The Mazda MX-5 Miata is one of the most popular and iconic convertible sports cars ever made. Over 1 million have been sold worldwide across four generations since 1989.
But how safe are MX-5 Miatas really?
Miatas are designed first and foremost as nimble and fun-to-drive lightweight roadsters. However, Mazda has made safety a priority as well. Read on to learn all about MX-5 Miata crash test ratings, safety features, and overall safety across all generations.
Table of Contents
A Brief History of the Beloved Miata
Before diving into the safety specs, let’s take a quick look back at this beloved roadster’s history. The first-generation MX-5 Miata (the NA) debuted in 1989 in the United States. It was an instant hit with driving enthusiasts thanks to its precise handling, near perfect weight balance, and open-top fun.
The second-generation NB model followed in 1998. It retained the original’s formula but with a slightly more powerful engine and modernized looks. The third-gen NC Miata arrived in 2005 featuring aggressive styling and performance upgrades.
The current fourth-generation ND Miata landed in 2015. Dramatic styling mixes retro and modern cues. Under the hood, a SKYACTIV 2.0 liter engine produces 181 horsepower in a still featherlight 2,300 pound package. An RF (retractable fastback) version joined the lineup adding a power retractable hardtop roof.
Over 30 years and four generations, the MX-5 Miata has stayed true to its lightweight, rear-wheel drive sports car roots. It continues to be a benchmark for the pure driving experience.
MX-5 Miata Crash Test Results and Ratings
Now let’s get into the meat of this article and look at how the MX-5 Miata has fared in various standardized crash testing programs. We’ll cover results from both the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration (NHTSA) and Insurance Institute for Highway Safety (IIHS) testing.
NHTSA Crash Test Ratings
The NHTSA is a government organization that crash tests all new vehicles and assigns overall star ratings as well as individual category scores. Here’s a quick look at the crash test results across all four Miata generations:
- NA Generation – 4/5 overall stars. 4-star frontal impact, 5-star side impact. No rollover rating.
- NB Generation – 4/5 overall stars. 4 stars in frontal and side impacts. 3/5 stars in rollover.
- NC Generation – 5/5 overall stars. 5 stars in frontal and side impacts, 4/5 stars in rollover.
- ND Generation – Not yet fully rated but expected to earn top scores. 5/5 stars so far for frontal and side impacts.
As you can see, the Miata has earned impressively high safety ratings from the NHTSA over its lifetime. The scores have improved with each generation, going from 4 stars initially to perfect 5 star front/side crash ratings today.
The only weaker spot is rollover resistance. The current ND got 4/5 stars. But compared to other lightweight convertible sports cars, the Miata’s rollover ratings are quite good.
IIHS Crashworthiness Ratings
The IIHS is an independent group that conducts additional vehicle crash testing. Here are some highlights of Miata results in key IIHS tests:
- Moderate Overlap Front – Across all generations, the Miata earns “Good” ratings (the top score) in this frontal impact test. It holds up very well.
- Side Impact – Again, the Miata earns a “Good” rating here measuring occupant protection in a side crash. No safety concerns.
- Roof Strength – The Miata gets “Acceptable” marks for its convertible soft top roof strength. Hardtop Miatas score “Good.”
- Head Restraints – “Good” ratings for head restraint protection against neck injuries in rear crashes.
- Front Crash Prevention – When equipped with optional advanced safety systems, the Miata earns “Superior” front crash prevention ratings.
The Institute names the Miata a Top Safety Pick when configured with front crash prevention features and particular headlights. This confirms the Miata provides excellent occupant protection for a small convertible sports car.
How Miata Safety Compares to Other Small Convertibles
The Miata stacks up well versus key competitors like the:
- Toyota 86 – Scores identical to the Miata in nearly all tests. Very evenly matched.
- MINI Cooper Convertible – Top marks in most tests but rated “Marginal” for side impact compared to Miata’s “Good.”
- Porsche Boxster – Equivalent to the Miata in crashworthiness. Slightly better in rollover but lacks advanced safety features.
- BMW Z4 – Matches or slightly exceeds the Miata in most ratings when equipped with top safety options.
So while much larger vehicles hold safety advantages, the data shows the MX-5 Miata is among the best in terms of crash protection for a lightweight convertible.
Miata Passive Safety Features and Tech
Passive safety refers to the vehicle body structure, restraint systems, and features designed to protect occupants in a crash. Here’s an overview of key passive safety items across Miata generations:
Airbags are a centerpiece of passive safety. Miatas are equipped with:
- Dual front airbags – Driver and passenger front airbags have been standard since the first NA generation.
- Front side airbags – Side airbags protecting front seat occupants were added beginning with the NB generation.
- Side curtain airbags – Curtain airbags running the length of the cabin were introduced on the NC Miata for enhanced roll-over protection.
The latest ND Miata now includes front knee airbags along with the usual assortment of dual front, front side, and side curtain airbags.
All Miatas come with standard 3-point seat belts for all seating positions. Enhancements over the years include:
- Pretensioners – These instantly tighten the belts in a crash. Added in the NB generation.
