This year’s New York Auto Show at the Javits Center features an exhibit dedicated to the Miata, the classic sports car from Mazda. There are models from all three generations, including two models of the roadster that were displayed at the Chicago Auto Show in 1989, where the Miata debuted.
The Miata gained popularity with its lightness and balance, allowing drivers to corner smoothly and easily. The combination of superior handling and the open-air convertible feel combines with something Mazda calls “jinba ittai,” or the idea of horse and rider moving as one. The connection between car and driver is immediate and effortless, from the easy shift of the gears to the steering wheel settled in the lap.
The Miata was a rare example of simplicity not seen often anymore, with power steering offered optionally and the 1.6-liter 4-cylinder 116 horsepower engine. The car only weighed 2,100 pounds, and the driver could lower the fabric top one-handed. The price tag: $13,800. This made it a sports car that almost anyone could afford.
Mazda kept production costs low by borrowing parts from its higher-volume selling models, with a ten-year lifespan instead of the normal 4-6 years of most Japanese models. The combination of reliability, affordability and superior performance and handling makes the MX-5 the world’s most popular roadracer, says Mazda. Other automakers like Honda and GM have attempted to duplicate the Miata, but the car’s popularity and success has never been duplicated.
Some details have changed over the years, but all Miata’s incarnations have retained the original spirit of the car. Today, the Miata weighs in at 2,500 lbs. and offers an excellent ride with nimble steering and handling. The engineers designing the car have preserved the continuity, making it ever-popular with sports car buyers.
Over 920,000 Miatas have been sold worldwide, but the future of the car is uncertain. Sales in the United States have taken a dive from the highest point in 1990 to currently about 5,000 units a year. Regardless of future sales, the Miata stands as proof that a smooth-handling, spirited sports car can be produced while maintaining reliability, affordability and cost-effective engineering.