The Mazda Miata (or MX-5 as it is known in many other parts of the world) is the most successful sports car in history. In fact, it is so successful and popular that a common refrain when someone asks what car they should buy is “Miata is always the answer“!
In a recent edition of Car Facts, we explored what makes the Miata/MX-5 such a popular car. We also have one of the most detailed Mazda Miata buyer’s guides on the Internet, which is well worth checking out if you are looking to purchase one of these awesome cars.
One of the key reasons for its enduring popularity over more than 30 years of production is the fact that it is just plain great to drive.
Although the Miata has never been the last word in terms of power, it is the blend of “just enough” performance, excellent handling and top-down fun that make it such a popular car.
Part of the great driving experience that accompanies the Miata is its slick manual transmission. Because Miatas aren’t crazy powerful, you get the opportunity to work the gears via the manual transmission, which makes for an engaging and enjoyable drive.
But are all Mazda Miatas manual (or stick shift as some of our American readers like to say)?
In this edition of Car Facts, we take a closer look at the transmission options on the Mazda Miata/MX-5.
Do All Miatas/MX-5s Have A Manual Transmission?
No, not all Miatas are manual.
Every generation of the Miata/MX-5 has also come with an automatic gearbox option.
On the NA and NB generations, the automatic was a basic four-speed unit. This is a simple automatic transmission, and not particularly sophisticated or sporty.
On the NC generation the automatic option was a six-speed transmission that could come with paddle shifters, and the ND (current generation) also features a six-speed automatic transmission option. These later transmissions are meant to offer a good balance between ease-of-use and daily drivability, as well as performance; the six speed is noticeably better than the earlier four speed.
While the manual gearbox has been the most popular option across the generations of the MX-5, many automatic examples have been sold over the years as well.
Is It Worth Buying An Automatic Miata?
Ultimately, this comes down to personal preference and requirements.
For example, if you cannot drive a stick shift/manual car for health reasons (or any other reason) then if you want a fun convertible sports car, an automatic Miata is still a worthy purchase.
The handling is the same great experience … you just won’t get to work the gears yourself so easily, nor will you get maximum performance from the engine as the auto transmission saps a bit of the performance. However, if you cannot drive a manual/stick shift car, then you will still most likely be happy with an automatic Miata and you do get the vast majority of the overall experience.
Another reason to consider an automatic Miata/MX-5 is if you spend a lot of time in traffic and want an easier driving experience. While the manual Miata is the winner on a winding country road or hill climb, driving a stick shift can be a right pain in the backside in traffic. If you’re planning on using your Miata as a daily driver (i.e. it’s going to be your only car, and you don’t fancy the thought of changing gears yourself in traffic) then an automatic might be a good option. While many people like to daily drive their manual Miatas/MX-5s, there is certainly an argument to be made for having the automatic option if you spend a lot of time in stop-start traffic.
Even without the manual gearbox experience, Miata is still a great answer when it comes to the question of what car you should buy.
Why Are Automatic Miatas So Much Cheaper Than Manual Ones?
This is a basic issue of supply and demand.
The manual Miata is a much more desirable car, as it is better to drive (at least for the purpose for which it was built – to be a lightweight, reliable, engaging sports car).
Most people on the market for a Miata or MX-5 are wanting to buy a manual example, so prices of these are higher.
On the other hand, the automatic cars are nowhere near as popular from a demand perspective; even though there is a smaller supply of auto cars, the low demand means cheaper prices.
Therefore, if you are on the market for an automatic Miata, you are probably going to have an easier time scoring a bargain than with a manual car.
This can also be an excellent opportunity for the savvy Miata buyer who wants a manual car – it may be possible to purchase an automatic example at a substantial discount, and then convert it to manual. If you care about originality, then this won’t be a suitable option. However, if you are really just interested in getting the Miata body and engine as “shell” to build on, then taking this approach may allow you more options when it comes to buying.
Conclusion – Are All Miatas Manual/Stick Shift?
No, not all Miatas are manual.
In fact, there were many automatic (and later tiptronic for newer generation) examples produced.
While the automatic Miatas definitely aren’t quite so good to drive as the manual ones, they can still make for great cars – especially if you cannot drive a stick shift or if you want a bit of convertible fun but don’t fancy the idea of cog-swapping yourself while stuck in traffic on the daily commute.
In some respects, an automatic Miata is a bit like a cheeseburger without the cheese – you can definitely live without it, and you get most of the experience, it’s just that something is definitely missing.
However, if you need an automatic because you can’t drive a manual – or if an automatic better suits the manner in which you’ll be using the car (i.e. you want a convertible but you spend a lot of time in traffic) then you’ll still most likely be content with your purchase.
The automatic Miata transmissions – especially older ones on the NA and NB cars – are probably less reliable than manual gearboxes. This is especially the case if the automatic transmission has never been serviced. However, look after the gearbox and you should get good service. One other positive for the automatic gearbox option is that auto cars often aren’t driven as aggressively and thrashed as hard as manual ones, so you might wind up with a better condition car that hasn’t had such a hard life.
One of the biggest advantages to buying an automatic Miata/MX-5 is that you should save quite a bit on the purchase price, because the manual cars are so much more desirable and there is less demand for automatic cars.
Make sure you check out our full Mazda Miata/MX-5 buyer’s guide and model history for more information on this legendary sports car. We have put together the most detailed guide on the Internet to finding, inspecting and buying a Mazda Miata or MX-5 across all generations. Take a look at our MX-5 buyer’s guide today!
Would you consider an automatic Miata? Maybe you’ve got one yourself and want to share your experience? We would love to hear from you – leave a comment below and get the discussion started.
Don’t forget to read our MX-5 buyer’s guide as well for more information on finding yourself a good example of this legendary sports car (whether that example happens to be automatic or manual). To help you with the process of finding, inspecting and buying a good car, we also have in-depth reviews of products that will help you in the buying process, such as: