Deciding whether to buy a Miata, and test driving an NB


After renting an ND Miata for a weekend and having an amazing time, I had to think seriously about whether I really wanted to buy a Miata. This post walks through that process.

My car situation

I live in San Francisco and have just one garage parking space (which is already more than most people in the city). My current 2017 Volt fits my practical needs really well. I can do the majority of my commuting and local driving on electricity only, but easily get into the mountains or drive to Los Angeles. It seats four comfortably, which is useful for driving friends around the city or going camping.

I’m pretty sure I don’t want the extra worry of street parking a car (having to move it for street cleaning, worry about break-ins, etc.), so if I were to buy a Miata, it would mean giving up the Volt.

The state of the Miata market

Used car prices overall still seem rather high, though it’s unclear if they’re going down any time soon.

NA and NB Miatas are becoming scarce and collectible. A few years ago, I think reasonably clean NA and NB Miatas could be found for around $5k, but now they seem to go for $8-$10k, with really nice NAs and Mazdaspeed NBs approaching $20k.

ND Miatas carry an MSRP ranging from $28k to around $34k. Used ones seem to start around $20k and go up to $30k. The cheapest ND Miata I could find on the Internet was a 2016 with 105k miles for $16k.

Boiling it down

After some discussion, Sharlene and I arrived at the following simple conclusions:

So the missing information I needed was whether I liked the older Miatas enough to buy one.

Driving an NB Miata

I reached out to the seller of a clean, local 2004 Miata that I’d been eyeing on Craigslist. In my message, I explained that while I was interested in buying a Miata, I was undecided between generations, and so I wanted to see an NB in person. The seller was amazingly generous and happy to show his car to me, with no pressure to buy. (Thank you, Daniel!)

The car was really pretty in person, with an Emerald Green exterior over a tan leather interior (the best interior color, in my opinion). I think I prefer the interior design in this car to the one in the ND: The dash isn’t cluttered by a protruding radio/navigation screen, and the glovebox and CD slot can be reached without contortion. Sitting inside, the beltlines were lower and the windshield was farther away than in the ND, so it felt like an airier, more open car.

However, after driving this pristine NB, I have to conclude that I liked driving the ND a lot more. Where the ND felt eager and zippy, the NB engine had noticeably less power at lower RPMs and needed to be wrung out to move quickly. The shifter was great for a 20-year-old car, but less positive and smooth than the one in the ND. And because of the heavier, slower steering and slightly greater body roll, the car felt heavier and larger than it really was.

While I like the interior and openness of the NB more, it’s hard to give up that magical feeling of sharp smooth responsiveness that I felt in the ND.

Other minor things:

The owner also let us sit in his track-prepped NC Miata. That car feels a lot bigger inside than the NB or ND, though not as airy as the NB. I think it might be nicer for road trips than the ND, but not so much that I’d want to buy one (and give up the Volt).

So… I guess this simplifies my life a lot. I will not buy a Miata, at least not in the near term. I can keep the Volt, rent the ND Miata (or even try other cars!) for trips, and know that I’m not missing out on anything I’d regret.