Mazda’s Miata @ 25: The long–and always winding–road

Mazda Miata 1995

That was then…1st-gen Mazda Miata (1995 shown)

All of the above history brings us, of course, to today. The third gen, on sale in late 2005 for the 2006 model year, was a complete redesign, with – according to Mazda – “every single component of the car either all-new or extensively revised.” The sheetmetal had been ‘manned up’, and the predictable weight gain had been offset by an all-new drivetrain, the centerpiece of which was a 2.0 liter four providing 170 horsepower and 140 lb-ft of torque. And while today’s Miata certainly has its fans (some 75,000 have been sold in the U.S. since the 2005 intro), the franchise ain’t what it used to be, going from ‘oh-so-now’ to niche in roughly two decades. The demand, however, remains enough to warrant continued production of a product cycle now in its ninth year, more than enough to pay for that all-new tooling.

Upcoming, for what we believe to be the 2016 model year, is an all-new platform, presumably all-new SkyActiv drivetrain, and production facilities committed to producing both a Mazda Miata and (possible) Alfa Romeo offshoot. Benefiting from Mazda’s newest Kodo design philosophy, the MX-5 should be fully capable of rekindling the old flame while – hopefully – igniting some new ones. And if Mazda’s product team pulls it off, it could be the one thing both Geezers and Millennials might agree on. (Good luck with that.)

Addendum(s) – My fellow Buzzard(ette), BJ Killeen, very generously provides her personal/professional connection to Mazda’s Miata at the time of its 1989 launch:

“I was working at Motor Trend magazine when the Miata was first introduced to the world. As a buff book, we got the cars before the rest of the media as we worked on a three-month lead time. The Miata also was a contender for Car of the Year, so that was another reason we got the vehicle before on-sale date. It was the Memorial Day weekend, and I was living in Venice Beach, California. As a single girl, I took the Miata home (mostly because it was a two-seater with little luggage space, and everyone else grabbed big vehicles to take their families and luggage away for the holiday weekend). I decided on that holiday weekend to drop the top and cruise up and down Ocean Blvd, and take a drive up Pacific Coast Highway to see if anyone noticed it. Being a holiday weekend at the beach, it was packed. The cruise up Ocean Blvd. was mostly stop and go. But with the top down, and traveling at such slow speeds, it gave the public a chance to look at this little red beauty. People started shouting questions at me: What is that? Who makes it? What kind of power? How much does it cost? Is it for sale? The barrage of querys was more than I could keep up with. For a solid hour, as I sat in traffic, I must have answered 200 questions. I was seriously exhausted, and couldn’t wait to take the car back and hide it in the garage. (Although when PCH finally opened up, it was a blast to drive.) I remember thinking that if this was any indication at how popular this car was going to be, it would be a tremendous success. It appears I was right.”  BJ Killeen

Chief Buzzard John Matras offers this:

“I had out of the press fleet one of the first two Mazda Miatas on the east coast of the United States when the Miata was new, and the reaction of people who may not even have seen pictures of the Miata yet was astounding. Of course to me, as a sports car owner in earlier days, the Miata was like coming home…which is something I feel every time I drive a Miata.

Of course, my wife drove sports cars back in the day as well, but as children came along, a minivan was much more practical. Just so you know, strapping kids to a luggage rack isn’t acceptable, and probably not legal, either. So to be more than just a passenger, my wife got her turn behind the wheel of the Miata as well, and was driving, top down, wind in the kidneys and all that, with my oldest daughter, then about 14, in the passenger seat.

“You know, Mandy, I really like this car.”

“Yeah, Mom,” my daughter replied, with typical teen distraction.

“No, I really do like this car.”

“Yeah,” came the answer, with “whatever” implied, but not spoken.

“I’d really like to have one of these,” said my wife.

“Mom,” my daughter said with a sigh, “it wouldn’t fit your image.”

No, my daughter did not have to walk home, but it was a close call.”

And John Morel, a product analyst at Mazda when the Miata was first launched, offers this:

“The first generation Mazda was a rare mix of events. Passionate auto enthusiasts worked at a car company not mature enough to care about accounting practicalities such as profit. They were given a nearly clean sheet at a time when Japan was still confident about the future. The result was a car that stopped people in their tracks and still seems fresh today.

The second-gen was the common progeny of success. Too many meetings took place where the unstated objective was ‘don’t screw this up’. On the plus side, it did give us the Miata’s only high-performance engine in the short-lived Mazdaspeed edition.

The third generation Miata seemed to enjoy more design vision (and a larger standard engine), but suffered from a bit of middle-age weight gain. But then, haven’t we all? Those modern safety and comfort features do make it easier to live with. And it is the one in my driveway, at least for the time being. I look forward to the next generation, hoping it can recapture the optimism of the original.”  John Morel