- Load limiters – These allow controlled belt slack during high impact forces, reducing chest injuries. Also appeared in the NB.
Proper seat belt use is vital, especially with the Miata’s convertible body style. Be sure belts are worn snugly across the hips and shoulder on every trip.
Central to occupant protection is the underlying body structure. Miatas are engineered with:
- Crumple zones – Front and rear crushable zones absorb crash energy, limiting cabin intrusion.
- Side impact bars – Steel reinforcement bars in the doors guard against intrusion in side collisions.
- Roll hoops – Hoops behind the seats deploy to provide rollover crash protection.
Mazda engineers have reinforced the Miata’s body and frame over the years as engines became more powerful. This maintains chassis rigidity for handling while also boosting safety.
Miata Active Safety Features
Active safety refers to technologies that help the driver avoid crashes in the first place. Here are some key active safety items that have been added over Miata generations:
- Anti-lock brakes – ABS prevents brake lockup and loss of steering control under hard braking. Standard since 1999 on the NB Miata.
- Stability control – Electronic stability control detects loss of grip and applies brakes to individual wheels to avoid spinning out. Introduced on the third-gen NC model.
- Traction control – Works along with stability control to limit wheel spin under acceleration. Also appeared first on the NC.
- Emergency Braking – Optional advanced automatic emergency braking detects impending collisions and applies the brakes if the driver does not respond in time. Available since 2018 on the ND Miata.
These technologies dramatically boost safety when driving close to the limits of traction. Adding options like automatic emergency braking also bolsters front crash prevention abilities.
How Safe Are Miatas For Tall Drivers?
The Miata is a small sports car without lots of interior room. But tall drivers can still fit safely. Here’s a look at accommodations:
- Headroom – The low-slung Miata has limited headroom but the seats sit directly on the floor. This allows the seat to be mounted very low, preserving headspace. Front headroom ranges from 36-37 inches depending on generation and body style.
- Legroom – Legroom is more constrained at around 43 inches front and 5-9 inches rear. But again, the seat travel and tilt steering wheel provide enough room for those over 6 feet tall.
- Windshield Frame – The top windshield frame edge acts as a roll bar to protect occupants’ heads in a crash. It withstands very high loads.
- Seat Adjustments – All Miatas allow seat height and tilt adjustment along with generous rearwards travel to accommodate tall drivers.
So while not the most spacious, Miatas can safely accommodate taller drivers using some clever packaging tricks and seat adjustments. Just be sure to test headroom for yourself before buying.
Are Miatas Safe For Kids and Child Safety Seats?
Adding child passengers or safety seats can be challenging in the Miata’s tight cabin. But here are some tips for safely fitting kids:
- Front vs Rear – Only properly secured safety seats are safe in the back. Older/larger kids can fit more easily up front.
- Seat Choice – Infant seats and convertible seats fit best rear-facing behind the passenger seat. Booster seats work better front-facing behind the driver.
- LATCH system – Miatas have standard LATCH anchors for safely securing compatible child seats without using belts.
- Space Limitations – With the seats moved forward to fit a rear seat, taller drivers may not fit. Two child seats or boosters likely won’t fit side-by-side.
While it takes some trial-and-error, parents can safely bring babies and kids along in the Miata. Just be realistic about tight space constraints and properly use LATCH anchors and seat belts.
Tips for Driving a Miata Safely
While Miatas offer good protection for a small sports car, drivers play a key role in staying safe. Here are smart tips for safely operating these nimble roadsters:
- Adjust Seating Position – Set the seat and wheel to allow full control without cramping legs or sacrificing visibility.
- Get Proper Training – Consider advanced driving courses to learn car control skills before pushing limits.
- Respect the Chassis Limits – Miatas handle beautifully but have less grip and longer stopping distances than heavier cars. Recognize its cornering and braking abilities compared to SUVs.
- Drive Defensively – Be extra alert when surrounded by large trucks and be wary of opponent’s braking performance.
- Avoid Rollovers – Miatas have good rollover crash protection but avoid maneuvers like abrupt lane changes or curbs that could trip the car up at speed.
- Use Extra Caution in Poor Weather – Reduce speed in rain or snow, when braking and cornering abilities diminish.
- Focus Only On Driving – No distractions from phones or passengers. Keep hands on the wheel and eyes on the road at all times.
While a safe sports car, the Miata rewards smart defensive driving. Stay alert, drive within your abilities, and don’t become overconfident.
Conclusion – The Miata Provides Good Safety for a Small Roadster
In summary, the Mazda MX-5 Miata has demonstrated excellent crashworthiness and earned high safety ratings since its inception. It provides very good occupant protection compared to other lightweight two-seat convertible sports cars.
With its fun-to-drive nature, drivers do need to exercise caution and avoid risky maneuvers. But the Miata’s safety fundamentals are excellent. Reinforced body structures, comprehensive airbags, and active technologies like stability control reward responsible driving.
While larger vehicles maintain inherent size-related advantages, the data shows Miatas provide sufficient safety for most buyers looking for open-top thrills. Treat it with mechanical empathy, drive prudently, and the MX-5 Miata can be enjoyed safely for years to come.