The Mazda MX-5 is a lightweight two-passenger roadstersports car manufactured and marketed by Mazda with a front mid-engine, rear-wheel-drive layout. The convertible is marketed as the Mazda Roadster (マツダ・ロードスター, Matsuda Rōdosutā) or Eunos Roadster (ユーノス・ロードスター, Yūnosu Rōdosutā) in Japan, and as the Mazda MX-5 Miata (/miˈɑːtə/) in North America, where it is widely known as the Miata.
Manufactured at Mazda's Hiroshima plant, the MX-5 debuted in 1989 at the Chicago Auto Show and was conceived and executed under a tightly focused design credo, Jinba ittai (人馬一体), meaning "oneness of horse and rider". Widely noted for its small, light, technologically modern, dynamically balanced and minimally complex design, the MX-5 is the spiritual successor to 1950s and '60s Italian and British sports cars, prominently the Lotus Elan.
Generations were internally designated with a two-letter code, beginning with the first generation, the NA. The second generation, (NB), launched in 1998 for MY 1999; followed by the third generation (NC) in 2005 for MY 2006, and the fourth generation (ND) in 2015 for MY 2016 (along with "ND2" being the designation for MY 2019).
As the best-selling two-seat convertible sports car in history, the MX-5 has been marketed globally, with production exceeding one million, as of early 2016. The name miata derives from Old High German for "reward".[N 1]
The MX-5's first generation, the NA, sold over 400,000 units from May 1989 to 1997—with a 1.6 L (98 cu in) inline-four engine to 1993, a 1.8 L (110 cu in) engine thereafter (with a de-tuned 1.6 as a budget option in some markets)—recognizable by its pop-up headlights. The second generation (NB) was introduced in 1999 with a slight increase in engine power; it can be recognized by the fixed headlights and the glass rear window, although first generation owners may opt for the glass window design when replacing the original top. The third generation (NC) was introduced in 2006 with a 2.0 L (120 cu in) engine and slightly larger body size, with a Power Retractable Hard Top variant added in 2007. The fourth generation (ND) was introduced in 2015 with a new 2.0 L (120 cu in) SKYACTIV-G engine and a body size similar to the first generation model, with a Retractable Fastback (RF) variant added later that year.
Launched at a time when production of small roadsters had almost come to an end, the Alfa Romeo Spider was the only comparable volume model in production at the time of the MX-5's launch. Just a decade earlier, a host of similar models—notably the MG B, Triumph TR7, Triumph Spitfire, and Fiat Spider—had been available.
The body is a conventional, but light, unibody construction, with (detachable) front and rear subframes. The MX-5 also incorporates a longitudinal truss, marketed as the Powerplant Frame (PPF), providing a rigid connection between the engine and differential, minimizing flex and contributing to responsive handling. Some MX-5s feature limited slip differentials and anti-lock braking system. Traction control is an option on NC models and standard on ND models. MX-5s weigh slightly over one tonne. For example, in 1994, the very rare optional Spec C package included the desirable limited slip differential.
The fact is that if you want a sports car, the MX-5 is perfect. Nothing on the road will give you better value. Nothing will give you so much fun. The only reason I’m giving it five stars is because I can’t give it fourteen.
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 and Gai Arai, head of Research and Development at Mazda. Yamamoto and Gai Arai 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 any more. I told Mr. Yamamoto that somebody should build one [...] inexpensive roadster.
In 1981, Hall moved to a product planning position with Mazda USA and again met Yamamoto, now chairman of Mazda Motors, who remembered their conversation about a roadster and in 1982 gave Hall the go-ahead to research the idea further. At this time Hall hired designer Mark Jordan to join the newly formed Mazda design studio in Southern California. There, Hall and Jordan collaborated on the parameters of the initial image, proportion and visualization of the "light-weight sports" concept. 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 first round of judging the competing designs was held in April 1984, with designs presented on paper only. The mid-engined car appeared to offer favorable qualities, 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 what would become the MX-5.
