It is often said when comparing the original Mazda MX-5 NA Miata to the second and third generation cars that the newer cars are better cars but the original Miata is the better Miata. That is all fine and well. If you believe this, buy one. I did. But all that aside, putting the NB slightly in the background, how does the Mazda MX-5 NC Miata compare to the original NA Miata?
Before we continue, for those new to MX-5’s, the car generations are designated like this:
1. First generation is called the “NA”
2. Second generation is called the “NB”
3. Third generation is NC
4. Fourth generation is ND… and so on and so fourth until the apocalypse.
This nomenclature applies worldwide, but in many countries the generations are also known as MX-5 Mk1, MX-5 Mk2 and MX-5 MK3.
There is a little bit more about the nomenclature info here.
What we’re comparing here is the original NA Miata that ran from 1990-1997 to the NC Miata 2006-2013+ as of this writing. It’s the best comparison, because first of all, I own both. Secondly, the NA and NB are very similar cars that mostly share the same chassis and engine with a body change and other smaller updates. The NC however is a completely different car. The NC Miata runs on a shortened modified version of the Mazda RX-8 chassis and has a different engine with slightly larger displacement at 2.0 liters.
First impression comparing NA Miata to NC Miata.
There are those who love the original NA and hate the NC. There are those that love the newer NC and dislike the NA Miata for being too dainty. Then there are those who love all of them.
The first impression however is that the NA is much smaller than the NC. I believe this to be a bit of an optical illusion more than anything. Yes, the NC is bigger, but it isn’t THAT much bigger. In reality, length is about the same. The NC is a bit wider and taller. But what really makes it look bigger is the fact that it’s fatter. The entire body is much much voluminous than the NA. It’s taller and the fenders bulge quite a bit more. The fuller body, extra stiffening and extra kit throughout all translate into roughly 200 pounds extra depending on trim.
The NC has more modern looks as well as interiors. The NA is pretty much a classic by now. It’s also the only Miata you can get with pop-up headlights. Everyone know’s pop up headlights are full of win – even if they are parachutes when you’re trying to drive fast at night.
In a very interesting Chris Harris video, the popular journalist tries to make amends to the MX-5 community giving the car another look to hopefully have a better verdict from his original take a few years back. Regardless of what he says about the NA MX-5 Miata, there is one very interesting bit of information in the video. It’s Chris’ remark about the newer NC model… saying he doesn’t like it at all and is not even interested in driving it.
Well, I respect Chris Harris. I think he is just as entertaining as Jeremy Clarkson and possibly more full of car knowledge and maybe a better driver as well. But, the simple fact that Mr. Harris doesn’t like the NC MX-5 doesn’t change the fact that it exists. The fact that he glorifies the Toyota GT86 doesn’t change the fact that the Mazda MX-5 Miata NC is quite a bit similar to that car and has been around longer. I’m not going to spill the beans as to how I feel about the NA vs NC debate just yet, and I’m also not going to give a verdict on Miata Vs GT86 (BRZ, FRS, FT86). But, I would like to recommend to Mr. Harris that he drive one, possibly back to back with the GT86 to realize that just because it has that stupid smile on its face, the car is just as amazing. Anyway, back to NA Miata vs NC Miata…
Let’s break it down
The best way to deal with this would be to break down some key points. Let’s start with the obvious, whether or not money is an object…
A really clean stock NA MX-5 Miata can be had for around $6,000-$8,000 right now. Yes, there are cheaper ones and more expensive ones, but this is what I’ve found the good, low-miles cars to be worth. A new NC MX-5 can be had for around $25,000 – $27,000 after negotiations and decent used ones can be found all the way down to $15,000. Sticker on a new one is actually more than the Subaru BRZ, Scion FRS and Toyota GT86, but incentives are usually better. Plus, there are many slightly used ones available. That makes an NA quite pricey in comparison given I’ve seen NC’s for as low as $12,000 with comparably less mileage.
If you pay $8,000 for an NA you’re paying for the vintage vibe of the car. Nice thing however, if you keep it nice, it will hold it’s value very well as clean ones become more and more scarce. But, if you think Miatas are cool, there is really nothing else out there that offers the excitement, reliability and looks for the price. Really, I’ve had quite a bit of a hard time trying to find a car I’d be proud to drive that’s under $10k. Everything I can think of is just an appliance. Of course, I like Miatas, and if you are reading this, you probably do too. There are those that don’t like them and would not feel the same way about a sub $10K car.
