Brief History of the Mazda MX-5

The original MX-5 weighed around 940kg - little more than a Lotus Elise

The Mazda MX-5 was conceived as a pure driving experience inspired by the Lotus Elan

Tuners were quick to develop parts to unlock the MX-5's potential

But its brilliance was always in the chassis. Power was just sufficient

The Mk1 MX-5 in particular had an almost perfect ratio of power to grip

The MX-5 was badged as Miata in the US. Plenty of Japanese models have been imported to the UK

In Japan, it didn't carry a Mazda badge initially. It was originally called Eunos Roadster

16 years separated Mk1 and Mk3, but the design connection is clear

A huge parade was organised for the model's 20th birthday. More than 1600 arrived at Miyoshi proving ground

MX-5 stands for Mazda Experiment and project number 5

The Mk2 lost the original's pop-up lights as a result of crash regulations

Despite extra weight, and an increase in power, the MX-5 magic remained

A six-speed manual gearbox was available along with a limited-slip diff in some post-2001 models.

The second generation MX-5 was better appointed, but the cabin still majored on simplicity.

The second generation model's styling was influenced by the RX-7

The weight of the Mk2 passed the 1000kg mark for the first time - before options were added

A canvas roof was still the only configuration available

The Mk3 MX-5 was launched in 2005, facelifted in 2008 and 2013 saw a package of new, but less significant upgrades

The Mk3, once again, had two engine options, but this time the base was a 127bhp 1.6-litre. A 2.0-litre 167bhp is also available

Despite the added weight, the basic formula is still spectacular

British tuner BBR, has coaxed 168bhp from a 2.0-litre MX-5, giving a 4.9sec 0-60mph time

Once more, the MX-5 featured a familiar cabin, bereft of complicated controls

600 models were fitted with a range of cosmetic upgrades and badged Kuro for the UK market

The Sport Graphite was another in a long line of special editions

Two versions of the 20th Anniversary model were launched: one in Japan and one in Europe a year apart

The GT Concept was developed by Mazda's race partner, Jota

The MX-5 Superlight weighed 160kg less than the standard car, but was developed purely as a concept

The Roadster Coupé increased the MX-5's all-weather usability with a folding hardtop

Jota GT4 race car lines up beside its Jota-developed GT sibling

The latest MX-5

By Aaron Smith

29 January 2015

In February 1989 at the Chicago Auto Show, Mazda pulled the wraps off a lightweight, affordable sports car that would go on to be the biggest-selling two-seater convertible in history. The Mazda MX-5.

Standing for Mazda Experiment and project number 5, the MX-5 went through seven years of heavily critiqued design, engineering and testing before being given the production green light.

It eventually went on sale in the UK on 14 March 1990, priced at £14,249. That day was also when we published our full road test of the affable sports car.

Powered by a 1.6-litre inline four cylinder engine putting out 114bhp at 6500rpm, enabling a 0-60mph dash in 9.1sec and topping out at 114mph, the MX-5 was never about searing pace, as Autocar wrote back in the day.

“If you’re expecting a Mazda MX-5 to set you alight, you’re in for a disappointment. But as with everything the MX-5 does, it’s not the result but the participation that puts a smile on your face.

“This is the two-seat roadster that car enthusiasts have been screaming for since the demise of the old Lotus Elan. It also has the two ingredients essential in any sports car powerplant: instant throttle response and an invigorating exhaust note.”

But the real ace up the MX-5's sleeve proved to be its five-speed manual gearbox. “Rising no more than a couple of inches from the transmission tunnel, the well-weighted gear lever snaps through its tiny throws with millimetric precision,” we mused.

Allied to pin-sharp handling and spectacular balance to flaunt its 950kg kerb weight, it allowed the driver plenty of mid-corner adjustability.

“The MX-5 is a total success. Mazda’s single-minded determination to provide fun has produced a car of the rarest quality. Above all else, it is its ability to involve the driver intimately in its every reaction and response that makes it a joy to drive. Few others, at any price, can offer so much.”

In 1997, the second-generation MX-5 arrived, sans pop-up headlights of the original – due to safety regulations – and with an extra 115kg of mass due to its sleeker look. The 1.6-litre unit was joined by a new 140bhp 1.8-litre motor to counteract the extra bulk, enabling 0-62mph in 7.8sec and a top speed of 130mph.

That model was a sales smash. Throughout its life, the second-generation received a facelift and more kit. The output of both the 1.6- and the 1.8-litre engines were boosted and buyers could enjoy a six-speed manual gearbox.

Seven years later, the third-generation Mazda MX-5 was unleashed at the 2005 Geneva motor show, having undergone a complete overhaul. Penned by Yasushi Nakamuta and overseen by Moray Callum (yes, Ian’s brother), it boasted a more aggressive look with flared wheel arches while still harking back to the original design. Suspension changed from a four-wheel double wishbone setup to a front wishbone/rear multilink setup.

The 1.6-litre lump was dropped in favour of an entry-level 1.8-litre motor, while the flagship 2.0-litre engine developed 158bhp and was now available with a six-speed manual gearbox. Good job too, as the third-generation MX-5 tipped the scales at more than 1100kg. A folding hard-top model, the Roadster Coupé was added to the line-up a year later, claiming a tiny increase in weight and a marked improvement in refinement.

In 2009, Mazda performed tweaks to make it sharper and improve the linearity of its steering. Power for the 2.0-litre motor was now up to 167bhp at 7200rpm.

The final nip-and-tuck came in 2012 when the MX-5 gained a more aggressive front face, fresh 17-inch alloy wheels and a new ‘active bonnet’ to improve pedestrian safety.

Throughout its life the Mazda MX-5 has built itself a huge fan base, thanks to its ease of use, affordability and low running costs. It's proven popular in many forms of motorsport, and even been subject to a host of aftermarket conversions - including V8 engine swaps and forced induction systems.