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NC vs ND: The evolution of the Mazda MX-5 Miata

Home / Driving Impressions / NC vs ND: The evolution of the Mazda MX-5 Miata

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Although I came of car-driving age in the waning days of the muscle-car era (right before the first energy crisis and the start of the Malaise Era), I was always the contrarian that gravitated towards lighter and smaller sports cars that prized quick handling in curves over sheer straight-line grunt. Perhaps it was the subliminal influence of my older brother, whose first car was a used 1962 MGA 1600 Mark II. This was follow by a repertoire of open sports cars that included a Fiat 124 Spider (the original, not the current “Fiata”), a mid-1970s Alfa Romeo “Series 2” Spider, and an original 1990, 1st-gen (NA for us Mazda geeks) MX-5 Miata. And his current daily driver? A 2007 Honda S2000.

For a litany of reasons I won’t go into here, my own roadster dreams were deferred for decades, but finally came true in late 2007, after my son had gone off to college and had his own car. With a Porsche Boxster and even a Honda S2000 too rich for my blood, I “settled” for a Mazda MX-5 Miata of my own, a 2008 NC1 (3rd-gen, 1st-version) Touring soft-top. Stick-shift manual, of course, and equipped with the essential Suspension Package (at $500, a screaming bargain for the limited-slip differential alone). Midlife-crisis mobile? Nah, more like delayed gratification.

Soon enough, the Miata won me over and exceeded even my high expectations. When the 2-year lease was up, I couldn’t bear to part with it, so I bought it outright.

The NC Miata evolved during its decade in production with so-called NC2 (2009 model year) and NC3 (2013 model year) facelifts and refreshes that saw its nose become progressively uglier but produced useful powerband, interior and handling improvements. Finally, though, the 2016 model year saw an all-new successor, the 4th-generation (ND) Mazda MX-5 Miata. Although I’d briefly sampled the ND at the 2015 and 2016 editions of the Southern Automotive Media Association (SAMA)’s annual Topless in Miami event, I longed for more time behind the wheel to see how, precisely, Mazda’s iconic, popular sports car had evolved from its previous to its latest iteration.

Admittedly, comparisons and discussions of the Miata across the generations are nothing new. Car and Driver‘s 60th Anniversary issue included a comparison between the original 1990 NA and the latest 2016 ND. And a recent Jalopnik article-cum-forum discussion debated whether or not the 2nd-gen (NB) was truly better than the original NA. And here, thanks to the good graces of Mazda USA, we can tell you how my NC1 Miata compares to its ND successor.

First, a warning. This comparison will be a bit apples-to-oranges. Yes, Mazda was able to provide for me a week-long stint in a 2017 MX-5 Miata with a proper stick-shift manual and a soft top, but it was a top-of-the-line Grand Touring model, as opposed to the mid-range Club trim level that would’ve been a closer match for my 2008 NC Touring variant.

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Most crucially, my car has been, in the immortal words of Tokyo Mater‘s Ito-San, Guido, Mia and Tia, “modified!” The factory suspension has been replaced with Mazdaspeed-branded shocks (Bilsteins notably firmer than those included with the factory Suspension Package); lowering springs (good for an over 1.3″ (34mm) drop in ride height vs stock and made by Eibach); and sway bars (roughly 4mm larger than stock and also made by Eibach). The wheels, too, were switched from the 17×7″ factory stockers to 17×9″ Enkei RPF1s that are about 1.3 lbs lighter per wheel. And those center caps in the picture above? They build on a Miata.net forums suggestion to use the plain, unadorned center caps from a 3rd-gen “Fox” Ford Mustang GT. I covered them in burgundy vinyl (a close match for my car’s Copper Red Metallic) save for a Mazda logo-shaped cutout exposing the brushed aluminum below. Naturally, the 2017 ND Miata is bone-stock.

So, how do the two really compare? Here are our opinions:

EXTERIOR STYLING
The aesthetic evolution of the Mazda MX-5 Miata has been an interesting one. The original NA was an unabashed homage to the original Lotus Elan. The NB almost comes off as a major facelift of NA instead of as something all-new. The pop-up headlights are thankfully gone, but the taillights and exterior door handles are gracelessly enlarged.

