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The Mazda MX-5 Turns 35 Today. Here’s How It Changed Over the Years

Let's take a look where the venerable Mazda MX-5 is headed in the future, too.
1990 Mazda MX-5 Miata
Mazda

On this day in 1989 according to Japanese Nostalgic Car, Mazda would change the course of automotive history. At the Chicago Auto Show, it whipped the cover off a bright-eyed little roadster that the world would come to call the MX-5, or Miata. It doesn’t matter if you call it that or something meaner though, because the MX-5 is now one of the bestselling sports cars in history, and the most-raced car of all time. It’s a legacy worth looking back on—and forward from, with the future looking dark for cars like the MX-5.

The first-generation (or NA) Miata arrived in 1989 as the synthesis of two of the greatest things in the automotive world. It was a marriage of the simple, cheap British roadster formula with newly proven Japanese reliability. The Miata was cute, easy to drive, and with modest 1.6- and 1.8-liter engines, well-suited for training a generation of drivers how to carry speed through corners. It was a smash hit even among the Japanese sport compact boom of its era, surviving the late-1990s decline that felled even titans like the Nissan Skyline GT-R.

In 1998, the NA Miata was succeeded by the second-gen NB that would carry on the torch. It saw the 1999 foundation of Spec Miata, which cemented the MX-5’s status as the most-raced chassis on the planet. The NB also became the only factory-turbocharged Miata to date with the short-lived Mazdaspeed before its replacement by the third-gen NC in 2005.

The heavier NC with its puffy cheeks is remembered as a low point for the Miata, having the highest curb weight of them all. Still, it kept the MX-5’s flag flying through a recession that killed plenty of automotive brands and their signature cars—including Mazda’s own rotary. It endured, and in doing so paved the way for the MX-5 we know today, the ND.

2024 Mazda MX-5
2024 Mazda MX-5. Mazda

Aside from shedding weight and adopting a scowly face, the ND refined the MX-5 formula and has improved drastically throughout its production run. 2019 models picked up a whole 23 horsepower, and 2022s onward feature torque vectoring. There was also an unusual companion model, the Fiat 124 Spider (or Fiata), which featured a 1.4-liter turbo engine and charming Italian looks. But it couldn’t dethrone the Mazda, and it quietly bowed out in 2019.

The MX-5’s history is a legacy of improvement, and that looks set to continue with the next generation, expected to called “NG.” Mazda confirmed to us in 2021 that the next MX-5 will be electrified—don’t freak out, that probably doesn’t mean it’ll become an EV. Our money’s on the MX-5 gaining 48-volt mild hybrid tech and compatibility with synthetic fuels when it arrives in 2025. Mazda says it still plans to keep the MX-5 light and affordable too, so expectations are sky-high.

Or should we say, Skyactiv high?

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