are lines that invite to harmony and meditation, many times I go to the garage to contemplate its beauty, just contemplating it in silence.

J. Antonio: Many things! Its timeless design with an unpretentious line and that is nice to almost everyone (including the non-pistonudos), how pleasant and fun to drive, that it is a youngtimer that you can use every day ... that is authentic!

And what do you like most about the ND?

Pep: I have been very impressed by its engine, with a lot of bass, elastic and quick to turn over, its gearbox for its feel and its travel, also for the very direct connection between what the driver decides to do and the response of the car, in this crucial aspect it is very similar to the NA. The steering is precise and quick (even if it is electric) and informs very well about what is happening under the wheels, a very important aspect when you are trying to go fast.

Where there is a world of difference between the NA and ND is the ride comfort, where the 25 years of design difference is noticeable, infinitely better in the ND clearly helped (in this unit) by some formidable seats that pick you up perfectly when going fast on twisty roads. I think Mazda has managed to preserve and evolve the qualities of the NA in the ND, but clearly breaking its aesthetic connection with the NA. So, in short, different shapes but the same spirit.

J. Antonio: It's as much fun to drive as the NA! Besides, I like its aesthetics, with a design with a lot of character. I like that it is so comfortable, and that -if you manage with its trunk- it can take you to the end of the world, and of course, I like its fantastic engines, with a 1.5 and a 2.0 that runs like hell, and all this, with almost ridiculous fuel consumption.

Experiences from the right seat, say the usual co-pilots of Pep and Jose Antonio

As co-driver, do you like to travel in the MX-5?

Montse (Pep's co-driver): Yes, but the NA is much less comfortable compared to the NC-ND, especially for tall people.

Loli (José Antonio's co-driver): I love to feel the wind and the sun, how the road looks... any route and landscape are much more beautiful in the MX-5, and besides, I get less dizzy than in a normal car, although sometimes, if the route is very twisty, and José Antonio is inspired, I have to take biodramine...

What makes the MX-5 a different car?

Montse: Being a two-seater and convertible, it allows you to get sensations that are impossible to get in other cars.

Loli: It's a car that makes you feel like going for a drive, and also, it's a car that arouses sympathy, people look at you with a bit of envy, but the healthy kind.

What do you like most about the NA?

Montse: Its aesthetics and its small size.

Loli: How beautiful it is, and I like that you have the sensation of sitting a little bit higher than in the ND.

What do you like most about the ND?

Montse: The comfort and the ride quality.

Loli: That it's very comfortable, that it has all those little things that make life more comfortable, and that the boot is a little bit bigger, just enough to go on holiday.

Are you a bit jealous of your better half's MX-5?

Montse: Absolutely not

Loli: Very! He's a real geek, and he takes much more care of it than he does of me! He washes it almost every week, and I don't even want to know how much he spends on products to keep it always shiny...

Conclusion: maybe the MX-5 is the most authentic car in the world.

The ND is not very practical, its line will please more or less, there are some cars in its price range faster and more effective, but none so authentic. Many car manufacturers design and market "halo" cars, cars that bring little or no economic benefits, but help to improve the brand image, and the MX-5 is certainly Mazda's halo car, a model that suggests that the Hiroshima brand makes cars that are fun to drive?

But the MX-5 has always been more than just an image for the brand, and while the rest of the sports cars have grown in size and power, the small Japanese roadster has been the only one that has remained stubbornly faithful to its principles of lightness, minimalism and the idea of offering daily fun.

It's likely that Mazda could have sold more MX-5s (and it's the world's best-selling in its class), and at a higher price, if they had made the MX-5 a bit bigger and given it a more powerful engine, and that would have brought more profit to the brand... but the ND is proof that at Mazda there must be at least one or two car enthusiasts, people who are determined to make a fun car, and within the reach of as many fans as possible; and that's something that no other car brand does.

Thank you Mazda!



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