This makes the NA a much more affordable car than the NC. But, unless you have the cash on hand, it also makes it harder to buy. Being a car that’s more than 10 years old, if you only have $2k in your pocket, you can’t very easily get a loan for a $5,000 Miata. Street value on these cars is considerably higher than fair market value and Kelly Blue Book value. So, if there ever was a chance to get a car loan on a car that’s more than 10 years old, your dream might be shattered when the bank tells you they won’t lend you the money because the car you want is $5K and collateral is only $2K according to KKB.
On the other hand, you could easily take that same $2K in your pocket and put it down towards a 2006 Mazda Miata priced at $15,000 and easily get a loan for the remaining $13,000. Or you could go all out and buy new. The fact that it’s easier doesn’t mean it’s the best thing to do though. You get a newer, more technologically advanced car, warranty and all the bells and whistles but you have to pay a lot more for it. A typical case of diminishing returns as you go up the scale. Whether you can afford it or not is besides the point. With these kinds of cars you don’t necessarily buy the most expensive one you can afford.
You need to find out what your reason is for buying a Miata. You might want an original NA simply for the looks and light weight whether or not you can afford a new NC, a Porsche, a Corvette or a Ferrari. The point is, just because it’s inexpensive doesn’t mean it’s not worthwhile. In fact, with an NA Miata you get so much that the price is a bit of a joke really.
In the end, it’s what you really want first, then go look at the numbers.
The 1990-1997 Mazda MX-5 Miata is not about power and top speed. It’s about nimbleness and fun. The NC does feel much more powerful. While in a 1994 Miata, every horsepower has to deal with roughly 18 pounds of car, in a 2009 MX-5 Miata each horsepower has to push only 15 pounds of car. That’s quite a bit of improvement in power to weight ratio. Plus, the MZR 2.0 engine in the NC is more eager, more torquey and revs faster. To top it all off, it sounds bloody awesome compared to the BP I4 1.8L and B6ZE (RS) I4 1.6L in the NA MX-5 Miatas. The newer car definitely pulls a lot better. While most car enthusiasts agree every Miata is underpowered, the NC can be argued not to really feel that weak. Where unfortunately, compared to the NC, the NA does feel quite lethargic.
The 6-speed transmission in the NC feels considerably notchier than the NA 5-speed transmission. It’s also much more annoying at cold temperatures, clunking and crunching about until the lubricants warm up. All the while, the NA 5 5-speed has a more mechanical and stiffer feel. It’s hard to describe.
One way to put it is this: The NC transmission is notchier but smoother overall, specially at higher revs, where the NA tranny, while not as notchy, feels more metallic and stiffer but precise.
The throws are also longer in the NA. The stock NA shift knob doesn’t help either. The stock NA Miata shift knob weighs 195 grams and has a rather uncomfortable shape. The NC Miata shift knob weighs an extra 25 grams (220g) and is slightly taller and more comfortably shaped. I put this knob into the NA and yes, the feel became much better. The combination of shape and extra weight smoothed out the shifting quite a bit.
Both transmissions are adequate for the cars and are very reliable. So are the clutches, although the traditional clutch in the NA does feel much better than the NC’s clutch. The 6-speed in the 2006+ MX-5 is apparently race-driven and more robust. Word has it Mazda made improvements to the shifter fork in model years later than 2006 due to some failures they discovered in the MX-5 Cup cars when the NC MX-5 first came out. The transmission in the NC is pretty noisy, especially at low-revs. When pulling out from a full stop, or when changing gears at low-revs you can hear gear mesh noise that resembles a rattle or the faint rumbling of a diesel engine. This can be quite annoying. On the other hand, the newer car is quieter in every other respect. Some NA’s can rattle like a Puerto Rican maraca.
When I first got my 2011 Miata I though something was wrong with it. I took it in twice and the service department confirmed the transmission noise to be normal noise. I later drove a couple of different NC’s from different years. I discovered that some do the noise more than others. Some are closer to quiet, while others rumble. I recently drove a modified 2013 MX-5. I could hear the gear mesh noise, but because the car had a loud aftermarket exhaust, it was barely noticeable.
So there, if you want an NC Miata, buy a loud exhaust. That, combined with the fun engine noise that’s piped close the cabin with an ISE (Induction Sound Enhancer) are enough to quiet down the tranny. On the other hand, the NA Miata’s 5-speed is dead quiet. But, for freeway driving, I believe it could really use a 6th top gear. Some driver’s complain the 2006+ 6-speed Miatas rev too high and are too loud on the freeway. They clearly have never driven an NA on the freeway. The NA screams around 4,000 RPMs when at high freeway speeds. An extra gear would sort that out, but then again, these cars are not optimum for the freeway anyway.
Don’t forget you can also get a 5-speed NC. For that you have to opt for the base model.
