The Good, The Bad, and Everything In-between: Wrapping up One Year of Miata Ownership.

They say that the greatest compliment an automotive journalist can make is to buy a car. It’s one thing to write a five-star review and move on with your life, but it’s a whole other to step up to the counter and drop several thousands of dollars. When my 2006 Civic got tired after years of track abuse, I started shopping for something new. My criteria was as follows: RWD, fun, and “practical.” I shopped for Toyota MR2s, Nissan 240SXs, old BMWs, Mustangs, and even JDM imports such as the Nissan R32 Skyline GT-S. Ultimately, I chose a 1999 NB Miata. To be clear, this car is a daily in the purest sense. I take it on road trips, go grocery shopping, use it to carry tires and car parts. If you ask me to drive an hour in the middle of a winter snow storm to go rescue my mother from sheer peril, I’m bringing the Miata. Now that a year of Miata ownership has passed, let me break down what I like about this little car, and what I’m not so fond of.

Photo: Andrew Zhang

The good:

Where do I start. The Miata is the epitome of a go-kart with a license plate. It's balanced, light on it's feet, predictable and totally communicative. Perfect weight distribution means the whole car rotates around the driver. While the chassis and brilliant steering feel mean, you know exactly what the front and rear axles are doing. This means you can't make any excuses in the Miata. If you understeer or oversteer, it's your fault. That's the beauty of this car; it will do whatever you want – no electronic nannies involved. On a short racetrack, you can find yourself doing surprisingly well in a car with 140 hp. Best of all, it's so damn fun. Driving a Miata with the roof off on a twisty backroad will make you forget about your student debt, your crumbling relationship, your mortgage payments, or even your debilitating depression. Then, when you get back home, the creditors banging on your door won't be able to pry the smile off your face with a crowbar.

Speaking of that 140 hp – at no point in my year of Miata ownership, aside from at the racetrack, have I felt that it was inadequate, and that's because with the car's hyper short gearing. You can use it all the freaking time, and it does accelerate at a “reasonable” rate when you put your foot down at highway speeds.

The Miata's real surprise for me is how usable it is. You can carry two weeks of groceries in the trunk, if you leave the spare tire at home. You can carry a set of four tires if you get creative. I carried a Miata's driver side door in the trunk for an hour on the highway. No, there isn't a back seat, but that gives you the best excuse to not be a free taxi service for all your friends and relatives.

The Miata isn't a just fair weather car either, in fact with a hardtop, I'd argue that it makes an amazing winter beater. Sure more than five inches of snow ground clearance becomes a problem, but who want's to leave their home during such a massive snowstorm anyways? I drove this little car through summer rain storms, chased a Subaru WRX through dirt roads at Rally of the Tall Pines, and drove it to work on –30c days. It's so far proved infallible.

Photo: Andrew Zhang

When it does break, this little car is seriously easy to work on. Where an E30 BMW or a VW GTI would need a three-inch thick instruction manual, the Miata just needs a bit of elbow grease, a hammer, and advice from the occasional internet forum.

The bad:

The Miata is not a road trip car. In fact, it's probably one of the last cars I'd pick for a 20 hour cross-country adventure. It screams at 4000 rpm at highway speeds, the wind noise is biblical, even with the hardtop buttoned-down tightly, and it's cramped quarters do leave you tired after several hours of cruising. The trunk is large enough to live with on a daily basis, but good luck fitting a moderately large suitcase in it. Because of it's high rpms at cruising speeds, highway fuel economy isn't great, at least when compared with cars of similar displacement and horsepower. In fact, I've heard of Miata owners LS-swapping their cars and actually seeing better highway fuel economy thanks to the Chevy T56 transmission's long gearing.

Aside from that, stock brakes are pretty useless. The steering wheel feels too large for the petit interior; and the hardtop is cumbersome to lift on and off. I'm nit-picking. this truly is one of the best purchases I have ever made.

Worth mentioning:

It's difficult to get in and out of it without looking ridiculous, and hairdresser jokes become a part of your daily routine. Your co-workers/friends/family/everyone will begin to hate you as you'll find yourself constantly talking about your Miata. Also, it burns quite a bit of oil, but it seems that that's a problem very unique to my car.

Milage Driven: 32,389 km

Money Spent on Gas: $3,111.62

Regular Maintenance: $980.00

  • Winter tires/Wheels ($300)
  • All-season tires/Wheels ($250)
  • Oil changes ($430)

Stuff That Broke: $260.00

  • Wheel Bearing ($40)
  • Alternator ($100)
  • Battery ($120)

Damage & Destruction: $319.00

  • Dented Door ($150.00 - junkyard find)
  • Broken Mirror ($169.00 - junkyard find)

Modifications: $1830.00

  • MT Motorsports Rollbar ($500)
  • Advanti Racing 15x7 Wheels ($150)
  • Hankook RS-3s ($750)
  • Hawk HP+ Brake Pads ($230)
  • Sparco Sprint V Seat ($150)
  • G-Force Six-Point Harness ($50)

Total Costs: $6500.62