Next year we’ll be seeing the rollout of the fourth generation Mazda MX-5, fondly known as the Miata. I’m liking what I’m seeing.
It’s hard to remember back to 1989, when the first Miata rolled off the assembly line and invaded America. It was then a decade since the big British sports car names — MG, Triumph, Lotus — gave up the mass market, and no one else had stepped forward with a comparable fun-to-drive roadster.
I love the raised rump, squatting haunches look.
Mazda’s idea, then and now, was a knockoff of the Lotus Elan that actually ran reliably. Anyone who owned (or was owned by) one of those Brits knew how maddeningly erratic they were, and that light supplier Lucas wasn’t called “the prince of darkness” for nothing. Some 940,000 MX-5 Miatas have been produced since then, and they’re still in demand because they’ve evolved with the times.
In 1989, “Father of the Miata” Bob Hall was manager of product planning for Mazda R&D of North America. The car was his baby, and he convinced the company that it would sell in a country starved for sports cars. Hall is a fan of the new car, and considers it a natural evolution.
The interior looks relatively understated in this view.
“What was good enough in 1989 sure isn’t now, unless you are starting a car industry in Sierra Leone,” Hall told Automobile Magazine. “The MX-5 has managed to ride the wave of change, which is why it's lasted 25 years and has remained relevant in such a changed environment. So the [fourth generation car] hasn’t changed its place, but it has changed to keep its place. Kudos to the Mazda people for recognizing that. God knows the people at MG never figured that out over the 18 years the MGB was in production.”
The MGB of 1980 was without doubt a worse car than the ’64, weighted down with rubber bumpers and strangled by pollution controls. But still with the original design! Add labor unrest plus leadership from clueless British peerage and it’s amazing the English sports car didn’t die earlier.
But the Miata has evolved, and the new car, code-named ND, is a worthy successor. Among other improvements, it has reportedly lost 220 pounds to weigh in at 2,200 pounds (compared to the NC’s 2,447).
Note the mid-mounting for the direct-injection engine.
Under the hood (and mid-mounted behind the front axle) is the SKYACTIV-G direct-injection gasoline engine stirred by a six-speed manual (or an automatic, if you must). It’s interesting to note that the platform is shared with Fiat Chrysler, and is likely to appear with Fiat or Abarth badges (and a completely different Fiat/Alfa turbo engine).
The styling adheres to Mazda’s new “KODO — Soul of Motion” design language that, among other things, “richly expresses the Japanese sense of contrast between stillness and motion.” Forget about Zen Buddhism; it just plain looks good — at motion when at rest, like a baby Ferrari. There’s that squatting on the haunches thing, and a sense that the car is lower than it really is. NB and NC didn’t have the purity of form of that first NA, but ND, this one works.
Delayed gratification. That’s what I’ll have to call my Mazda Miata fixation. I know, I know, I've been saying this for a while — something like 10 years, and I’m finally close to putting some money down. I’m going to buy an old one, though. A good ‘ol NA from, what, 1992, and let’s have a hardtop, too, please.
The beauty of these cars is their sheer success in the marketplace means there’s plenty of them around, and affordable, too. I can buy a darned nice car for $3,000.
The 2016 Miata was unveiled September 3 on the west coast, with Duran Duran providing the music. See it here:
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