Funny thing about the MX-5 is that the original Miata’s ride is stiffer and more sporty than the newer NC MX-5’s suspension fueled by a dash of Buick and another of Lincoln Town Car. The NA’s suspension is what you’d expect from a little sports car with a good suspension geometry but inexpensive components. Sporty, fun and acceptable. The NC’s suspension follows the same principle, but for some reason is way softer. Combine that with higher ride height and more weight and you’ll need dramamine after a long drive in the canyons. Otherwise, for normal city or freeway driving in relative comfort, it’s pretty good.
In fact, the NC absorbs shocks better than the NA. It’s soft, but it’s not a train wreck in sports car terms. Mazda wasn’t completely blind when they did this. They were just not thinking like a tuner. They were thinking like a traditional car. The funny thing is, the car sticks well and handles, but it doesn’t do it like other sports cars that turn in with the suspension near neutral. The NC Miata is designed by Mazda to “set” itself on the bumpstops of the shocks as it’s turning. In real world terms, this works, but it’s not as fun as a flatter car.
Nonetheless, and this goes mostly to the folks in America… the suspension is something that is an NC MX-5 Miata essential modification. In any of these cars actually, be it NA, NB or NC and it’s safe to say, also the ND – suspension can always be improved. And why do I say, “the folks in America.” In Europe for example, and don’t quote me on this, I’ve heard plenty of high-profile Euro car guys say people tend to buy a car and leave it mostly as is. Not sure why and not sure how true.
When it comes to handling, there are usually huge gains with a good suspension setup from the likes of Ohlins, Bilstein, Koni or a smaller custom outfit like Fat Cat Motorsports. This is not only only true for the Miatas, but also for the Toyobaru, Evo, STI, 350z, 370z and a bunch of other cars in the below $50K price range. so, if you’re serious about handling, consider aftermarket suspension no matter the Miata.
Steering and handling go hand in hand. In the Miata, steering feel is so important we’re comparing the NA to the NC all on their own apart from handling. Both cars use traditional hydraulic steering systems. For the NC, that’s a good thing in a time when most companies are going electric. A perfect example is the Toyobaru (Subaru BRZ, Scion FRS, Toyota GT86) mentioned earlier – a car that would be perfect with a traditional hydraulic system, but isn’t. Same goes for the new Porsche 911, Porsche Boxster, Porsche Cayman and the current Mustangs. All have moved to electric steering. In fact, I can’t even think of another current sports car aside from the BMW M3 and 1M that uses hydraulic steering anymore, although I’m sure there are more.
Ok, here’s where it gets interesting. I’m sorry to all the NA Miata lovers out there, but the steering feel and precision in the NC Miata is way better than that in the NA. I’ve driven both cars back to back for months now. The NC steering is simply better, period. The steering in the NC is more direct, slightly heavier, has more road feel and provides a better sense of direction than the one in my 1995 MX-5 Miata. Not to mention, the size of the steering wheel feels much better in relation to the car in the NC than the ginormous wheel in the original Miata. Albeit, both car’s steering response is great, but I’ll take the NC please.
Now before you burn me at the stake, there is a disclaimer. My 1995 Mazda MX-5 Miata has power steering. I’ve spoken to some guys that claim the steering feel in the non-power steering cars beats both power steering NA’s and NC’s. I have yet to drive one of those for an extended period of time, so the jury’s still out.
Chassis and dynamics
Excluding the sensation of power when exiting corners, the NA definitely feels more nimble. The NC is fun because you can easily power out of corners much better and the feeling of acceleration sling-shotting you out of a corners is to me more fun than simply carrying more speed into it and hoping to carry that speed out with minimal acceleration capabilities while exiting after the apex. Keep in mind, this is stock for stock. Install a turbo into your NA and the story changes.
Again, stock for stock, the NA chassis is a wet noodle when compared to the NC. The 2006-2013 MX-5 is not the stiffest car out there, but it’s definitely much more so than the NA. In the NA you can feel and hear the flex and creaking somethings. The NC takes a little more to twist it out of shape. Not to mention, it is a quieter and more comfortable car overall, specially for longer trips. On the other hand, I don’t vouch for the comments from some NA owners that wish to own an NC and claim the NA feels like a tin can in comparison with the newer car. While it’s noisier, less-composed and less-luxurious than my NC, I still feel perfectly happy driving around in the NA and never feel I’m in a tin can. It’s just more raw, that’s all.
