The Mazda Miata – also known as the MX-5 in some markets – is one of the most celebrated (and successful, in terms of units sold) sports cars of all time.
Mazda’s humble riff on the classic British roadsters of old has become an enduring icon over basically four decades.
The formula is simple: low weight, rear wheel drive and just enough power to have fun (but not so much that it is silly) combines to make the Miata/MX-5 such a legendary combination across all of its various generations.
While ‘Miata is always the answer‘, are all Mazda Miatas rear wheel drive?
You might have hear someone down the pub bragging that they managed to score a rare AWD Miata, or that their friend’s friend has the only FWD version in existence … so what is the truth here?
In this short edition of Car Facts (our series where we answer your car questions) we are looking at whether there are any non-RWD Mazda Miatas/MX-5s.
Long story short, all Miatas are rear wheel drive from the factory.
This is true across all generations of the Miata/MX-5, from the earliest examples through to brand new cars.
However, the Miata could have wound up being FWD …
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By the 1980s, the lightweight sports car segment was in bad shape, owing to changes in safety and emissions regulations during the 1970s that had increased vehicle sizes and weights and made production more challenging.
Some brave engineers at Mazda lobbied management to develop and build a ‘reimagined’ classic roadster, as a way of helping to distinguish Mazda from the competition.
According to Mazda’s own history of the MX-5, various drive system options such as front-engine FWD and even mid-engine design were considered.
However, it was ultimately decided that the correct approach would be to go for front-engine, rear-wheel drive in the vein of classic sports roadsters of old.
If you’re interested in learning more about the history of the Miata/MX-5, then read our buyer’s guide and history here that goes into greater detail with regards to the history of this legendary car.
But Someone SWEARS They Have A Non-RWD Miata
If someone is advertising a Miata for sale as being FWD or AWD, then they either:
a) Don’t know what they are talking about (to be fair many people would be totally ignorant as to the differences between FWD, RWD, AWD etc).
b) Should be avoided like the plague as they might have tried some terrible bodge job in trying to convert their Miata to a different drivetrain layout.
It doesn’t matter how much they try to convince you, there was never a non-RWD Mazda Miata from the factory!
FWD and AWD Conversions
There apparently exist in the wild some FWD and AWD Miata “conversions”.
For example, here is a Miata running an AWD setup – from a Subaru WRX:
Some forum posters on various forums have also sworn black and blue that they have seen FWD converted Miatas in the past as well.
For what it’s worth, we aren’t convinced that swapping a Miata is particularly worth it … but each unto their own!
One possible explanation that explains the supposed existence of these ‘FWD Miatas’ is the Mercury/Ford Capri from the early 1990s.
This was a front wheel drive roadster, based on the Mazda 323 platform.
By all accounts it wasn’t a particularly good car. It is also possible to see how some might have mistaken it for a Miata variant or (more likely) been told that it is an FWD Miata because it is built on a Mazda platform.
Some people seem to have somehow come to believe that the Mercury/Ford Capri was actually a Miata variant of some description – this is not at all true.
Recap – Are All Miatas/MX-5s Rear Wheel Drive?
Yes, they are.
Every single Miata/MX-5 that rolled off Mazda’s production line – regardless of spec or generation – is rear wheel drive.
If someone is trying to sell you a Miata that isn’t RWD, then they either don’t know what they are talking about (i.e. the person just isn’t that into cars and might have heard from someone else that the Miata is FWD or AWD) or they have tried to hack together some kind of Franken-Miata to run power differently than stock.
If you are thinking of buying a Miata, then make sure you read our extremely comprehensive MX-5/Miata buyer’s guide here. It covers all generations of this popular car, and has a wealth of information on how to source, inspect and purchase and maintain a great example.