MX-5 Miata: How To Tell Between 1.6 & 1.8 Engines

If you’re looking at buying an NA MX-5 Miata, you might be wondering how you can tell the difference between the 1.6 and 1.8 engines.

While 1.6s were the first engines in Mk1 Miatas, the 1.8s were introduced in 1994 to bring more power and better chassis bracing to the iconic roadster.

Sure, the seller might be confident it’s a 1.8 – but how can you be 100% sure? This article will give you some quick tips on identifying which engine is which.

Raised lettering: that’s a 1.8!

How to tell the difference between 1.6 and 1.8 engines

A simple method is to take a look at the writing on the cam cover of the engine. If the letters are raised, it’s a 1.8-litre engine. If the lettering is sunken into the cam cover, it’s a 1.6-litre engine.

The lettering on your cam cover will read ‘Mazda 16 Valve DOHC’. You can’t miss it – it’s at the very top of your engine which will be facing you when you look into the engine bay.

You can’t swap a 1.8 cam cover for a 1.6 cam cover – and vice versa. This is why looking out for the lettering on the cam cover of the engine is a surefire way to identify the displacement of your engine.

You can also check the spark plug wires on the top of the engine. If the wires are running towards the driver’s side of the Miata, it’s a 1.6-litre engine. If the wires are running towards the passenger side, it’s a 1.8-litre engine.

Image Credit: Mazda Europe

The debate between the 1.6 and 1.8 engines

The Miata community has always had its fair share of debates. Turbo, or supercharge? Which tires are best? Which engine should I get?

It can be difficult to choose between the 1.6 and the 1.8 engine on an NA MX-5 Miata. While the 1.8 is quicker on paper, it’s a heavier car – meaning some of that lightweight Miata magic could be lost.

In comparison, the 1.6 is cheap and simple. It’s the first engine to ever be placed into a Miata. While the car may lack chassis bracing and an upgraded diff, it’s a delight to drive and it keeps you on your toes.

As always, it comes down to personal preference. I would always recommend trying both versions and seeing what makes the most sense to you.

If you want to find out more about the differences between the 1.6 and 1.8 engines, check out our guide on 1.6 vs 1.8 Miatas.


Well, there you have it. This is one of our shorter articles – but I hope it helped. If you are ever in a pinch and need to identify which engine is in a first-generation MX-5 Miata, the answer is right in front of you.

Check that writing on the cam cover! It’s as simple as that.

Let me know if you have any questions in the comments below. I’ll do my best to help out. Cheers!

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