The NC marked the first clean-sheet-of-paper, clear break from the past, while still maintaining a clear evolutionary lineage. Its inspiration is purely internal: the Ibuki concept car from 2004. The prominent, beveled fender bulges (a cue first seen on the 2003 Mazda RX-8) are arguably its most distinctive styling feature, along with the simple oval front grille.

ND marks perhaps the biggest aesthetic break of all. The side profile rises front-to-back more than ever, in a curvaceous wedge. Yet, there seems to be a bit too much sheet metal above the fenders (in spite of a pyrotechnic hood to meet European pedestrian impact rules and Mazda’s claim that the hood line is 28mm lower than NC’s). And the headlights/hood cutline/grille/nose area has rightfully earned mixed reviews. Further, the rear fenders seem to bulge out excessively, versus the just-right amount of flare with NC. Nevertheless, the ND’s design did grow on me the more I looked at it. Its aesthetic inspiration once again looks outside Mazda, and aims much higher. To this author’s eyes, the ND Miata emulates Jaguar’s F-Type roadster more than anything else.

Verdict: Time to trot out the well-worn “beauty is in the eye of the beholder” cliché. I personally prefer the flared fenders, tight sheetmetal look of NC. I won’t argue with anyone who prefers the ND’s baby Jag, ‘Vette or Ferrari California vibe, though. And, we should note, the ND Miata was named the 2016 World Car Design of the Year, an honor that eluded its NC predecessor.

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EXTERIOR SIZE
When Mazda first launched the MX-5 Miata NA in 1989, it was 3950mm (155.5″) long, 1675mm (65.9″) wide and 1230mm (48.4″) tall, sitting on a 2265mm (89.2″) wheelbase. In comparison to most other cars, the MX-5 didn’t grow all that much over the past quarter-century. At the end of the NC Miata’s run in 2015, those dimensions stood at 4020mm (158.3″) length, 1720mm (67.7″) width and 1245mm (49″) height, on a 2329mm (91.7″) wheelbase. Unfortunately, the same could not be said about curb weight, which ballooned from the NA Miata’s 940 kg (2070 lbs) to a base NC3 manual Sport soft top’s 1125 kg (2480 lbs). A mid-level NC3 Club manual soft top roughly comparable to my NC1 Touring bumps that to 1139 kg (2511 lbs).

For some folks, though, that growth spurt wasn’t all that subtle. A good friend of mine that has owned numerous NA Miatas over the years once co-drove my NC in an autocross. After bemoaning the fact that the NC “felt like a Cadillac Brougham” in comparison to the NA, he proceeded to drive the hell out of my car, spinning it around mid-course and driving it through the finish line in reverse, all without knocking over a single cone!

Apparently, ND Miata chief engineer Nobuhiro Yamamoto agreed with my friend, for the latest iteration of the Mazda Roadster changed course. Although its 2309mm (90.9″) wheelbase falls roughly between NB and NC, and its 1735mm (68.3″) width makes ND the widest Miata yet, its 3915mm (154.1″) length also makes ND the shortest! And curb weight? At 1058kg (2332 lbs), with manual transmission, ND doesn’t quite descend into NA territory, but is 7 kg (16 lbs) lighter than the first NBs. That is no mean feat when one factors in all the safety features and creature comforts lacking in the older NB.

Advantage: ND (although its extra width isn’t always a plus)

INTERIOR STYLING
Step into the NC1 Miata’s cockpit, and it’s all no-nonsense, serious business (except perhaps for the central air vents/stereo/HVAC control panel that could pass for a Hidden Mickey if you’re into that sort of thing). It is also (except for the steering wheel spokes) deeply, darkly and unremittingly black.

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Fortunately, the Mazda accessory catalog offers some relief, and my NC has just about every bit of it. The glossy piano black dash insert that comes standard with 2006-2008 NC1s was replaced with an accessory brushed aluminum insert. (And Mazda seemingly got the hint, for this became the factory standard as of the 2009 NC2 facelift). Other brushed metal bits I added are in the door armrests, door speaker rings, metal-and-rubber inserts sport pedals, and a shift knob with a brushed metal ring that replaced a factory unit that tends to split in two.