The Duo 101, so named as either a soft top or hardtop could be used, incorporated many key stylistic cues inspired by the Lotus Elan, a 1960s roadster, including the door handles, tail lamps and grille opening as well as engine appearance and center console layout. It is known that Mazda design studio acquired a vintage Lotus Elan as a source of inspiration for the designers. International Automotive Design (IAD) in Worthing, England was commissioned to develop a running prototype, codenamed V705. It was built with a fiberglass body, a 1.4 L (85 cu in) 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 US where it rolled on the roads around Santa Barbara, California 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 the 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, Mark Jordan, Wu-huang Chin (秦無荒, also on the RX-7 team), Norman Garrett, and Koichi Hayashi (林 浩一) 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 was ready to be introduced to the world as a true lightweight sports car, weighing just 940 kg (2,070 lb).
Although Mazda's concept was for the MX-5 to be an inexpensive sports car, at introduction the design met strong demand, with many dealers placing customers on pre-order lists and several dealers across North America increasing the vehicle markup.
Mazda used a design credo across the four generations of the MX-5's development: the phrase Jinba ittai (人馬一体, [dʑimba ittai]), which translates loosely into English as "rider (jin) and horse (ba) as one body (ittai)".
With the first generation of the MX-5, the phrase was developed into five specific core design requirements:
That the car be as compact and as light as possible while meeting global safety requirements.
That the cockpit comfortably accommodate two full-stature occupants with no wasted space.
That the basic layout continue with the original's front-midship rear-drive configuration with the engine positioned ahead of the driver but behind the front axle for 50:50 weight distribution.
That all four wheels be attached by wishbone or multi-link suspension systems to maximize tire performance, road grip, and dynamic stability.
And that a power-plant frame again provide a solid connection between the engine and rear-mounted differential to sharpen throttle response.
The first generation MX-5 was introduced in 1989 and was in production until 1997. Upon its release, the car won numerous accolades such as Automobile Magazine's 1990 Automobile of the Year and Car and Driver's 10Best list from 1990 to 1992.
The second generation MX-5 was unveiled in 1997 and put on sale in 1998 for the 1999 model year. While it kept the same proportions of its predecessor, its most noticeable change was the deletion of the retractable headlamps, which no longer passed pedestrian safety tests and were replaced by fixed ones.
Taking design cues from the 2003 Mazda Ibuki concept car, the third-generation Mazda MX-5 was introduced in 2005 and was in production until 2015. This generation introduced a Power Retractable Hard Top (PRHT) variant that features a folding mechanism that does not interfere with trunk space. During its release, the third generation MX-5 received several accolades such as the 2005-2006 Car of the Year Japan Award and Car and Driver's 10Best list from 2006 to 2013.
The fourth-generation Mazda MX-5 was unveiled in 2014 and has been in production since 2015. An updated model was introduced in 2018 and is visually identical to the pre-update model. It has been designated as series "ND2" due to an engine upgrade to 135 kW (181 hp) and several other improvements around the car. The ND generation introduced a Retractable Fastback (RF) variant that features a rigid roof and buttresses that give the silhouette a more coupé-like appearance than the soft top convertible. The fourth generation MX-5 has received several accolades such as the 2015-2016 Car of the Year Japan Award, the 2016 World Car of the Year Award, Car and Driver's 10Best list from 2016 to 2019, and the Red Dot Best of the Best Award in Product Design 2017. In addition, the car is the basis for the Fiat 124 Spider and Abarth 124 Spider.
Production numbers and details
In 2000, the Guinness Book of World Records declared the MX-5 the best-selling two-seat sports car in history, with a total production of 531,890 units. The 250,000th MX-5 rolled out of the factory on November 9, 1992; the 500,000th, on February 8, 1999; the 750,000th, in March 2004; the 800,000th in January 2007, and the 900,000th in February 2011.
On April 22, 2016, Mazda broke its Guinness World Record by producing its one millionth MX-5. The one millionth car rolled off the production line and was shown in select cities, where the first 240 fans of the vehicle present could physically sign it before it went to the next destination.
^"The Meaning of Miata". Miata.net. Retrieved 2009-05-09. Rod Bymaster, Mazda's head of product planning and marketing for the Miata project back in the early days, claims his "biggest contribution to the project was to have found the word miata in Webster's Dictionary, which is defined as ‘reward’ in Old High German."