MX-5 Miata: Manual vs. Automatic

It’s a debate that has raged on in the Miata community for a long, long time. Is it worth buying an automatic MX-5? And how do they match up to the stick-shifted models?

We’ll weigh up the pros and cons for you so that you can make an informed decision on the right transmission for you. Strap in – let’s begin.

Should you get an automatic MX-5 Miata?

It’s a matter of personal preference. Some drivers find automatic Miatas easier to drive in city conditions. They also enjoy the seamless transition that an automatic transmission offers. It’s a good idea to test drive both models and find out what works for you.

Lots of MX-5 Miata purists will shun the idea of an automatic transmission. They prefer the control that a manual gearbox offers and that feeling of direct connection with the vehicle. For this reason, automatic MX-5s are generally less desirable in the used car market.

But this also means that you can likely snatch one up for a steal of a price. Used NA Miatas with automatic transmissions are known to hover around the $3000/£2400 mark on popular online marketplaces.

At the end of the day, your own opinion is what counts most. This is why it’s incredibly important to take both transmissions for a spirited test drive to see what suits you best. Make sure that you test them both out in a range of conditions: heavy traffic, windy roads and freeway driving.

Automatic MX-5 Miatas: Pros & Cons

Every iteration of the Mazda MX-5 Miata has been released with two transmission options: manual and automatic. In some parts of the world, like the US, automatic transmissions are considered the norm. Here’s a quick list of pros and cons of owning an automatic MX-5 Miata.

Pro: It’s more convenient

One thing that cannot be denied is that an automatic transmission offers more convenience. If you’re lucky enough to be daily driving your Miata in heavy traffic conditions, you’ll thank god for the invention of the auto gearbox.

When the car selects the optimal gear for you, you don’t have to use your leg to operate the clutch. You also won’t have to coordinate with your hands to select gears while driving.

Simply put, an automatic transmission allows you to enjoy the open-top nature of the MX-5 Miata without getting cramps in your left leg on an hourly basis.

Pro: They’re cheaper

As we mentioned a little earlier, used Mazda MX-5 Miatas with automatic transmissions are generally available for less money than their manual counterparts.

It all comes down to simple supply and demand. Much of the online Miata community have convinced themselves and others that an automatic MX-5 Miata is not worth touching. As a result, they have become less desirable in the used car market.

But for those of you who fancy an automatic transmission, this is excellent news. While manual Miatas creep up to astronomical price points, you can snatch up an automatic at an excellent price point. Nice one!

Pro: They’re smoother

You might consider yourself an excellent driver. But the reality is that even the smoothest of operators cannot guarantee a perfect shift every single time.

For those of you obsessed with a smooth and hassle-free ride, an automatic transmission could be the way to go. There’s no embarrassing jolting or stuttering that comes with a stick-shift: your Miata will simply select the optimal gear for your speed and seamlessly transition into it.

This also means that there is less chance of you manually breaking or damaging your gearbox. With an automatic, there’s no more crunching gears and praying that you haven’t broken anything.

Right – that’s enough praise for automatic transmissions. Let’s get into some cons.

Con: They can be a bit boring

You knew this one was coming. If you consider yourself a motoring purist, you might find automatic transmissions a little bit boring.

There is nothing more satisfying to a car enthusiast than a great gear change in a stick-shift vehicle. Knowing that you orchestrated a near-perfect shift is a fantastic feeling, and one that never gets old.

But in an automatic, this is all done for you. You lose that direct connection and input with the vehicle. As a result, driving an automatic MX-5 can feel a bit disconnected, and frankly quite boring.

Con: They’re more expensive to repair

The automatic transmissions fitted to MX-5 Miatas are highly complex systems. They use a range of sensors to determine the best time to shift gears and a torque converter to disconnect the engine from the transmission while doing so.

It’s a much more complex system than most manual transmissions, where disconnecting the transmission from the engine and shifting gears is controlled by driver inputs. As a result, it can be more expensive for mechanics to repair due to the need for specialist parts and increased labour time.

The good news is that automatic transmissions fitted to every model of the MX-5 Miata are considered to be very reliable. So long as you can change the transmission fluid at regular intervals, you should be good to go for hundreds of thousands of miles.

Manual MX-5 Miatas: Pros & Cons

As new automatic vehicles experience a surge in popularity, there is a risk of manual cars becoming endangered. The good news is that Mazda doesn’t intend to drop manual transmissions from the MX-5 Miata, as this would limit its purist appeal. Here are the benefits and drawbacks of owning a manual Miata.

Pro: They offer more control

This is the single most beneficial advantage of a stick-shifted MX-5 Miata.

Manual transmissions offer you more control over the vehicle. As the driver, you alone dictate which gear your MX-5 is travelling in. This makes driving a much more involved experience, which can be really exciting.

But it can also help in adverse weather conditions, like in the winter. Automatic transmissions are clever, but they cannot assess external factors – like heavy snow – when making decisions about which gear to transition to. In a manual, you can select the most appropriate gear for your situation.

For those of us who consider ourselves driving perfectionists, manual transmissions are the only way to go.

Pro: They’re quick

There is significant debate as to whether a manual transmission makes your MX-5 Miata quicker than an automatic one. It is true that an automatic transmission can shift faster than a human – but only in ideal conditions.

An automatic transmission can shift gears at the most inopportune times. If you want to hang around in the lower gears more and push your Miata to its limits, a manual transmission grants you the control to do so.

Plus, manual transmissions fitted to Miatas weigh less. Manual transmissions need fewer sensors and systems to do the job of transferring power to your wheels. The reduced weight allows it to be more efficient in doing so.

Pro: They’re cheaper to repair

If something was to ever go wrong with the manual transmission in your MX-5 Miata, you can sleep comfortably knowing that it won’t cost the earth to put it right.

While a manual transmission is still a complex system of parts and pumps, it’s nowhere near as complex as an automatic transmission. Most mechanics know manual transmissions inside and out, which should guarantee you a quick and cost-effective repair.

Likewise, there are plenty of well-priced manual transmission units available to purchase from the likes of eBay if you need a complete replacement for your MX-5 Miata.

Con: They can be hard work

Depending on your driving style, operating a manual transmission for several hours a day can be draining.

Even the best of us will complain of leg aches and hand cramps from repeatedly operating the clutch pedal and gear stick during a long drive. Sometimes I wish that I had just bought an automatic instead.

If you’re not daily driving your Miata, this is much less of a problem.

Con: They’re easier to break

The manual transmission units fitted to every generation of the MX-5 Miata are tough and durable. On the whole, the MX-5 Miata is very reliable.

However, this reliability cannot escape simple human error. If you are crunching gears and pummelling the clutch on a regular basis, your manual transmission will have a much shorter lifespan.

Keeping your shifts smooth and taking your time with the clutch can help to safeguard your manual transmission for many years to come. You should also remember to swap out your transmission and clutch fluids at the recommended intervals.

So long as you’re not money-shifting your Miata on a regular basis, your manual transmission should be good to go for the life of the vehicle.


It’s important to note that there is no one-size-fits-all answer for whether you should buy a manual or automatic MX-5 Miata. It all comes down to personal preference and how you drive.

There are so many debates in the Miata community. From the choice between 1.6 or 1.8 Miatas to the everlasting debate about the best tires, it’s a good idea to do your research and try anything first-hand if you can.

If you’re a regular commuter and busy city driver, an automatic transmission might be more convenient – easing the stress on your body and doing the hard work for you.

If you’re a purist or an occasional spirited driver, you might want to opt for a manual Miata. This gives you full control over the vehicle and allows you to feel connected with the vehicle.

Which do you prefer? Let us know below!

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