According to a 2003 Edmunds.com article, "the Miata deserves credit not only for reviving a dormant passion for roadsters, but for emboldening other manufacturers."
The MX-5 was conceived as an elemental small roadster — with light weight and minimal mechanical complexity limited only by legal and safety requirements; technologically modern, but a philosophically direct descendant of the small British roadsters of the 1960s such as the Triumph Spitfire, Austin-Healey Sprite, MG Midget and Lotus Elan.
The MX-5 was designed with a traditional front-engine, rear-wheel drive layout and four-wheel independent double wishbone suspension. It has a longitudinally-mounted four cylinder engine coupled to a manual transmission (5 speed for NA, 5 or 6 speed in NB & NC); an automatic transmission is a cost option.
The body is a conventional, but light, unibody or monocoque construction, with a (detachable) rear subframe. The MX-5 also incorporates a truss marketed as the Powerplant Frame (PPF) which connects the engine to the differential, minimizing flex and contributing to responsive handling. Many MX-5s feature limited slip differentials and anti-lock braking system. Traction control is an option available on NC models. The earlier cars weighed in at just over a ton, with engine power output usually . The later cars were heavier, with higher power engines.
With an approximate 50:50 front/rear weight balance, the car has nearly neutral handling. Inducing oversteer is easy and very controllable, thus making the MX-5 a popular choice for amateur and stock racing, including, in the USA, the Sports Car Club of America's Solo2 autocross and Spec Miata race series.
Beginning with the third generation, Mazda consolidated worldwide marketing using the MX-5 name, though enthusiasts in the USA still refer to it as Miata, a name that means "reward" in Old High German.
The MX-5 has won over 150 awards in its history, including making Car and Driver magazine's annual Ten Best list seven times; Wheels Magazine 's Car of the Year for 1989 and 2005; Sports Car International's "best sports car of the 1990s" and "ten best sports cars of all time"; 2005-2006 Car of the Year Japan; and 2005 Australian Car of the Year.
In 1976, Bob Hall, a journalist at Motor Trend magazine who was an expert in Japanese cars and fluent in the language, met Kenichi Yamamoto, head of Research and Development at Mazda. Yamamoto asked Hall what kind of car Mazda should make in the future:
I babbled [...] how the [...] simple, bugs-in-the-teeth, wind-in-the-hair, classically-British sports car doesn't exist anymore. I told Mr. Yamamoto that somebody should build one [...] inexpensive roadster.
In 1981, Bob Hall moved to a product planning position with Mazda US and again met Kenichi Yamamoto, now chairman of Mazda Motors, who remembered their conversation about a roadster and gave Hall the go-ahead to research the idea further. In 1983, the idea turned concept was approved under the "Offline 55" program, an internal Mazda initiative that sought to change the way new models were developed. Thus, under head of project Masakatsu, the concept development was turned into a competition between the Mazda design teams in Tokyo and California.
The California team proposed a front-engine, rear-wheel drive layout, codenamed Duo 101, in line with the British roadster ancestry, but their Japanese counterparts favored the more common front-engine, front-wheel drive layout or the rear mid-engine, rear-wheel drive layout.
The first round of judging the competing designs was held in April 1984. At this stage, designs were presented solely on paper. The mid-engined car appeared the most impressive, although it was known at the time that such a layout would struggle to meet the noise, vibration and harshness (NVH) requirements of the project. It was only at the second round of the competition in August 1984, when full-scale clay models were presented, that the Duo 101 won the competition and was selected as the basis for Mazda's new light-weight sports car.
The Duo 101, so named as either a soft top or hard top could be used, incorporated many key stylistic cues inspired by the Lotus Elan, a 1960s roadster. International Automotive Design (IAD) in Worthing, England was commissioned to develop a running prototype, codenamed V705. It was built with a fiberglass body, a engine from a Mazda Familia and components from a variety of early Mazda models. The V705 was completed in August 1985 and taken to the U.S.A. where it rolled on the roads around Santa Barbara and got positive reactions.
The project received final approval on 18 January 1986. The model's codename was changed to P729 as it moved into production phase, under head of program Toshihiko Hirai. The task of constructing five engineering mules (more developed prototypes) was again allocated to IAD, which also conducted the first front and rear crash tests on the P729. While Tom Matano and Koichi Hayashi worked on the final design, the project was moved to Japan for engineering and production details.
