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When the Mazda MX-5 Miata was introduced 25 years ago, it made a huge impression and was named “Most Trouble-Free Sports Car” in the 1990 J.D. Power Initial Quality Study (IQS). By 1991, the small, lightweight roadster won over the hearts of its drivers worldwide and achieved nearly 30,000 registrations in the United States alone. Although Miata volume has steadily declined since its peak, the iconic car remains a fan favorite and holds the title of best-selling two-seat sports car of all time. As evidence the Miata hasn’t rested on its laurels, the roadster has regularly earned recognition as a J.D. Power award winner over the years, including its most recent award in the 2015 IQS Compact Sports Car Segment.

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This time last year, Mazda unveiled its fourth generation MX-5 Miata, which displayed the company’s striking “Kodo” design language. Beyond speculation the latest version of the vehicle would be lighter and possess a lower center of gravity, little else was known about the roadster.  Fast forward to 2015, and brisk sales imply Mazda has made another winner.

I’d be remiss not to experience what the excitement in this vehicle was about. For that reason, I recently accepted an invitation to attend the 2016 MX-5 Miata drive event and luncheon hosted by Mazda and the Washington Automotive Press Association. Held on property formerly owned by Founding Father George Washington near Mount Vernon, Virginia, the event was a great chance to experience the car up close and find out more about it from Mazda’s MX-5 Miata vehicle line manager, Rod McLaughlin.

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Over the years, the Miata has embraced the philosophy behind Kansei engineering, which involves the translation of feelings and impressions into parameters that can be measured during product development. While vehicles are often evaluated based on specific metrics related to performance — such as horsepower, torque and curb weight statistics — the Miata is more concerned with the holistic interplay of all its components as a means of engineering a car that is not only fun, but very livable as well. Consequently, although Mazda’s roadster is not the lightest (although it is very light) or most powerful sports car available, the sum of its parts equates to a very entertaining driving experience that doesn’t sacrifice comfort. Nevertheless, for those interested in raw performance figures, the Miata’s 155 horsepower and 148 lb-ft. of torque can push its 2,332 pound curb weight (before options) from 0 to 60 mph in six seconds while boasting a 27/34 mpg, city/highway Environmental Protection Agency fuel economy.

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In order to create the “best Miata ever,” Mazda’s engineers focused on a return of the ND MX-5 model to its roots by making it smaller on the outside and nearly as lightweight as the original NA model. This was achieved by moving the engine to a more central position and lowering the overall center of gravity. The newest generation model retains the option of a manual transmission, which has historically been the transmission of choice for about half of all Miata drivers. Put it all together and what you have is a modernized version of the original Miata developed for today’s buyer. Perhaps the only thing missing from the 2016 model year buyer’s option checklist is a power-retractable hardtop — the roof of choice for the majority of consumers over the last several years.

With the newest Miata so fundamentally similar to the original in terms of the driving experience it provides, the only question that remains addresses value.

How does the MX-5 Miata compare from a value standpoint?

For a car without truly direct competition, the Miata is very much a lifestyle vehicle. Demographics-wise the target buyer is aged 45 to 65 years old, intends to use the roadster as a second vehicle and is an empty nester (no kids at home). Thus, it is often the case the prospect of purchasing a Miata is weighed against other lifestyle choices, such as purchasing a timeshare, traveling, or other forms of entertainment, which makes the car’s value proposition a very important one.

 

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Just as the price of gasoline has climbed over the years — $1.11 per gallon for regular gas in 1995 equals $1.74 in today’s dollars — cars have also gone up in price. The MSRP has seemingly increased for each generation of the Miata, while its value retention appears to have dropped significantly. At face value, the 1990 model year Miata looks like a steal at just $13,800 and achieving a 3-year retention of 72%, but the numbers aren’t quite that good in reality.

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After adjusting for inflation, the 1990 model year Miata would cost $25,163 in today’s dollars with the NB and NC models costing roughly $3,000 and $2,000 more, respectively. However, the 2016 MX-5 Miata Sport equipped with a manual transmission is only $24,915, making it the most affordable Miata ever offered in the United States. Though the 3-year value retention figures for the Miata still declined with each generation, the disparity is not what it seemed at first glance. Also, it’s notable how the second and third generation models both cost more than the original and were engineered to be bigger and heavier than before, which may have lessened their appeal. Now that Mazda has gone back to basics with its latest MX-5 Miata in terms of design and pricing, buyers may begin to view the new car through the same lens they did in the 1990’s. Regardless of how well the 2016 MX-5 Miata performs in the marketplace, it could very well be the best Miata for the money — ever.