I love this car, and so does the sakura blossom!
I love this car, and so does the sakura blossom!

It’s no secret that I love my Miatas. I daily drive a beautiful 1996 Mazda Miata M-Edition that’s Starlight Mica Blue. So, when I got a chance to drive one of the newest models of Miata, I jumped at the chance to see how they compare. Would I need to upgrade to a newer roadster soon?

This is the first Battle of the Mazdarati.

Breakdown of Specs

1996 Mazda Miata M-Edition 2015 Mazda Miata PHRT
Engine

1.8L 4-cylinder

2.0L 4-cylinder

Horsepower

133hp @ 6,500rpm

167 hp  @ 7,000 rpm

Torque

114ftlb @ 5,500rpm

140 ft-lbs @ 5,000 rpm

Curb Weight

2,300 lbs.

3,122 lbs.

0-60 time

8.6 seconds

6.7 seconds

Transmission              5-speed Manual

6-speed Manual

Drive Train

Rear wheel

Rear wheel

Exterior Color

Starlight Mica Blue

Meteor Grey

Interior Color

Tan

Spicy Mocha

Fuel tank Capacity

12.7 gallons

12.7 gallons

MPG

23/29

21/28

Looks Winner: 1996 Miata

I am still partial to the metal flakes in the Starlight Mica Blue of the 1996, but the Meteor Grey is also beautiful. The metallic coloring of the newer Miata was very sleek and stylish, but I fell in love with my Mica and I can’t drop that for any kind of cosmic color.

The brown leather, instead of 1996’s tan, looks real smooth… I think I like the darker color better – the only thing I’d like inside is some carbon fiber or wood instead of the plastic bits. That’d be really slick. Though, I missed the headrest speakers in the 2015.

The seats were more comfortable in the 2015, but they’re also 19 years newer, so that’s not a big surprise. The heated seats, though, were hard to give up when it came time to turn the 2015 back in.

Suspension winner: 2015 Miata

While the newer Miata may be a bit heavier, it’s also got more power. To be honest you barely feel the extra 800lbs because you’ve got more pep in your step, but the 1996 still has some of the best get-up-and-go that I’ve felt… (that may be my bias and love showing, though).

The suspension in the 2015 is stock and gets you where you want to go with a smile on your face. The corners are fun, but the ride is smooth. The 1996 has some aftermarket Koni adjustables that came with the car when I got her, but it’s also a 18 year old car; her ride is great and fun and gives me a smile every day, but a little worn. So, of course the 2015 will win that.

Top Down winner: 1996 Miata

What it doesn’t win is the top down time. I should have used a stop watch because I kept getting annoyed and lost track of Mississippi’s when I’d start hearing the ‘beeeeeeep’ of the car telling me the PHRT isn’t finished opening or closing itself yet. The 1996 has a manual soft top, two little levers and you can slide the top down in less than 4 seconds.

While the 2015 can be put up from the comfort of your butt-cheeks, the best way to put the top up in the 1996 is to get up and out of the car; its quicker than doing it by spinning around in your seat (if you’re small enough) or by straining your arm backwards to pick it up (if you have strength and leverage). Both cars require a stop to put the top up, but the 1996 can get the top up quicker. Living in rain-sudden Seattle, that’s a boon.

Plus you can’t do this in the 2015:

Anything to mountain bike... Anything to always drive a Miata.
Anything to mountain bike… Anything to always drive a Miata.
Zoom-Zoom fun Winner: Tie

In the end it’s all about the drive. The reason the roadster was engineered. The reason over 1 million consumers have loved the Mazda Miata.

Both have great drives, but it’s the combination fun driving and ergonomic seats (with heaters) that makes me want to jump ship to the newer model. And that’s pretty big, the seats in my 1996 are almost 20 years old so they aren’t spring chickens. The comfort level of the seats made me never want to leave them.

However, the 1996 is cheap to purchase ($6,000 instead of $25,000) and cheaper to maintain; with less electronics you can do lots of the work yourself. That means that you’ll have more money in your pocket for more tanks of gas – though I’m betting that if you can purchase the 2015, you won’t be worrying about having cash for gas.

The week I drove the 2015, I still missed my popup headlights, the worn smell of leather (versus the new crisp leather smell), the gadget-less and distraction-less interior, the trunk you can’t fit much into… I missed it all.

In the end, it’s my affinity and bias for my POV Mazdarati, signed by Tom Matano (designer of Miatas…), lovingly maintained for the last 3 years of it’s life.

No matter what year of Miata, these cars will beacon you to that distant place.
No matter what year of Miata, these cars will beacon you to that distant place.

Though, the overall feel of the 2015 is what made this First Drive of the Year around Lake Washington such a pleasure. Don’t forget to check out the video!

So which do you buy? Both. As the old adage states: the more the merrier.  (I’ll be going for all 4 as time goes on…)

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Deanna Isaacs the owner, editor-in-chief and lead journalist at The Auto Reporter. She graduated from the University of Washington's Communication department in 2014 with a BA in Journalism. She enjoys sports cars, working on her classic two-seaters and long drives where she can annoy the husband. You can reach Deanna Isaacs using the Contact Us form: https://www.theautoreporter.com/contact/.

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