How the NC Mazda Miata saved the roadster

2014 Mazda MX5 Roadster Coupe
2014 Mazda MX5 Roadster Coupe / Heritage Images/GettyImages

The year is 2006, and don't get me wrong, the NA and NB Miatas are both still among the best small cars. Both are still proper roadsters built with more precision and tact than the British roadsters of the 60s. However, there is one issue. As fun as both of those cars are, they're starting to feel just a little bit dated. Once again, please don't think I'm saying that those cars are bad at all. I love every generation of the Miata, and I want an NA myself. Having a barebones roadster is great, but you still want to drive a Miata as your daily driver, and you want some comforts.

Enter Mazda... A new MX-5 is born. And.... everyone hated it. But why? Yes, the pre-facelift NC looked slightly bloated than the universally adored NB, and yes, it was a little bit heavier (by 150kg). Both of those are tiny things because the NC Miata is a fantastic car. I wish I could quantify why it is a great car, but I can't.

So anyway, here's me trying to quantify why the NC Miata is as good if not better than the NB. Oh yeah, for the sake of a fair comparison, I'll be comparing the largest displacement engines out of the NB and NC range (2.0l for the NC and 1.8l for the NB). Oh, and one last thing, not to confuse you, but there were two versions of the NC Miata, the NC1 and the NC2. I'll be talking about both.

Back to quantifying- Both the NC1 and NC2 got to 60 quicker than the NB (8.5 seconds), the NC1 in 7.9 seconds, and the NC2 in 7.6 seconds. That'd be thanks to both NCs being fitted with torquier and more powerful engines than the NB- Neither are quite tractors in terms of torque, but 138lb/ft is a fair bit more than the NB's 119lb/ft, not to mention the 20 extra horses the NC came with certainly gave them a bit of chili sauce under the bonnet.

That's more than enough NC vs NB Miata discourse for one day because that isn't what I'm writing about. I was talking to my cousin the other (who has just bought an NC, of the limited Sport Black trim level it's very nice), and we got talking about roadsters and came to the conclusion the third-generation MX-5 deserves more love than what it gets, and in some ways, it saved the modern roadster, and here's why.

In 2005, the NB Miata was coming to the end of its lifeline, and so was the Toyota MR2 (ended sales after the 2005 model year), and the only fun alternative otherwise was the MGF, which ended production in 2002. So that made 2005/2006 a crossroads for the affordable roadster. Because with all of those cars gone, your only options (for us in the UK anyway) were the premium options, your SLKs and Z4s and Boxters and your Audi TTs (no, not the TTS, that didn't exist yet), and those were expensive, not to mention not what you wanted if you were a former MX-5 buyer. Your only Japanese pure roadster left was the s2000, which, again was expensive.

So in came Mazda in 2006. To put it into context, the last model year of the NB Miata sold 19,586 in Europe and America, while the NC sold over 19,000 MX-5s in Europe alone. The third-generation Miata re-invigorated the affordable, fun roadster. At that time, every car segment was becoming a horsepower war. There was a hole in the market, and the NC Miata filled it perfectly.

The legacy of the NC meant that the roadster stayed in fashion. For context, this was when other manufacturers were killing off their roadsters, making this a brave move from Mazda. With that resuscitation, we got an ND Miata, which meant we also got the Fiat 124 Spider, which was based on the ND (and looked just as good). This is another of the best small cars.

2018 Fiat 124 Abarth Spider.
2018 Fiat 124 Abarth Spider. / Heritage Images/GettyImages
The fourth generation Miata/ MX-5 (ND)
The fourth generation Miata/ MX-5 (ND) / Sjoerd van der Wal/GettyImages

The NC Miata really doesn't deserve the hate it gets. It did have a bit of puppy fat when it was released in 2006 but then the facelift came and Mazda went to town on improving the NC. Improved suspension, better seats, slightly improved top speed and acceleration. The facelifted NC Miata is what brought the old-school, affordable roadster into the 21st century, something the NB didn't, and it deserves all the praise for keeping the pure roadster alive. Now, the Miata is easily one of the greatest small cars of all time.

2006 Mazda MX5
2006 Mazda MX5 / Heritage Images/GettyImages
2014 Mazda MX5 Roadster Coupe
2014 Mazda MX5 Roadster Coupe / Heritage Images/GettyImages