It’s been a great run for Mazda’s MX-5 Miata, introduced 25 years ago and produced nonstop in Japan ever since. The formula Mazda used was deceptively simple: Build a sweet-handling, inexpensive, reliable roadster, build it right, and let the competitors try to do as well. To date, no one has.
The MX-5 is powered by a small, fuel-efficient 4-cylinder engine, with a 6-speed manual or shiftable automatic. With seating for two, just 5.3 cubic feet of cargo room and rear-wheel drive, it’s utterly unsuited for ski vacations and family outings. So why buy? Well, it’s fun. Isn’t that enough?
The MX-5 owes its premise to the great British and Italian roadsters of the 1960s through 1980s. Not long after they died out, the MX-5 surfaced. Since then, several competitors have tried varying strategies to dent the MX-5’s market, to no avail.
That isn’t to say the MX-5 hasn’t changed. Mazda helpfully informs us the 1990 model’s base price was $13,800. Its 1.6-liter inline Four was good for 116 horsepower. The first MX-5 weighed just 2,116 pounds.
Our 2015 MX-5 test car was a horse of a different color. Its 2.0-liter Four produced 167 horsepower, and the car weighed nearly 500 pounds more than its 1989 predecessor. Surprisingly, however, the price hasn’t increased. Today’s base MX-5 starts at about $3,000 less than the original — accounting for inflation — at $23,720. Our well-equipped Grand Touring model’s sticker price was $32,285.
MX-5 fans might be disappointed to learn the 25th anniversary model isn’t much different from the 23rd anniversary model. But why change? Mazda has sold 900,000 MX-5s since 1989, more than any other roadster in automotive history.
The 2015 MX-5 carries forward many of the same assets and deficiencies we’ve noted in past models. Road noise is pronounced, even with the power-retractable steel top in its raised position. The passenger compartment is small, and very tall drivers would find the driving position uncomfortable over the long haul. But the leather-upholstered driver’s seat that came with the high-end model we tested was exceptionally comfortable and supportive. Fuel economy — 21 mpg city, 28 highway, on premium gasoline — could be better in so small a car.
For tall drivers, the biggest complaint is the way the wind buffets the driver’s head and upper face during top-down driving. Other convertibles we’ve driven divert the breeze more effectively. This quality may help to explain why the MX-5 has acquired a reputation as a “chick’s car” — even moderate male height is a deal-breaker, though the fender flairs give the car a more manly look.
What really sells the MX-5 is its sharp handling, smooth-shifting transmission and peppy power plant. Americans who yearned for an MGB or Fiat Spider a generation or two ago, but couldn’t afford a “real” car for backup, can live the dream by purchasing a MX-5 — without dealing with the earlier models’ notorious reliability problems.
Steven Macoy ([email protected]) is a longtime car enthusiast and full-time editor who lives in Bethel, Conn.
Engine: 2.0-liter Four, 167 horsepower, 140 lb.-ft. torque
Transmission: 6-speed manual
Weight: 2,593 lb.
Suspension: Double-wishbone front, multi-link rear
Wheels: 17-in. painted alloy
Tires: 205/45R17 high performance
Seating capacity: 2
Luggage capacity: 5.3 cu. ft.
Fuel capacity: 12.7 gallons
Fuel economy: 21 mpg city, 28 mpg highway
Fuel type: Premium unleaded (recommended)