The ND, in contrast, is a bit more colorful and playful in this regard. Grand Touring models add red contrast stitching to the seats, door panels and along the dash. Broad swaths of the exterior color (a compelling silver-white Ceramic Metallic in this case) are brought inside in a “melting bowtie” shape atop the door panels. Dominating the center of the dashboard is an iPad-like center screen. This is a trend kick-started by the German “luxury 3” (Audi, BMW and Mercedes-Benz) and one which Mazda has gleefully joined. Many pundits dislike them, but they don’t particularly bother me. I will admit to grabbing on them to see if they can be pulled off, though…

Verdict: Again, this one’s a matter of taste. Overall, I lean ND, but there are some aspects of the interior that NC does better.

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QUALITY OF INTERIOR MATERIALS
Although well-styled and textured, the NC1 Miata’s interior is ultimately a sea of hard black plastics. The ND Miata Grand Touring, in contrast, has soft-touch door panels. All armrests (door and center console) are soft-padded faux leather, as opposed to the NC’s ridged plastic. The brushed metal accents on the steering wheel and interior door handles are much more convincing than their plastic metal-look counterparts in the NC. Metal rings around ND’s air vents and climate control dials are a nice touch.

The ND Grand Touring’s metal door sill thresholds wrap into the interior. While a nice aesthetic touch, they were already visibly scratched in a 2017 car with barely more than 6000 miles on the odometer.

Dashboard plastics remain hard on ND, but, again, appear to be of better quality. And the faux carbon fiber on the door armrests add yet another compelling bit of texture and variety.

Advantage: ND

INTERIOR ROOM
NC and ND Miata’s share identical headroom and legroom figures (37.4″ and 43.1″, respectively). Shoulder room is 1″ greater (53.2″) in NC, while hip room is 1.4″ greater (52″) in ND. Sitting in both cabins, there are no notable differences in perceived roominess. Chris Davies of Slash Gear informs us, though, that

(B)y reducing the steering wheel radius by 2mm, and giving it 10mm more upwards tilt, Mazda gives the (ND) driver 12mm more leg clearance.

2008 NC’s such as mine were the first to introduce height adjustment to the seats. The entire seat bottom has a roughly 1″ range of travel.

ND seats, in contrast, leave the rear of the seat cushion fixed, allowing only for the front of the seat to raise and lower. In other words, it’s more thigh support functionality than anything else.

Verdict: It’s pretty much a wash between the two. Some shorter drivers may benefit more from the ability to fully raise NC’s seat bottom, while others may prefer the ND’s greater leg clearance.

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INTERIOR STORAGE SPACE
Upon first laying eyes on the new ND Miata’s interior, perhaps one of the first questions asked is, “Where’s the glove compartment?” Certainly not in the dashboard, in front of the passenger. But why is it missing? Automobile‘s Todd Lassa suggests that

The cockpit lies farther back in the body than on previous models, and the engine also has been lowered and pushed back closer to the firewall for more of a front-mid-engine layout. I’m guessing the new engine location, which made it possible to slope the hood more dramatically at the front overhang, also pushed the HVAC tubing farther into the cockpit. A glove box would probably have to hang down too low to meet current knee-crush standards. That’s just a guess…

while Road/Show‘s Antuan Goodwin cites a simpler explanation:

Mazda wanted to keep the roadster’s dashboard low to maximize driver visibility and the open-air feeling of speed, but doing this meant choosing between either a passenger-side airbag or the glove compartment — there simply wasn’t enough space for both. Safety, obviously, comes first…

Otherwise, the new ND MX-5 echoes its predecessor’s strategy of a central lockable storage compartment between the two seats, and an individual compartment behind each seat. The ND’s central compartment has roughly 20 cubic inches more capacity than NC’s, but keep in mind that it must store the owner’s manual pouch that went in the NC’s dashboard glove compartment, so its net space is reduced. (The ND owner’s manual pouch takes up roughly 114 cubic inches).

