After spending about five hours carving up canyon roads outside of L.A. with the 2016 Mazda MX-5 Miata (top down, of course), I was ready to head up to my hotel room for a little air conditioning, a shower and some aloe lotion, but Mazda had a little surprise waiting for me. Sitting in a row of dirty 2016 Miatas that just returned from the long drive was a shiny Mariner Blue 1990 NA Miata. Now, this wasn’t just any Miata; it was the 14th Miata ever produced, it was owned by Mazda and the odometer read 8,671 miles.

Before I even had the chance to collect my belongings from the Soul Red Miata Club I had just climbed out of, a Mazda representative asked me if I’d be interested in taking the NA out for a quick spin. My response was somewhere along the lines of “are you kidding me?!” followed shortly by a “yes, please!” See, of all the amazing cars I’ve driven over the years, seat time in a first-gen Miata has always eluded me. A bunch of NCs and two NBs, yes, but I was an NA virgin. I was ready to see what the fuss has been about all these years.

Continue reading for the full review.

  • 1990 Mazda MX-5 Miata - Driven
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    1.6 L
  • 0-60 time:
    9 sec.
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1990 Mazda MX-5 Miata - Driven Exterior Test drive
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1990 Mazda MX-5 Miata - Driven Exterior Test drive
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1990 Mazda MX-5 Miata - Driven Exterior Test drive
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Looking as fresh as the day it was built, this classic Miata rocked the iconic Mariner Blue paint blue paint job, which is a color that was derived from the blue California license plates. The “please do not touch” stickers on the doors showed this car is well traveled on the auto show circuit, but even so, it was hard to get over the pristine condition that this car was in.

One of my favorite parts of the NA Miata (aside from the pop-up headlights, of course) are the cool metal pull-style door handles, while the unblemished 14-inch wheels looked perfect on this pint-sized roadster. Mazda even used the NA’s engine bay as a source of inspiration for the ND, going out of its way to create the aluminum valve cover – that is actually heavier and more expensive – to tie the under-hood look of the NA and ND together.


1990 Mazda MX-5 Miata - Driven Interior Test drive
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1990 Mazda MX-5 Miata - Driven Interior Test drive
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1990 Mazda MX-5 Miata - Driven Interior Test drive
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Inside, it was remarkable to see just how basic cars were 26 years ago. Forget high-end gadgetry, options on the NA included air conditioning, as Mazda was doing everything in its power to make the Miata as simple and light as possible. The manual folding top and 1980s-era materials like the vinyl sheet acting as a door panel were just a sign of the times, but one of the coolest weight-saving items visible on the NA was the drilled gas pedal.

The small cabin was surprisingly comfortable, but the same probably can’t be said for safety, as the seats in this car had single-piece seat backs with adjustable headrests that stopped below my neck. For its price and purpose, though, the interior of the 1990 Mazda MX-5 Miata was as good as it got back then.


1990 Mazda MX-5 Miata - Driven Drivetrain Test drive
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Despite being a legend among car lovers, all it took to power the 2,116-pound Miata in 1990 was a 1.6-liter DOHC four-cylinder engine that produced 116 horsepower and 100 pound-feet of torque. Of course, this was at the same time the V-8-powered Ford Mustang GT had 225 horsepower and the 1989 Ferrari 348 TB was rated at 300. Just like all subsequent Miatas, including the ND, the manual transmission added an immense level of driver satisfaction.

Driving Impressions

1990 Mazda MX-5 Miata - Driven Exterior Test drive
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To be honest, my seat time in this time capsule of a roadster lasted less than four miles and 30 minutes, but I truly got to feel Mazda’s jinba ittai (translated to “horse and rider as one”) philosophy first hand. Driving the Miata, I definitely felt like part of the car, and that’s not just because I felt like my head was part of the windshield (since my head was taller than the windshield frame) and my arm was pretty much all I had for side-impact protection. The small size and low center of gravity made it feel you’re riding an inch off the ground, and all of the controls were so close that the cabin seems to wrap around the driver.

The shift-lever throw required little effort or movement to perform upshifts and downshifts, and the clutch travel was equally short, further adding to the car’s quick-fire shifting abilities. What few turns I encountered along my truncated drive route only helped to prove that the direct steering feel in this car should be made standard on all sports cars. Curse you, electric power steering!


1990 Mazda MX-5 Miata - Driven Exterior Test drive
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Brand new, the 1990 Mazda MX-5 Miata was priced at $13,800. An interesting bit of trivia – once told to me by Bob Hall – is the fact that Mazda had originally planned to sell the roadster for $8,800, but after customer clinics showed an expected price closer to $20,000, Mazda finally settled on the higher price. And Mazda still had a hard time keeping up with demand.


1990 Mazda MX-5 Miata - Driven Exterior Test drive
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Sadly, I wasn’t able to take the NA out on any of the twisty roads I had enjoyed with the ND, but my limited time with the car gave me a new level of appreciation for the Miata and Miata enthusiasts. According to Mazda, the early Miatas took about nine seconds to accelerate from 0-60 mph, and while that was even slow for its day, you don’t need speed to enjoy the Miata. There’s just no spoiling the fun in this car.

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    • I felt like I was in a clown car
Jeffrey N. Ross
Jeffrey N. Ross
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