By 1989, with a definitive model name now chosen, the MX-5 (as in "Mazda eXperimental", project number 5) was ready to be introduced to the world as a true lightweight sports car, weighing just .
Referring to the design of the third generation, Mazda MX-5 program manager (NA), Takao Kijima said:
Jinba Ittai drove all of the development team's decisions, yielding a car so nimble and fun to drive that the driver and car achieve true unity. This unified rider and horse concept allowed us to create a new MX-5 that's true to the spirit of the original, exceptionally lightweight, and lots of fun to drive.
With the first generation of the Miata, the phrase was developed into five specific core design requirements:
The Miata was unveiled at the Chicago Auto Show on February 10, 1989, with a price tag of (in 2008 adjusted for inflation). The MX-5, with production code NA, was made available for delivery to buyers worldwide in the following dates: March 1989 in Japan, July 1989 (as a 1990 model) in the U.S.A., 1990 in Europe. An optional hardtop was made available at the same time, in sheet moulding compound (SMC). Demand initially outstripped production, fueled by enthusiastic press reviews.
In Japan, the car was not badged as a Mazda, as the company was experimenting with the creation of different marques for deluxe models, similar to Nissan's Infiniti and Toyota's Lexus. Instead, the Mazda MX-5 was sold as the Eunos Roadster in that market.
The body shell of the NA was all-steel with a light-weight aluminium hood. Overall dimensions were in length, in width, and in height. Drag coefficient was indicated as 0.38. Suspension was an independent double wishbone on all four wheels, with an anti-roll bar at the front and rear. Four wheel-disc brakes, ventilated at the front, were behind alloy wheels with 185/60HR14 radial tires.
The original MX-5 came with a double overhead cam inline four-cylinder engine, producing and of torque. The engine employs an electronic fuel injection system using a vane-type air flow meter and a camshaft angle sensor instead of a distributor. This engine, codename B61P, had been previously used in the 323 series. Standard transmission was 5-speed manual. Japan and the USA got an optional automatic transmission which proved unpopular; these markets also received an optional viscous limited slip rear differential, although were only available for cars with a manual transmission.
The NA could reach in 9.4 seconds and had a top speed of . This first generation of Miata (often referred to as the M1) included a special edition in 1991, produced in British Racing Green with the first use of tan interior.
1500 LE (Limited Edition)cars were produced in 1993. This model featured red leather interior, upgraded stereo, Nardi shift knob, leather wrapped steering wheel, cruise, limited slip differential, power windows, power mirrors, power steering, air conditioning, BBS wheels, Bilstein shocks, front and rear spoilers, ABS brakes, stainless sill plates and Harley style peanut tank door speaker trim. All '93 LE cars came in black.
For the 1994 model year, the first-generation MX-5 was freshened with the introduction of the more powerful BP-ZE engine, dual airbags and a limited slip differential in some markets. The chassis was substantially braced to meet new side-impact standards, most visibly by adding a "track bar" between the seatbelt towers inside the car, but also to the front and rear subframes. Also, 1994 and 1995 were the only years in which Mazda offered a light metallic blue paint (Laguna Blue Mica), making these cars rare collectors cars to some. 1994 also saw the introduction of the "R" package, a sport-themed package with Bilstein shocks and subtle underbody spoilers, in addition to the removal of unnecessary items such as power steering. No body style changes were made, though.
The new engine produced , which was then increased by for the 1996 model year. The base weight increased to . Performance was improved slightly, the additional power being partly offset by the extra weight. In some markets such as Europe, the engine continued to be available as a lower-cost option, but was detuned to . This lower-powered model did not receive all the additional chassis bracing of the new . Japanese and US cars were fitted with an optional Torsen LSD, which was far more durable than the previous viscous differential.