Each of the two behind-the-seat storage compartments are the same depth in NC and ND, but are about 0.5″ taller and almost 2″ wider in NC. By our very rough calculation, each of the NC compartments is about 30% larger than those in the ND.

Advantage: NC

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TRUNK SPACE
Per Mazda’s official numbers, the NC’s trunk holds 5.3 cubic feet, a figure that decreases to 4.59 cubic feet for ND. The two trunk shapes and configurations are broadly similar, though. In small compensation, the ND Mobility Kit (shown above right) that replaces the spare tire and holds an air compressor and tire foam is about 45% smaller and 1 pound lighter than its NC counterpart (above left).

Advantage: NC

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INSTRUMENT CLUSTER
The NC Miata’s instrument cluster (shown above) is a favorite of mine, with its Alfa Romeo-inspired, 5-dial “hooded” design. Although many a Miata.net thread has derided the oil pressure gauge as a useless simulator, it is still a reassuring indicator of engine health and, simply, part and parcel of the Miata ethos since day one. ND threw that out the window, however. The instrument cluster (see below) now has but 3 dials. Well, at least the tach is front-and-center, as it should be.

The left dial joins the fuel gauge and coolant temperature gauges with a trip computer that includes average speed, instant and average fuel economy and miles-to-empty information.

Verdict: NC on aesthetics and classic functionality, ND for providing trip computer information.

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CUPHOLDERS
Does a 2-seat sports car really need 4 cupholders? Mazda NC designers apparently thought so. The door-mounted “bottle holders” are actually a very handy storage space for a cell phone. Their hard plastic on NC1s are a notorious knee-buster, though. My solution, again, comes courtesy of the Miata.net forums: a foam rubber, padded aftermarket cup holder insert. Mazda itself solved the problem with 2009’s NC2 facelift by redesigning the door armrest/bottle holder area. Another welcome NC2 change is a removable center console partition that allows for a choice of dual cupholder or storage space functionality.

ND, in contrast, has but 2 cupholders. They are individual black plastic arms with a hoop that have sort of a kinky handcuffs vibe to them. They reside in the rear of the center console, just in front of the CD player slot (yes!) Although they didn’t bother me in the least while driving, I can see where they might be an issue for longer-limbed drivers. Fortunately, they are easily removable, and can alternately be mounted towards the front right of the center console, where they could, instead, bang into the front passenger’s left knee.

Verdict: NC by the numbers, ND on flexible functionality.

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SUN VISORS
These are essentially similar on both generations of Miata: black hard plastic, short, unable to pivot to the sides and with covered vanity mirrors on both visors. NC’s sole advantage is a couple of “half-Y”-shaped slots on the mirror covers that are quite handy for storing parking stubs (see above). ND’s vanity mirror covers (see below) are smooth and featureless.

Advantage: NC

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FUEL FILLER ACCESS
If you want to truly confound someone unfamiliar with the Mazda MX-5 NC, dare them to find the inside remote release for the fuel filler cap. Odds are they’ll never guess that it resides (SPOILER ALERT!) inside the central vertical storage compartment between the seats, on the bottom edge right next to the passenger’s seat. Further, its action is stiff and wonky, occasionally requiring more than one attempt and a very firm pull in order to open the fuel filler door.

The ND Miata, thankfully, dispenses with this drama. When the car is parked and the key fob is nearby, a simple push on the fuel filler door opens it.

Advantage: ND

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CLIMATE CONTROL
On both NC and ND, Mazda has adopted a dual-pronged strategy of equipping base (Sport) and mid-level (Touring/Club) models with “manual” air conditioning, while Grand Touring models feature automatic climate control where you set the desired temperature. Thus, we have something of an apples-to-oranges comparison between my NC Touring and the ND Grand Touring.

