Reviewed by Unique Cars and Parts
Our Rating: 5
By the mid 1980s the revival of the open-top sports car was gaining momentum practically everywhere but Australia - but thankfully Mazda decided to bring their brilliant little roadster down-under by the end of 1988. Mazda's MX-5 (or Miata as it's called in the US where it went on sale in May) was originally scheduled for its Australian release in spring, to do battle with the long-awaited Ford SA30 Capri in the under-$30,000 bracket.
But thankfully, unlike the Capri, the MX-5 was not based on any existing structure from the Mazda group - even the RX-7
with which it shared the basic front-engine, rear-drive philosophy. This then-new stylish soft-top was a smaller, significantly lighter car than the RX-7, and used a non-turbo version of the twin-cam 1597cc 323 engine to provide a power/weight ratio slightly better than that of the rotary-engined coupe.
Output and torque characteristics were sportingly-inclined with maximum power of 87 kW coming in at 6500 rpm, and the maximum torque figure of 136 Nm being developed at 5500 rpm. Mazda made a lot of the sporting element. It claimed the car felt and sounded the way a sports car should, and would undoubtedly play on the rear-drive element when putting its compact sporty up against the Ford Capri.
Power Plant Frame
If the engine was derived from existing models, the rest of the car - apart from the five speed transmission which came from other rear-drive Mazdas - certainly wasn't. An interesting feature was the aluminium frame which ran from the engine through to the final drive and was designed to eliminate flex and twist in the drivetrain. Naturally, Mazda had come up with a name for it: PPF, for Power Plant Frame. This computer-designed device weighed only 4.9 kg and was attached to front and rear subframes where it formed a solid overall structure said to give tangible benefits in terms of driveability.
Fully Independent Suspension
The suspension is fully independent, wishbone-style on all wheels and used lateral force-sensitive design at the rear to give a controlled degree of steering, similar to the RX-7
were discs back and front and the steering
was rack and a pinion
, optionally power-assisted on American model Miata's. The neat, if slightly bulbous body was relatively aerodynamic with a quoted Cd of 0.38 with hood up, and 0.44 with the hood down. Mazda has done of lot of computer analysis on the design and claimed the torsional strength was particularly high. Construction utilized a large-section central tunnel, and deep side-sills in combination with triple-box front bulkhead plus various other little strengthening tricks to make this a tough little purpose-built soft-top.
Not The First Sporty Mazda
The MX5 was of course not the first sports car to be manufactured by Mazda, but it was the first to use a more traditional engine design. (The preceding Cosmo coupe and RX7 sports cars used rotary internal-combustion engines
). With the MX5, Mazda proved to the other big car manufacturers of the world that small, relatively cheap sportscars could be built in large numbers again - and most importantly at a profit. Many claimed if it were not for the MX5, manufacturers such as Alfa Romeo
and even Mercedes
would never have followed suit and produced small, reasonably affordable roadsters. No one can deny that the MX5 has had a huge impact on the market and a development of the new range of affordable sportscars.
The MX5 owes much to the Lotus Elan
, as that is wherei ts designers sought inspiration - although Mazda always wanted to ensure that its car would be more reliable and solid than the little Lotus
. They also wanted to ensure their new sports car offered modern "sedan" type comfort levels, despite the inevitable noise and climate problems associated with a "rag top". The MX5 was re-skinned for 1998 - regrettably losing its pop-up headlights in the process, but the car remained essentially unchanged. It is difficult to improve a car that is already just about ideal - unless of course you add a turbo
- but that is another story.