There were a number of trim levels and special editions available, determined by local Mazda marketing departments. In the US, the base model was offered for at launch and was very basic, with manual windows, steel wheels, and without A/C or power steering. The "A Package" offered power steering, a leather-wrapped steering wheel, aluminum alloy wheels and cassette stereo. The "B Package" added power windows, along with cruise control and headrest speakers, while the "C Package" included a tan interior and top and leather seats. The "R Package" was for racing, and the annual special editions were formalized as "M Editions". These included all of the luxury options from the "C Package" as well as special paint and, sometimes, special wheels. In the UK, to celebrate Mazda's 24 hours of Le Mans win, Mazda brought out a special edition of the MX-5, with the winner's color scheme (see Mazda 787B) and came equipped with BBR (Brodie Brittain Racing) turbo conversion; the car is one of the most sought after special edition cars of the MX-5s.
The first generation MX-5 was phased out with the 1997 model year (with the exception of 400 limited edition Berkeley models sold only in the UK in 1998 to mark the end of the NA), with the final 1500 NAs produced for the US market being the "STO" ("Special Touring Option") versions.
In 1998, Mazda released the second-generation MX-5, then known as MX-5 Miata production code NB, for the 1999 model year. The NB featured a more powerful engine and external styling cues borrowed from the third generation Mazda RX-7 model. Prices in the United States, the main market for the MX-5, started at (in 2008 adjusted for inflation).
Although many parts of the interior and body were different, the most notable changes were the headlights: the first generation's retractable headlights no longer passed pedestrian safety tests and were replaced by fixed ones. The new car grew slightly in width compared to the earlier model; its dimensions were: length , width , height and wheelbase . Without options, the NB weighed exactly . The new generation was slightly more aerodynamic than the original, with a Cd figure of 0.36.
The NB continued to employ four-wheel independent suspension, with enlarged anti-roll bars at the front and rear, but the wheels, tires and brakes were significantly upgraded: anti-lock braking system was offered as an option; alloy wheels were now or in diameter and in width, depending on the trim package; sports models were equipped with the larger wheels and 195/50VR15 tires.
The BP-4W engine remained at but received several minor updates. The engine compression ratio was raised from 9.0:1 to 9.5:1 by adding slightly domed pistons; the intake cam was changed to a solid lifter design with a stronger cam; the intake runners in the head were straightened and the intake manifold was mounted higher up. Mazda's Variable Intake Control System was introduced, which effectively gave a long narrow intake manifold at low rpm for better swirl, changing to a short, free-flowing manifold at high rpm for maximum breathing. Power output of the new engine was quoted at with of torque.
The B6 engine remained available in Europe and Japan.
The base-model NB could reach in 7.9 s and had a top speed of .
In 1999, Mazda celebrated the 10th anniversary of the MX-5 with the 10th Anniversary Model, a limited edition featuring some until-then exclusive features, namely a six-speed transmission and Bilstein shock absorbers; performance figures were slightly different, with faster acceleration but lower top speed than the standard NB.
For the 2001 model year, a facelift to the second-generation MX-5 was released. There were some minor exterior changes, with a press-release of July 18, 2000 announcing the changes as "resulting in an even sportier and more forceful look". Some cockpit elements were changed, with the instrument panel gauges receiving a white face and red numbers. The seats were also upgraded, incorporating more support in the side bolsters and taller headrests. Added for top models were 16-inch wheels with 205/45VR16 low-profile tires and larger brakes at the front and rear. The upgraded tires and suspension allowed the new model to pull 0.88 g in lateral grip in tests by Car and Driver magazine. The body was strengthened, gaining 16% in bending rigidity and 22% in torsional rigidity. With the minimum of options, the 2001 model weighed .
The BP-Z3 engine was slightly modified and now featured variable valve timing on the intake camshaft. The intake and exhaust system also received a minor upgrade. These modifications resulted in a power output of (Japan and Australia) or (US and Europe). In the United States, Mazda erroneously quoted the power figure for the Japanese and Australian model in early catalogues. Car and Driver magazine and numerous owners confirmed the missing power, and Mazda offered to buy back the 2001 cars due to those misleading power claims. Owners who did not take up the buy back offer were offered an apology and free servicing for the warranty period.
2002 saw the launch of the MX5 SP. The MX-5 SP was developed and sold in Australia and its turbocharged engine produced at 6800 rpm. Only 100 of these cars were built. The SP was very expensive in comparison to a standard MX5 at the time yet offered blistering performance.