An unusual feature of the NC’s manual air conditioner is perhaps the most ridiculously fine-tunable A/C fan in all of automobiledom. Its rotary knob shows dots for 14 individual fan positions, but it is possible to set the knob at most intervals halfway between the dots. By my count, the fan switch has an overkill choice of 26 positions! For all NDs with either type of air conditioning, this has been whittled down to 7 fan speeds, which is certainly more than adequate and an improvement over the 4 fan speeds in most manual air conditioners.

Verdict: Either system works fine, is intuitively easy to use and cools well.

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STEREO
Again, we have an apples-to-oranges comparison between the different trim levels. My NC1 Touring came with a 6-speaker version of the regular Mazda sound system. NC1 Grand Touring models added a 7th speaker and Bose audio with Audiopilot. For 2017, both mid-range Club and top-of-the line Grand Touring models come standard with the latest iteration of the Bose Surround Sound System, now with Audiopilot 2 and a total of 9 speakers (including headrest speakers for driver and passenger). Also standard are SiriusXM satellite radio, HD Radio, plus Aha, Pandora and Stitcher internet radio integration.

The sound quality is a quantum leap from my NC, but changing radio stations for an inveterate channel surfer like me is a deliberate and tedious process with Mazda Connect (more on this below).

Advantage: ND

INFOTAINMENT (MAZDA CONNECT)
Although base (ND Sport) MX-5 Miatas have an “analog” old-school push button radio akin to my NC’s, ND Club and Grand Touring models utilize the Mazda Connect system. Essentially the Hiroshima carmaker’s take on BMW’s iDrive, it uses a similar round controller to navigate through a number of menus. Action through the controller is intuitive enough, but tedious. I’d hoped that holding the controller down would scroll through the long list of radio station presets (up to 50 AM, FM, HD and XM stations combined), but no. you have to click down and then back up to center to go up one station.

in its favor, Mazda Connect allows for touch-screen functionality as well. It’s faster and more direct, of course, but you have something of a “pick your poison” predicament. Do you resign yourself to the tedious controller in order to keep the screen free of fingerprint smudges. Or go for speed with the touchscreen and spend the time saved wiping it clean?

Mazda Connect functionality also includes a number of other features, such as SMS text message audio delivery and clever graph breakdowns of actual fuel economy. In addition, ND Grand Touring models use the 7″ screen for something once inconceivable in a Miata…

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NAVIGATION
My attempt to enter a desired destination without turning to the separate navigation owner’s manual was intuitive and successful. Again, either controller “mouse” or touchscreen functionality is available. The map was spot-on on suburban streets, but once I hopped on the local 826 Palmetto Expressway, it showed me traveling on sometimes nonexistent parallel streets a couple of blocks west of the actual road. This forced me to guesstimate the actual exit. Once I exited, the route guidance righted itself and clearly led me to my destination.

Programming a second destination further north, the navi’s guidance was again fine until entering the expressways (an 826 / I-75 north combo). This time, it was off by seemingly more than a couple of blocks, perhaps as much as a quarter mile. At one point, a blank screen had me literally in the middle of nowhere, even as I was traveling on the expressway surrounded by normal traffic. As I again guesstimated the correct exit, it briefly reoriented itself in local traffic, only to once again disorient itself in suburban western Broward county streets. After allegedly plowing through the playing fields of a large local park, I was about to give up, pull over and enter my destination on my iPhone’s Google Maps app when the navi guidance miraculously righted itself and led me to my destination.

BACKUP CAMERA
Given the ND Miata’s 7″ Mazda Connect screen and the car’s recent launch, the first time I backed out of my driveway, I stared at the screen and… nothing. I tried again, looking at the corner of the rearview mirror and…again, nothing. I got out, scanned the area around the license plate and…nothing. No backup camera of any sort. I knew Mazda had some wiggle room as to when to start putting a rearview camera into the new ND MX-5, but I figured they’d do it from the get-go. Alas, no. The final deadline, by law, is May 2018, so either it’ll be the only notable change for the 2018 ND1 Miata or they’ll cut the 2018 model year short and introduce the backup camera as part of a broader 2019 model year ND2 refresh.