Of course, both cars can be improved and stiffened. The NA biggest stiffening benefit comes from a good roll bar from Boss Frog, Hard Dog or a custom build from Blackbird Fabworx. Plus, it will add safety to the car. Yes, it will also add more weight to the car and less weight to your wallet. But, if you didn’t buy an NC, you already have a fatter wallet.
NA MX-5 vs NC MX-5 seats
I have to mention the seats for a number of reasons. First, if you are fat, the NC seats will fit you a little better than the NA seats but not by much. People say that in a Miata you wear the car, rather than sitting in, or on, the car. These people have clearly never sat in a proper racing-position sports car. Be it NA, NB or NC, the seating position is a tad too high in all 3 cars. And I’m an average 5’10”. The worst of the 3 in this respect is the early NB. The best is the NC, but marginally. All Miatas can really benefit from slightly lower seating. I mean, I see it all the time. Some dude passes buy in a NB and the high-seating combined with the lowered down-swooping belt line always gives me the impression the guy measures like 6’5″ when he’s probably 5’10” like me.
The early 2006 and 2007 MX-5 didn’t have a heigh-adjustable driver’s seat. This changed in 2008 and unfortunately it was only beneficial for shorter drivers. In Miatas 2008-2013 the lowest position is higher than the stock non-height-adjustable 2006-2007 Miata seats.
The NC offers the least amount of seat padding of any Miata. For that reason, old guys claim they are really uncomfortable. That, my friends, is a load of crap. In reality, a harder seat is better for you than a soft, cushy seat. This is specially true for longer trips. Soft seats feel more comfortable at first, but they are very good at sinking around your private parts, cutting blood-flow and making your prostate explode like a tactical grenade. The firmer seats make it so that the bony bits in your butt take most of the job of supporting your body, thus making you feel a bit tired but providing better blood-flow down there. This knowledge comes from bike riding and studies that have been done on blood flow to sensitive areas during long hours in the saddle. Harder saddles tend to be better for you when you get used to them. But then again, that’s bike saddles and we’re talking car seats – up to you to decide.
I do find the NA seat backs to be too low and the seating position is just plain awkward. I feel much more comfortable in the NC seats than the NA. Not to mention, the combination of high seats, giant steering wheel and tiny footwell in the NA Miata make it so that I can only heel-toe downshift using the side of my right foot while still hitting the steering wheel with my thigh. In the NC I can heel and toe to my heart’s content with the heel of my right foot on the gas, toes firmly planted on the brakes and my thigh never hits the wheel. Yay for that.
The bits and details
There are various other bit and pieces to keep in mind when comparing an original NA Miata to an NC. Let’s put them in a points list as by now you’re probably tired and want to get this over with.
Seven NC Pros that kick NA butt.
- Arm rests on the NC are more comfortable and better located than most NA’s.
- The brakes actually work.
- It’s a newer car that will be more reliable and need less preventive maintenance.
- The power-retractable hard top is quite convenient if you like that sort of thing.
- The power windows roll down in less than 10 minutes.
- The doors close with nice thunk in comparison to the NA’s gutless clank.
- Much easier and comfortable to heel and toe shift than the NA.
Seven NA Pros that kick NC butt.
- Easier and less expensive to buy and to mod.
- Even if it breaks down, the overall cost of ownership is less than the NC.
- There are many more aftermarket parts available for the NA than for the NC.
- There are many CARB approved parts for the NA, even forced-induction.
- The vintage looks are cool.
- Lighter weight.
- Pop-up headlights. Yes, I mentioned this earlier. But… pop-up headlights man.
NA Miata vs NC Miata – The verdict
There is one conclusion I have drawn for myself in owning both of these cars… Unless you are a hardcore NA Miata fan, it’s not worth spending too much money boosting one to make it as fast and as capable as an NC. By the time you’re done, your NA would have as much money in it as the price tag on a good used NC – yet still won’t be as capable.
It’s almost better to buy a NC if what you want is a fast NA.
Fortunately, when in the dilemma of NA Miata vs NC Miata there is really no wrong answer. Both cars are great and each offers it’s own bit of personality, style and performance in different ways. Price can have a lot to do with the final decision and that all depends on how the market may fluctuate in the next couple of years – specially when considering an NA Miata. There are a lot of them out there as many were made, but they are not exactly multiplying you know?
The NC however, is a more refined vehicle, and more capable, but it lacks the coolness factor of the vintage NA MX-5. The nice thing is both cars do more or less the same thing. They are both 2 seater convertibles and the outcome would generally be the same. For that reason, check your budget, pick your car and go. If you choose the actual car in question correctly and don’t overpay, it will generally result in a positive outcome either way. Both are unique and fun cars with lots of personality. But… Pop-up headlights man. Pop-up headlights.