In 2003 Mazda launched a campaign to target a younger group of drivers with the introduction of the Shinsen Version (SV) Miata. The Shinsen (Japanese for "Fresh and New,") provided an intermediate step between the base model and the pricier LS. Equipped with most standard features on the LS, such as cruise control and aluminum brush trim, the SV added a touch of comfort and style without a hefty price tag. This limited production model also shared an inverted color scheme of the same year Special Edition. With a titanium silver exterior, dark blue top and interior, the Shinsen Version was a handsome addition to the Miata family.
The 2004 model year saw the introduction of the official turbocharged Mazdaspeed MX-5, Roadster Turbo in Japan. It featured an IHI turbocharger equipped BPT engine that produced at 6000 rpm with a front-mounted air-to-air intercooler. Other features included a special suspension, upgraded transmission and clutch assemblies, upgraded drivetrain components, Racing Hart alloy wheels, special interior trim. The 2004 Mazdaspeed MX-5 was only available in Velocity Red Mica and Titanium Gray Metallic while the 2005 model was available additionally in Lava Orange Mica and Black Mica. Of the 5,428 Mazdaspeed MX-5s produced during model years 2004 and 2005, 4,000 were produced in 2004; the 2005 production run was shortened to only 1428, due to a fire at the production facility. Also during the 2004 model year, a division of Mazda in Japan produced the Roadster Coupé, with an integral hardtop roof. The body structure was reworked to incorporate the roof for a substantial increase in chassis rigidity and a weight increase of . Production was limited to 350 units for Japan only.
Production of the third-generation MX-5, code NC, began May 17, 2005, for delivery in August, for the 2006 model year. This was partially due to the declining sales of the Miata during its second generation run.
The exterior styling resembles the original design, but unlike the update from NA to NB, which was mostly a nose/tail/interior change, the NC shares no components with the NB, except for the side-panel turning-lights on non-USA models.
For the USA, the engine is the new 16-valve, MZR I4, producing and coupled to either a 5-speed or a 6-speed manual transmission or with the optional 6-speed automatic transmission. A limited slip differential is available with the 6-speed option. In Australia the MZR is offered, rated at and and the 6-speed transmission and LSD are standard. In Europe, two engines are offered: the MZR rated at and , coupled to the 6-speed manual transmission; and a new MZR, rated at and , coupled to the 5-speed manual transmission.
A six-speed automatic transmission, with steering wheel mounted paddle shifters, is optional. A test by Car and Driver magazine revealed a 0- time of 6.5 s for the U.S.-spec NC. Manufacturer figures for the European-spec model are: 0- in 9.4 s and 7.9 s ().
The NC was launched with a special edition called "3rd Generation Limited" which featured added chrome accents and special wheels. 3500 were built worldwide (300 in the UK, 750 in the USA), delivered in advance of standard models.
The NC offers a wider range of accessories for customization than the earlier generations. The softtop, in cloth instead of vinyl, can now be chosen in more than two colors: black and cream as previously, but also grey, camel, blue and green; and the interior can be customized to the exterior paint color.
In July 2006, Mazda unveiled a coupé convertible version of the NC with a three-piece folding hardtop, named "MX-5 Roadster Coupe" in Europe, "Roadster Power Retractable Hard Top" in Japan, and "MX-5 Miata Power Retractable Hard Top" in the USA. Adding to the weight of a comparable model with soft top, the hard top takes 12 seconds to raise or lower; in a departure from the competition, it does not take any of the existing trunk space when folded down. The first units were delivered to customers in late August, for a price premium less than the cost of a separate hard top. Performance times are slightly affected with the weight increase, to 9.6 s and 8.2 s from 0-, but top speed is increased from 196km/h (121.8mph) to 200km/h (124.3mph) and from to for the European-spec model.
For 2008, Mazda released a Special Edition MX-5 in Icy Blue exterior, with exclusive Saddle Brown folding top, with matching leather with blue stitching steering wheel, seats, and hand brake. The Special Edition also featured a silver-accented shift knob, dark-silver finished instrument panel with chrome accents, special alloy wheels, stainless steel MX-5 scuff plate, and chrome front headlight bezel, grille surround and fog lamp surround. The 2008 Special Edition was limited to 750 units in the US.
|Year||Production||Sales (U.S.)||Sales (Global)|
|1988||12 (pre-production cars)|