TOP MECHANISM
On most days that I drive my NC Miata, the drill starts by me hitting the key remote 3 times in rapid succession. This unlocks the driver’s door, then the passenger’s, then both side windows go down. Once seated, you release the single central top latch, throw the top back until it clicks into its down position, raise the lowered pivoting wind blocker between the seat backs, and off we go.

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In its ND successor, things are a bit different. For one, the now-keyless remote has no provision for lowering the side windows. No big loss, though. Instead, moving the central top latch enough to reveal a red “stripe” (see above) will automatically lower the windows halfway. The rest is similar, but, for an aging, non-muscular skinny-armed guy like me, flinging the ND top back is less likely to land it all the way down into position than it is in NC. So you move your butt off the seat and push it down. Between the extra width of the upper seat backs and the narrower wind blocker (which is fixed, unlike the pivoting unit in NC), this is a tighter, more uncomfortable procedure than in its predecessor.

It seems that Mazda’s efforts at kaizen improvement have gone into raising the ND top. Again, both generations of MX-5 work the same way: release the square latch over the rear central storage compartment, the top comes partway up and you just pull it into its closed position, lock the central windshield latch and you’re done. The ND’s roof is released higher (closer to the driver) than NC’s, and the newer roof is also notably lighter to reclose.

Verdict: NC to lower the top, ND to raise it and on power window functionality.

ENGINE
The Mazda MX-5 Miata NC’s engine is commonly referred to as the MZR (MaZda Responsive). This is, however, a catchall term that applies to a trio of 4-cylinder engine families (two gasoline-powered, one diesel) that debuted with the 1995 Mazda Protegé and went on to power not only Mazdas but a number of Fords (under the equally broad Duratec moniker) and small Volvos. NC MX-5s in North America are more precisely powered by the 2-liter (1998cc / 87.5 x 83.1 mm bore x stroke) LF-VE engine . ND MX-5s in North America replace it with the SkyActiv-G 2.0 (1999cc / 87.5 x 83.1 mm bore x stroke) engine. (Smaller engines are also offered for both NC and ND outside North America).

Subjectively, the newer SkyActiv engine feels a bit smoother, but its improvements go further than that. Stay with us as we explain.

Advantage: ND

POWER-TO-WEIGHT RATIO
The MZR/LF-VE powerplant in the 2008 NC1 Miata produces 166 horsepower @ 6700 rpm in a car with a curb weight of 2498 lbs. That means each pony is hauling around about 15.048 lbs. In the newer ND Miata, the SkyActiv-G 2.0 engine power is down to 155 hp at a less frenetic 6000 rpm. Curb weight is down even more, though, to 2332 lbs. The ND’s horsepower-per-pound figure? A near-identical 15.045 lbs. per horsepower.

Subjectively, I didn’t feel much if any seat-of-the-pants differences in the responsiveness or acceleration feel between the two. Then again, I didn’t put them through timed tests. And there are other factors to consider. For one, the ND’s superior torque ratings (148 lb/ft @ 4600 rpm, versus NC’s 140 lb/ft @ 5000 rpm). Then there’s the day-and-night difference in individual gear ratios and final drive ratio between the NC and ND 6-speed manuals. NC1’s individual gear ratios spread from 3.815 in first to a direct 1.000 fifth followed by an overdrive 0.832 sixth with a final drive ratio of 4.100. ND, on the other hand, starts with a numerically super-high 5.087 first, a direct 1.000 sixth (thus, no “overdrive” gear) and a high (numerically low) 2.866 final drive ratio.

A 0-60 Specs chart cites a 0-60 mph time of 6.5 seconds and a quarter-mile time of 14.9 seconds @ 92.1 mph in a 2008 Mazda MX-5 Grand Touring manual as tested by Road & Track magazine. The same publication tested a 2016 Mazda MX-5 Club manual and achieved a 0-60 time of 6.1 seconds and a quarter-mile time of 14.7 seconds @ 93.2 mph.

Advantage: ND

FUEL ECONOMY
By the official EPA fuel economy numbers, a 2008 NC1 Mazda MX-5 Miata with a 6-speed manual transmission (such as my Touring soft-top) achieves 21 miles per gallon in city driving, and 28 mpg on the highway. Its 2017 ND successor is rated at 27 mpg city and 34 mpg highway.

