Tuesday 16th July 2019,

Mazda “Miata” MX-5 1989-1998

When the Mazda MX-5 was born, it had confused origins to say the least. While the lightweight, perky automaton was indeed Japanese, it was born out of fundamental British ideologies.

The Miata (nickname of the MX-5) started as an idea in the mind of Bob Hall, an American automotive journalist in 1976. Hall traveled to Japan where he met with Mazda’s head of R&D, Kenichi Yamamoto. Hall and Yamamoto discussed the revival of a small lightweight British roadster. In 1982, the Miata was green lighted and started to be produced and conceptualized. When the Miata was ready to undergo a design in 1984, two design teams offered three different arrangements. A design team in California led by Mark Jordan proposed a front engine, rear-wheel-drive layout, while the Japanese design team presented two different configurations. The first setup offered by Japan was a front engine, front-wheel-drive as the first layout, while the second consisted of a mid engine, rear wheel drive layout. After two rounds of judging, the FR platform was chosen and Mazda soon developed a concept to be road tested in Santa Barbara where it received great acclaim. By 1989, Mazda’s lightweight roadster appeared on showroom floors. The Miata’s first generation model was known as the ‘NA’ platform.

When the Miata premiered, it was an instant hit with the public. Weighing in at only 2,100 pounds, while providing a sharp steering response on an FR platform won the heart of many drivers and enthusiasts everywhere. Part of the Miata’s popularity was also chiefly due to its zest and appeal. The Miata would satisfy anybody from a teenage girl who wanted a compact convertible to drive to the mall or a weekend racer who wanted 50/50 weight distribution and a limited slip differential all in one package. The demand for the first-generation Miata started to become so prominent, that the original 14,000 dollar price tag shot up to 17,000 in some areas. Despite this, the Miata currently holds the record for the best selling two seated convertible in history.

Although the Miata wasn’t the first of its kind, many felt the Miata was one of the greatest roadsters to seriously deliver a consummate roadster experience. A proper platform combined with its compact size, lightweight agility, eye-catching looks, exceptional handling performance, added on to Japan’s notorious reputation for durability seemed to provide a winning combination of sports car excellence. While the Miata is a great car, it doesn’t come without some drawbacks. The most common complaint voiced by Miata drivers is about the lack of space. The trunk isn’t very grand, while taller drivers may have a difficult time in the Miata’s snug interior. Another complaint many drivers have is that the noise level in the interior is too loud, especially if you’re planning on traveling great distances. So don’t bother with a radio unless you have a million watt sound kit.

The design of the Miata is heavily influenced by small British roadsters, most notably, the 1960′s Lotus Elan. The Miata’s two doors, swooping body, pop-up headlights, and the fact that it’s under 49 inches are definitive factors of its small sports car pedigree. When the Miata was being conceived, the designers had to keep a Japanese ideal known as “Jinba ittai.” Jinba ittai can be indirectly translated to “horse and rider as one body.” Under the ideal of Jinba ittai, the designers needed to create a connection between the driver and the car as if the driver can perceive the road as well as the car can. Some technical aspects of Jinba ittai were keeping the car light, creating a neutral weight distribution, being able to fit two adults in the cabin, trying to provide for maximum grip and handling, and a sharp throttle response. The lightweight body is complemented by the Miata’s power output. The engine that was most popular with the first generation Miata was a 1.8 Liter inline four, producing about 116 horsepower which can either come with a 4-speed automatic or a 5-speed manual. The 0-60 time comes in at about 8.1 seconds topping out at 126 miles per hour. The Miata wasn’t exactly the fastest accelerating car at the time, however, any Miata owner will tell you that straight-line speed wasn’t the point of the car.

Over the years, the Miata has caught the interest of some celebrities. Stars like Jay Leno, Drew Carey, Steve Coogan, Jennifer Capriati, and Peter Egan have all been seen driving their first generation Miata roadsters around. Leno feels so strongly about the Miata, that he thinks it’s in line to be a future collectable. In an article he wrote in 2009, Leno said “I think the Mazda Miata will be the ultimate affordable collectible by, say, 2025. The first-generation Miata was extremely simple, and that’s part of its charm… So the early Miata, with no traction control, no stability control–no nothing–will certainly be a collectible.”


So, an auspicious start to one of the world’s most beloved sports cars. Even after 20+ years and three generations, it doesn’t look like the Miata will fade from memory soon. Some drivers still prefer the first generation Miata over the newer generations. Although the new generation Miatas are more powerful out of the box, yet some feel that the extra power isn’t necessary and that it also negatively affects the handling.

In 2012, Fiat and Mazda announced a co-operation with Alfa Romeo to produce the next generation Miata/Alfa Romeo Spyder for 2014.

On May 23, 2012, Jota sport had even recently unveiled a “GT concept” Miata at Goodwood Festival of Speed that comes complete with improved aerodynamics, a new exhaust system, carbon fiber parts, as well as other improvements. The life of the Miata has certainly not burned out. Making a brilliant sports car leads to quite a legacy. To conclude here’s Jeremy Clarkson’s opinion on the Miata:

“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 14.”

Mazda Miata MX5 1989 -1998
Body Type2 seater Drophead coupe
Engine PlacementFront
Drive TypeRear wheel drive
FrontVentilated Discs
Cargo Volume136 L4.8 cu. Ft.
Engine1.6i DOHC 16V (1989-1994)
Cylindersstraight 4
Displacement1598 cc97.5 cui
Power86 KW115 BHP6500 RPM
Torque135 Nm100 ft. lb5500 RPM
Power/weight120 bhp/t
Top Speed185 km/h115 mph
Acceleration0-100 km/h - 0-60 mph8.7 s
Fuel consumptionl/100 kmImperial mpg
Gearbox5 speed manual4 seep automatic
Weight955 kg2105 lb
Engine1.8i DOHC 16V (1994-1998)
Cylindersstraight 4
Displacement1840 cc112 cui
Power96 KW129 BHP6500 RPM
Torque150 Nm111 ft. lb5000 RPM
Power/weight130 bhp/t
Top Speed190 km/h120 mph
Acceleration0-100 km/h - 0-60 mph8.2 s
Fuel consumptionl/100 kmImperial mpg
Gearbox5 speed manual
Weight990 kg2182 lb
Engine1.6i DOHC 16V (1995-1998)
Cylindersstraight 4
Displacement1598 cc97.5 cui
Power67 KW90 BHP6000 RPM
Torque129 Nm111 ft. lb4000 RPM
Power/weight68 bhp/t
Top Speed175 km/h109 mph
Acceleration0-100 km/h - 0-60 mph10.6 s
Fuel consumptionl/100 kmImperial mpg
Gearbox5 speed manual
Weight981 kg2163 lb
GD Star Rating
Mazda "Miata" MX-5 1989-1998, 9.7 out of 10 based on 6 ratings
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