David S. Wallens
David S. Wallens Editorial Director
1/4/17 8:34 a.m.

It might not come from Maranello or Stuttgart, but the third-generation Mazda MX-5 Miata is simply an amazing sports car–just the right size, a nearly perfect chassis, and plenty of power managed by a real manual transmission. And with an MSRP starting around $25,000, it’s a heck of a buy, too.

Looking to spend even less? Cast your eyes to the previous generation. Mazda produced their NC-chassis Mazda MX-5 from 2006 up until last year, meaning there are lots of good cars out there. Prices start somewhere around $5000, and each one of them delivers top-down motoring.

That generation of the MX-5 also boasts enough racing pedigree to fill a museum. It’s a cornerstone of SCCA autocross and club racing, has won big in the pro ranks, and formed the basis for a spec road race series backed by the manufacturer itself.

No matter which model year selected, the basics remain the same. Mazda’s proven 2.0-liter MZR engine provides power, with most cars getting a manual transmission sporting either five or six speeds. While a little bigger than the first two Miata generations–as well as the current one-the NC car is still smaller than most of its contemporaries. Inside it’s comfortable for two.

Big news arrived for 2006 with the availability of the optional Power Retractable Hard Top. Press a button and the MX-5 turns into a highway-ready coupe. The power top adds less than 80 pounds to the car, and Mazda engineers managed that feat without sacrificing any trunk volume.

The biggest update across the board came for the 2009 model year, with a slight horsepower bump accompanied by a more aggressive nose. These later cars fetch a little more money, so we offer our standard Miata-buying advice: Buy the best one available for your budget and enjoy.

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