The Mazda Miata (or MX-5, as it is known to motorists outside of the United States) is one of the “all time great” Japanese cars.
In fact, it is one of the “all time great” cars from any country. It is also the best-selling sports car in history, and for good reason.
Released to near-universal acclaim, the Miata has won over so many fans and earned such a legendary reputation, that if you ask many people what car you should buy, the response is simple:
But what about if you are on the market for your first car?
It’s one thing to buy a car, but buying your first car is one of those momentous occasions in life. You want to get it right. You need to get it right. And if you’re reading this website, it’s unlikely that you’ll want to settle for any old ordinary car. You might want to get your hands on something special and interesting, just like the Mazda Miata/MX-5.
Is the Miata a good first car? Or are you tempting fate by buying one of these as your first vehicle?
In this edition of ‘First Cars’, we give our take on whether or not the Mazda Miata/MX-5 is a suitable first car.
Remember that this is just our opinion – your mileage may vary. You can leave a comment (in agreement or disagreement) at any stage using the comment section at the bottom of this article.
As with our previous ‘First Car’ articles, we have some specific criteria we will be assessing the humble Miata against.
Comment About Generations
One thing to bear in mind when discussing the suitability of the Miata as a first car, is that the Miata has existed now over multiple generations. This makes our exercise somewhat more challenging than the other ‘First Car’ entries we have done so far (such as the RX-8) where there is effectively one generation to look at.
Realistically, for a first time car buyer you will be looking at one of the first three generations of the Miata:
The NA/1st generation
And maybe the NC, which is the second most recent generation.
The current ND generation is out of reach for the average first-time buyer. These cars are too new, and probably too pricey for the average first time buyer to be able to afford.
As such, we aren’t really focused on that car for this article (of course good on you if you’d like to get one and have the means to do so).
In this article we speak generally about the Miata across the first three generations, but where there is something specific to a particular generation that is mentioned.
For our First Car series, we look at several key factors:
- Purchase price
- Maintenance costs and reliability
- Insurance costs
- Suitability for beginner drivers (including safety)
- Coolness & fun factor
All vehicles in our First Car series will be assessed on these criteria.
Please bear in mind that all of these criteria are subjective. Your opinion may vary, and we would love to hear it. You can leave a comment at the bottom of this article if you’d like to give your feedback and input.
Now, let’s get down to determining if the Miata/MX-5 is a good first car!
When buying your first car, you probably won’t have a huge amount of money to spend.
The good news is that Miatas are quite affordable cars.
While prices of all “classic” cars (and even normal, mundane ones) have been climbing due to Covid-related issues impacting supply chains and distorting demand, the Miata still remains a reasonably affordable choice for any first-timer looking to get their hands on a fun, exciting sports car.
Because there are so many Miatas out there, reasonable supply means you shouldn’t have to pay too much.
Several thousand dollars might get you into a decent example, although prices are definitely climbing for very tidy cars, or special/limited-edition models.
Compared to many other “cool” first cars, the Miata is eminently affordable and the purchase price won’t have you working overtime at your weekend job to pay it off.
Maintenance Costs & Reliability
When striking out to buy your first car, you ideally want something that is reliable and low in maintenance and repair bills. Chances are you won’t have a lot of spare cash, and even if you do, you’d probably rather be driving your car than having it in the shop.
Generally speaking, the Miata is a very reliable car. If you are after a sporty first car, then it could be a superb choice.
You’ve got a simple layout and design (NA engine, rear wheel drive, little in the way of complicated systems) and superior Japanese build quality/reliability.
As Miatas, especially the earlier generations, are starting to get a bit long in the tooth now, you will need to budget for maintenance and repairs. It’s important to try and find yourself a car that has been as well maintained as possible. The good news is that with so many Miatas out on the market, and many of them having been owned by enthusiasts who truly cared for them, there is a great amount of selection and you can be picky.
The other good thing about the humble Miata is that these cars are relatively easy to work on. Just about any job you could want to do yourself, there will be a tutorial for it online and parts are affordable. If you fancy working on your own car (which can save you a lot of money) then the Miata is a good choice.
Ensure you read our Miata/MX-5 buyer’s guide for more information on what to look out for from a maintenance and reliability perspective.
This is hugely dependent on where in the world you live.
In New Zealand, where we are based, the Miata (or MX-5 as we know it, especially on the myriad Japanese Domestic Market import models we have on our roads) insurance costs aren’t horrific for younger drivers, because the car isn’t particularly powerful nor does it have the dreaded word “turbocharged” anywhere in the description. Mundane econo-hatchbacks and sedans like the Toyota Corolla or Honda Civic are cheaper again to insure, but you could conceivably afford to insure a Miata/MX-5 here as your first car.
In countries like the UK, where insurance premiums are much higher, it may be prohibitive.
