Is The Miata A Sports Car?

If you ask the Internet what car you should purchase if you want a fun, affordable sports car, there will be only one response:

Miata is always the answer“.

The winning Miata formula combines sublime handling, convertible fun, and just enough power to keep you entertained – but not so much so as to be excessive.

But is the Miata a sports car?

When we think of sports cars, we tend to think of exotic cars. Ferraris with a million horsepower, or Aston Martins being driven to Monte Carlo by James Bond, or maybe even JDM performance cars like the Honda NSX or Nissan Skyline GT-R.

But what about the humble Miata/MX-5? (learn here why the MX-5 is called Miata in the North American market)

Does this car really qualify as a sports car? Or is it just an imposter? A “sheep in wolf’s clothing” as it were …

In this edition of Car Facts, we aim to get to the bottom of whether or not the Miata really is a true sports car.

What Is A Sports Car?

In order to determine if the Miata truly qualifies as a sports car, we need to understand what a sports car is in the first instance.

According to Merriam Webster, a sports car is defined as follows:

“a low small usually 2-passenger automobile designed for quick response, easy manoeuvrability, and high-speed driving”

Keep this ‘dictionary definition’ in mind as you read the rest of this article.

In the years following World War 2 (particularly starting from the late 1950s) there was an explosion in the popularity of sports cars, particularly from European manufacturers such as Alfa Romeo and MG:

The MGB Roadster is an example of a classic two seat sports car that the MX-5/Miata set out to emulate (and improve upon)

These sports cars had some common themes:

  • Light weight, with a focus on responsive, competent handling
  • Two seats
  • A removable roof (or no roof at all)
  • Sufficient power to be exciting, but generally not to an extreme level

One of the best examples of a “true” sports car is the original Lotus Elan (although this was also available with a fixed roof).

The Lotus Elan convertible was the “reference point” for the original MX-5/Miata – Mazda wanted to resurrect sports cars like the Elan.

And guess which little sports car from Mazda took a great deal of inspiration from the Lotus Elan?

That’s right – the Mazda MX-5/Miata!

If you know the history of the Miata, then you’ll know that part of the impetus for Mazda to develop such a car came from a desire to resurrect the small, lightweight sports car, which had become less popular as a type of car by the early 1980s.

In fact, when Bob Hall (who was integral to the development of the MX-5) first approached Mazda back in the late 1970s, he lamented that the “classically-British sports car doesn’t exist any more”.

Sports Cars Ain’t What They Used To Be

It’s important to bear in mind that the “modern” meaning of sports car has been somewhat corrupted.

Mainstream opinion seems to view a sports car as any sort of quick/performance-oriented car. For example, something like a hot version of an SUV might be considered a sports car by many, when it would definitely not meet the original criteria that the Miata was designed to live up to.

It isn’t the Miata’s fault that the perception of what a sports car should be has evolved over time.

However, it’s critical to remember that the Miata was meant to be what sports cars originally were. Lightweight, two seats, removable roof, and a focus on handling and responsiveness.

Is The Miata Considered A Sports Car?

Whether you look at the dictionary definition, the traditional definition, or even the modern understanding of what a sports car should be, it’s hard to argue that the Miata is anything but.

In fact, it is just about the “last man standing” when it comes to affordable, accessible sports cars in the traditional vein.

Back in the 1990s and early 2000s there were more choices like the MG-F, Honda S2000 and Fiat Barchetta, but these have all gone the way of the dodo.

We only hope that Mazda continues to make the Miata/MX-5 for many years to come.

Why Do Some Not Consider The Miata A Sports Car?

It’s abundantly clear, therefore, that the Miata is a sports car by every definition of the term.

So why do some still insist that it isn’t?

The Miata/MX-5 is often denounced as a ‘hairdresser’s car’, or not sporty enough – but why?

The primary reason for this is the mainstream lack of understanding of what constitutes a true sports car.

As we established earlier in this article, many think that a sports car has to be a complete fire-breathing monster (more like a supercar) and the Miata just isn’t that.

It doesn’t help that modern cars are so supremely capable, and performance has come a long way. The Miata has never been a particularly quick car when it comes to acceleration and top speed (particularly the first and second-generation cars) and this is even more noticeable these days when you consider that most “normal” cars would beat an NA Miata at a 0-60 sprint.

If acceleration/top speed was the only thing that mattered, then a Mazda CX-5 would be a better sports car than an early Miata.

But what matters is the true definition and nature of a sports car … and the Miata ticks all of the boxes there!

If you’re after a true sports car, don’t let the relative lack of power put you off Miata ownership – and ignore what all the “naysayers” have to say.

The Sports Car Sales Figures Don’t Lie

If you need any more convincing that the Miata/MX-5 is definitely a sports car, then consider this fact:

By all official measures it is the best-selling sports car of all time, with over one million of these cars build and sold since the late 1980s (learn more about the history of the Miata in our MX-5/Miata buyer’s guide and model history).

Much like it would be hard to argue that Muhammad Ali wasn’t a boxer, despite being one of the best of all time at boxing, it is equally as difficult to argue that the Miata is not a sports car when it has topped the sports car sales list for many years.

Don’t just take our word for the Miata being the perfect example of what a sports car should be – take the word of the million-plus others who have decided to join the club as well!

Of course it’s not just the sales figures that support the Miata’s claim to being one of the greatest sports cars of all time either – the Miata/MX-5 has won many awards over the years. For example, it has featured on Sports Car International’s list of the best sports cars of all time.

Conclusion – Is The Miata A Sports Car?

To recap, the Mazda Miata/MX-5 is definitely a sports car.

In fact, it is perhaps the epitome of what a sports car is all about – at least if we look at the traditional definition of what constitutes a sports car (lightweight, two seats, folding roof or no roof at all .. you get the picture, and that picture is just what a Miata is like) .

Part of the problem with the Miata’s image is that popular culture tells us a sports car needs to be loud and scary fast, as the modern meaning of sports car has evolved to mean basically anything with a shred of performance, but that doesn’t disqualify the Miata from being a bona fide sports car.

Although performance powerhouse cars are great – and we can all appreciate the engineering nous that goes into them – the Miata is a sports car for the “normal” person, and the world is a better place for that.

If you’d like to learn more about the Mazda Miata/MX-5, then take the time to read our Miata buying guide and history. This detailed article goes in-depth on the history of the MX-5, as well as gives you a comprehensive guide to finding, inspecting and buying your own example.

Do you think the Miata is a proper sports car? Or maybe you think it shouldn’t qualify. Whatever your opinion, we invite you to leave a comment below – we would love to hear from you!


  • Sam

    Sam focuses mainly on researching and writing the growing database of Car Facts articles on Garage Dreams, as well as creating interesting list content. He is particularly enthusiastic about JDM cars, although has also owned numerous European vehicles in the past. Currently drives a 3rd generation Suzuki Swift Sport, and a Volkswagen Touareg (mainly kept for taking his border collie out to the hills to go walking)

2 thoughts on “Is The Miata A Sports Car?”

  1. First of all it is WAY to slow and ugly to be a sports car!¡! No sport to it!¡! Japanese does not help it either!¡! Maybe ok for a 16-year old girl, but still an embarrassment to a real driver!¡!

    • Thanks for your comment Mark – definitely not the most common one (most feedback we get is that the Miata is a great sports car, and the numbers don’t lie that it is the best selling one ever) but if you want standout looks or performance, then you’re right that it probably isn’t the best car in the world in those two departments!


Leave a Comment