The reality? I am hard-pressed to match even the official 21 mpg city figure in my NC. With my lead-footed, high-revving driving style, all in predominantly city and dense urban freeway conditions. (Miami has, after all, the world’s 10th-worst traffic congestion). Something along the lines of 19-20 mpg is typical for me.

Upon starting my week-long stint with the ND, the trip computer registered a 34.6 mpg average. With my aforementioned driving style, and in the same driving environment, this came down to a 31.3 mpg average. This huge, over 50% improvement is a resounding victory for ND and Mazda’s Skyactiv system.

Advantage: ND

ELECTRONIC NANNIES
My 2008 NC1 Miata Touring has but one bit of electronic assist to speak of: Anti-Lock Brakes (ABS). Flash-forward to the 2017 ND, and a mind-boggling array of acronyms for all sorts of electronic nannies of diverse value awaits you. Standard on all ND Miatas are Hill Launch Assist (HLA) and TCS (Traction Control System) with DSC (Dynamic Stability Control).

HLA is a welcome, helpful boon even in flat-as-a-pancake Southeast Florida. When starting out in an incline, it will hold the car in place for 2 seconds as you push the clutch pedal and place the car in gear.

In 2008, TCS with DSC was but a part of the Premium Packages available on NC Miata Grand Touring models. As of the 2012 model year, however, US Federal regulations required that Electronic Stability Control systems be installed as a standard feature on all passenger cars and light trucks. At that point (the final year for the NC2 Miata), the carmaker had no choice but to dutifully comply. Fortunately, the TCS/DSC system on the ND Miata is well programmed, not overly intrusive and has a proper on-off switch. A brief run in the “off” mode allowed for a bit of rear-end playfulness without any loss of control.

Grand Touring ND models such as our tester add i-ACTIVSENSE, a suite of safety technologies which includes Lane Departure Warning System (LDWS), Blind Spot Monitoring (BSM) and Rear Cross Traffic Alert (RCTA). I can see where LDWS can be helpful in a long road trip when you might start to get drowsy and wander from your proper lane, but in wide-awake suburban driving, it was just a series of random annoying and intrusive beeps. I soon turned this feature off. BSM and RCTA also bring on their own series of audible warnings, but these are more helpful and, unlike LDWS, I was never driven to turn off the BSM system.

In the one major change for 2017, mid-range ND Club models now feature BSM and RCTA as standard equipment. At least Mazda chose wisely from their repertoire of electronic nannies.

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HEADLIGHTS
The standard halogen headlights in my NC1 Mazda Miata are, frankly, nothing to write home about. Having the fog lights on all the time helps a little, but I often find myself wondering if the Xenon High Intensity Discharge (HID) headlights available on the NC Grand Touring Premium Packages would help matters. Or perhaps I’m just spoiled by the standard HIDs on my daily-driver 2011 Lexus IS 350.

Fortunately, all ND MX-5s sees a welcome change to LED lights that allow for thinner lamp assemblies. ND Grand Touring’s i-ACTIVSENSE features also include HBC (High Beam Control) and AFS (Adaptive Front-lighting System).

The difference between my aging halogens and the newer LEDs is like day and night (pun half-intended), but the verdict is mixed on the i-ACTIVSENSE add-ons. AFS allow the headlights to pivot up to 15 degrees around corners as the car is turning, a subtle help at best. As to HBC, its programming is too deliberate (its inability to allow me to manually set the high beams had me reaching for the owner’s manual at one point) and it is too sensitive to the faintest of light in situations I would’ve expected the high beams to kick in. Perhaps HBC is great on a dark, crescent moon night in a country or mountain road, but, in a suburban environment, I wound up skipping HBC just as I did with LDWS.

Advantage: ND

GEARSHIFT
Mazda MX-5 Miata manual shifters have been rightfully lauded as the slickest and smoothest on the planet, and this holds true no matter what generation you’re talking about. Perhaps the clutch on my NC felt a touch heavier after driving the ND for a spell. But Mazda engineers are still the gold standard when it comes to tuning a manual shifter and clutch, whether they build on a compact Ford pickup truck transmission or turn to Toyota keiretsu partner Aisin.