Definitely check out the potential cost and terms of insurance before buying a Miata. You don’t want to be that person who buys a car, only to find they cannot afford the insurance – or cannot get the car insured at all in the first place.
As you might expect, the Miata scores poorly in the practicality department.
You get two seats, a relatively small trunk/boot, and that’s it.
This is not the car to buy if you’re rostered on for managing the car pool to work, or if you want to be road-tripping with a bunch of friends.
Think long and hard about whether you can really make do with just two seats. If you’ve got access to another, more practical car, then it’s no big deal. However, if you’re moving away to college and you can’t borrow the parents’ minivan any more when you need to haul passengers or items, then you might find living with a Miata challenging in terms of practicality.
One positive to note here – if you’ve got your heart set on an affordable, enjoyable two-seat convertible, then the Miata is definitely more practical than some of the competition like the Toyota MR2 or MG-F, both of which are mid-engined and have substantially worse luggage/cargo storage.
Suitability For Beginner Drivers
As far as sports cars go, the Miata/MX-5 isn’t too bad for a beginner driver.
In an ideal world, you’d probably buy something like a Volvo V70 as your first car. Safe, practical, reliable and definitely not designed to encourage rapid driving.
It’s a much safer option than a Toyota MR2 (which is a more exciting car, but more dangerous in terms of handling characteristics). Outside of the rare Mazdaspeed Turbo cars, or anything that is heavily modified, the Miata isn’t too powerful for inexperienced drivers.
You’ve got just enough ‘get up and go’ to have fun, but not so much power that you are likely to get yourself into serious trouble like you can with a Nissan 350Z, which is another popular first car choice that is definitely better for experienced drivers.
A Miata will teach you the ropes of driving a sports car, without giving you too much to be able to handle.
Of course if you drive like an idiot you can still get into trouble with a Miata/MX-5, but one of these is still a more sensible option than many other performance cars.
Perhaps the biggest issue for a beginner driver is the relative lack of safety equipment. NA and NB generation Miatas really do lack in terms of safety equipment (depending on your market, you can find some NAs with no airbags at all). Safety should be an important consideration,
Coolness & Fun Factor
Generally speaking, your first car won’t be your dream car.
However, you probably want your first car to be something fun. While a Honda Civic or Toyota Corolla is the smart and sensible option, there is a certain appeal to having a quirky and interesting first car that can put a grin on your face.
The good news is that Miata/MX-5 is a cool car. How could the best-selling sports car of all time be anything other than cool? The court of public opinion has already decided.
The biggest issue – and this is more of a subjective matter – is that the Miata has a bit of a reputation as being a “girl’s car” or “hairdresser’s car”.
While it’s definitely possible to spec and/or modify a Miata/MX-5 to look more feminine, it really is a car that anyone can drive.
Much of this misguided criticism comes from the position of the Miata not being the most powerful sports car in the game. For example, the Toyota MR2 – another alternative you might be considering – is a more potent performer.
However, the Miata is still more than adequate in the performance department, and it is definitely a cool and fun car. Plenty of people who have driven cars that are better on paper (i.e. more power, better specs etc) will tell you that a well-sorted Miata is one of the finest driving experiences you can ever have, and you will always leave with a smile on your face.
I have driven a few supercars – along with many performance vehicles – and the Miata still rates as one of the best driving experiences ever. Just enough power to have fun, superb handling, and with the roof down on a sunny day I guarantee you will not want for anything.
Conclusion – Is The Miata A Good First Car?
Overall, the Miata isn’t a bad choice for a first car – provided you can live with the substantial practicality trade-offs.
While owning a small, two-seat car might be appealing, there are some definite downsides
Therefore, if you are considering a Miata/MX-5 as your first car, it’s crucial that you understand the drawbacks and that you are definitely happy to live with them.
If you’ve got the ability to borrow/use a more practical car when needed, then the argument shifts more in favour of Miata ownership as a first car.
Basically, if you want a sports car as your first car and you can genuinely live with the lack of practicality (because you either don’t need/want to transport more than one passenger, or you have access to alternative transportation when required) then a Miata could be a good first car.
Certainly, it is a far more suitable first car option than something like a Nissan 350Z, which has a reputation for being dangerous in the hands of inexperienced drivers. You can read more about why the 350Z is so dangerous for inexperienced drivers here.
Our recommendation would be to buy one of the later generation Miatas such as the NB, or even the more modern NC, that came with improved safety equipment (yes it sounds boring and lame … but these cars can be a handful if you exceed their limits or those of your own driving skills, so having at least a couple of airbags is better than nothing).
The original NA Miata is – in some respects – the most desirable and the “purest” car, but they are getting long in the tooth now. A lot of examples have been thrashed to death, modified poorly or otherwise abused. They also lack greatly in the safety department. However, if you can get a good example, then you are buying into what is arguably already a classic, and probably the greatest sports car of all time (when price/value is considered).