What's the best-selling roadster of all time? What's the best-selling two-seater sports car since 2000? What's won over 250 automotive industry awards? What's the first image in your mind when you think of a small convertible? What bucks the trend for fat turbocharged paddle-matic powerhouses achieving performance figures mere mortals cannot legally reach? What taught the world the Japanese phrase "Jinba Ittai" meaning "horse and rider as one?"
The Mazda MX-5 is the answer to everything.
This month, twenty-seven years to the month since the original "NA" Mazda MX-5 (or Eunos Roadster if you're JDM, bro), the iconic affordable sports car has reached a milestone hitherto unseen by anything with a folding roof and "sports car" classification: a million sales.
One million. That's a 1 and then six 0s.
By far and away the best selling car of its type of all time, the MX-5 was one of the cars (along with the R32 Nissan Skyline GT-R which appeared a few months later) that ushered in Japan's golden age of performance cars, which stretched right through the 1990s before new emissions regulations killed off almost all the cult hero names - RX-7, Supra, Integra Type-R, Skyline GT-R, Silvia - in 2002. Not long after that it was pretty much only the MX-5 you could still buy. Having ridden out that storm, its evolutionary approach to styling and engineering has seen the purist roadster continue to be popular right through to today, thanks in part to a dedicated fanbase.
Mazda CEO Masamichi Kogai said as much:
"From the first generation through to today's fourth-generation model, the reason we have been able to continue selling the MX-5 all these years is due to the strong support of fans around the world."
|clockwise from back left - NA, NB, NC and ND generations of the Mazda Roadster|
It wasn't exactly quick, with 0-60 in 9.4 seconds and 119mph flat out (8.2 and 126mph for the 1.8-litre engine), but that didn't stop it being a big hit. The first generation (NA) sold over 420,000 units in an eight-year lifespan. Replaced in 1997/98 with the NB, which updated the styling inside and out (no more pop-up headlights...) while cutting drag, adding a shade more performance (0-60 in 7.8s) and weighing only 85kg more despite being wider, sold over 300,000 cars in the next seven years. In 2005 the NC came out, with a noticeably bigger body and styling to reference the NA. With greater demand for safety and comfort, it was also noticeably heavier at 1110kg (2447lbs) for the basic model... but it was also the first MX-5 with a 2.0-litre engine available, making 167bhp and 140lb/ft. Alas, in a straight line all the extra power did was cancel out the weight penalty, so it wasn't much quicker. As the '00s was the age of the metal folding roof, Mazda also brought out the MX-5 'RC' (or PRHT in USA) with a two-piece motorised metal roof that folded into exactly the same hole as the normal manual fabric roof and only added another 40kg. The NC generation lasted for nearly a decade, perhaps due to difficult economic times delaying the development of the all-new model we have now. It sold around 227,000 units.
So we end up at the current 'ND' generation. After the NC we get a car that very much bucks a lot of fashionable trends. There remains no turbocharged engine. There's no all-wheel-drive version or dual-clutch gearbox (although they still offer a conventional automatic for retired people), there are no huge wheels with painted-on tyres and there's sure as hell no hybrid version. Nope, this new car is old school. It's even approximately the same size and weight as the original NA, at less than 4m long and weighing 1058kg. The 1.5-litre engine makes a mere 130 horsepower, while the 2.0 manages 160bhp (0-62 in 8.3s and 7.3s respectively). That said, they did succumb to the trend of having a pretend-iPad sticking conspicuously out of the dashboard, which is a shame. Still, the styling is much more dynamic looking than the previous cars while still being instantly recognisable, while underneath it offers the same kind of fun for drivers that it always has, with its skinny tyres making the limits of grip easy to reach at legal speeds if you want to. Even the price is minimalist - while TopGear tried claiming that the Toyota GT86/Subaru BRZ was the only cheap rear-wheel-drive sports car at £25,000 the MX-5 is actually notably cheaper, with the new ND starting in the UK at £18,500. There aren't even a huge number of hot hatches for less than that, and the only way a Caterham costs less is if you build a completely bare 160 for yourself (by "completely bare" I mean it doesn't have carpets or a windscreen).
In fact, so good is the new MX-5 that it's served as the base for the new FIAT 124 Spider... and there's more!
|2016/17 Mazda MX-5 RF|
So the MX-5 looks to continue going strong as the great minimalist sports car of our time. The millionth car itself was built on 22nd April, has had stickers put on the doors and will be displayed around the world including at the Goodwood Festival of Speed. The next time you see one, remember that it's a working class hero and scream "JINBA ITTAI" at the driver. That totally won't be weird at all.
Oh, and thank you Mazda for keeping it real for over 27 years. Here's to many more.
Written for SmallBlogV8