Verdict: It’s a wash, thank God.

STEERING FEEL
Power steering was but an option in the original NA Miatas. By the time NB rolled around, however, hydraulic power steering was standard, and the same goes for NC. ND saw a dreaded (by some) change to electric power steering. But, by mounting the assist system on the steering rack as opposed to the column, Mazda engineers kept better feel. Yes, ND’s steering felt a touch more numb than NC’s, but the difference isn’t as dramatic as some reviewers have noted.

Advantage: NC

NOISE LEVEL
Top up, the ND Grand Touring with extra inside lining added to the standard cloth top is definitely quieter than my NC’s aging unlined vinyl top with a patch here and a surface tear there. Top down, the ND still appears to be a bit quieter as well, but even the newest Miata is not a car you buy for quiet highway cruising.

Advantage: ND

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RIDE
Once again, the comparison is apples-to-oranges, given that my NC’s suspension, wheels and tires have all been changed versus what came from the factory. It was, in fact, only fully stock for maybe the first month or so of its life (and that was over 9 years ago!) Thus, my recollection is a bit fuzzy, but the full Mazdaspeed accessory suspension firmed up the ride noticeably, but not to the point of being objectionable.

The ND feels softer, but still sports car-appropriate. In a couple of unexpected dips on the road, it bounced up just once and immediately settled down. No inappropriate porpoising or head-toss, thank you. I’m curious to see how the ND Club’s stiffer springs and Bilstein shocks compare to the Grand Touring and base Sport’s suspension.

HANDLING
One of the major changes the new MX-5 NC platform brought is that, for the first time, Mazda’s roadster became a true front-mid-engined car, with the engine positioned just behind the front axle. In the ND, this is even more so, with the engine moved back 22mm (0.87″) and dropped 13mm (a half-inch). With a shorter wheelbase, less body overhang and a marginally wider track, this suggests even more agile handling. On the other hand, some reviewers have complained about how much body roll ND has.

Again, as noted in the ride section above, we’re comparing a modified NC1 to a stock ND Grand Touring. But I did not notice any untoward or objectionable body roll in the newest MX-5. It’s still a Miata through and through. As with some comments on ND’s electric power steering, complaints about ND body roll are overblown.

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In parting…
With its luxury car-inspired Mazda Connect infotainment system and suite of i-ACTIVSENSE electronic nannies safety technologies, an ND Mazda MX-5 Miata Grand Touring may appear to stray far from the simple purity of its original NA predecessor. But bear in mind that there are options even in the new Mazda showroom. The base Sport model does without all those bells and whistles and has an old-school pushbutton radio while preserving headrest speakers for the driver. The Club model comes with stiffer springs and shocks, a limited-slip differential, front shock tower brace and optional Brembo brake / BBS forged alloy wheel package, all de rigueur for a hardcore enthusiast like yours truly.

Enough already about logic, features changes and package contents! With so many modern cars straying from their predecessors’ original ethos and mission statement, it is refreshing to see that Mazda has kept a pure and direct lineage from (N)A to (N)D (and wouldn’t we love for our great-great-great-great grandchildren to drive an NZ Mazda Miata that would be a figurative middle finger to all those autonomous electric vehicles we keep reading about?) Diehard Mazda geeks certainly know about the MX-5 Miata’s guiding principle of jinba ittai, or “rider and horse as one”. But, as Henry Payne of The Detroit News reminds us, the ultimate goal is hashiru yorokobi, or “the joy of driving”.

No matter the generation, or what your budget or preference is, Mazda is certainly keeping the affordable, fun roadster flame alive like no one else. And reliability and long-term durability that its British and Italian forebears can only dream about are but yogurt-based icing on the cake. Is keeping that lineage pure, constant and connected over more than a quarter-century and a million-plus copies sold Mission Impossible? No. At Mazda, it’s Mission Accomplished.

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