What about the other famous rear-wheel-drive offering from Japan, Mazda's MX-5 Miata? A case can be made that an 86 buyer cross-shops the Miata, and vice-versa, but what kind of split do Mazda's sales figures reflect in comparison?
We reached out to Mazda for some sales data, and PR program manager Tim Olson told us 76 percent of Miata soft-top buyers go for the classic stick-shift option, leaving just 24 percent of buyers preferring the automatic. Both transmission options for the Miata are six-speed. The figures are based on year-to-date sales data for the 181-hp 2019 Miata, from July 2018 through April 2019.
Interestingly, the more coupe or targa-like, retractable hardtop RF variant takes a step towards the 86 when it comes to transmission choices. While RF buyers still preferred the manual, the split was far closer to half and half: 52% went for the manual, and 48% chose the automatic.
Perhaps this reflects the RF's more grand tourer-like image, and it might also be indicative of the RF's higher pricing. If you're going to spend nearly $34,000 for a Miata, another $600 for an autobox doesn't necessarily mean that much – choosing the auto on the base, Sport trim level soft top roadster is a $1,350 bump instead. While the $26,650 base Sport isn't exactly spartan, on a roadster it's fine to have less cushiness. With the higher-specced Club trim level, the auto's price tag shrinks to the aforementioned $600, as it is on the RF Club. There's no base Sport for the RF, as the cheapest RF is the $33,865 Club.
But still, the manual shifter's snick-snack feel is one of the Miata's classic traits that has been with it since its inception 30 years ago. Sources say fewer than 5% of the original first generation Miatas were made with an automatic gearbox, but it's obvious trends and tastes are changing – although to be fair, automatics are getting much better as well.