A Last Minute Letter to Mazda Engineers
The global reveal of the upcoming 2016 Mazda MX-5 Miata is scheduled for September 3, 2014—you can see more here. The new ND-chassis has been promised to be lighter and more powerful than the current generation. I can’t wait. But I speak for all sports car enthusiasts when I say this: We're out there racing and wailing on these cars every weekend. Please don’t screw this car up for us.
There's hope, as Mazda is not in the habit of messing up the cars lately. They made great strides with the latest Mazda3 and Mazda6—both of which are now at the top of their respective classes. Mazda took full ownership of those projects without any help from their former partner Ford, and knocked the new designs out of the park. So, it would be surprising if they backslid for the latest MX-5.
That said, there are plenty of teams, groups and companies that have snatched defeat out of the jaws of victory when it comes to the small and sporty. Honda’s CRZ, for example, is so close to being cool, that it hurts my brain. How hard would it have been to just stuff a K24 in there? Heck, even a K20 would have made it the closest thing to a CRX we’ve seen in decades. But a two-seat Hybrid? That’s not even a recipe for success in the general market, where efficiency is measured in space and practicality, as well as mileage numbers.
When the first generation Miata NA-chassis was introduced in 1989, it was the instant darling of the automotive journalists. It had everything we loved about 1960s roadsters in a modern 1990 car—but it was a little slow and a little soft. Us track junkies didn’t think it was fully cooked until the life cycle refresh in 1994. That year, Miatas got an additional .2 liters of displacement and a very track-friendly R package, which had stiffer springs, a Torsen differential, no power steering and a few other odds and ends that gave it that raw and ready edge that was perfect for autocross and track use.
The second generation Miata, the NB chassis, started off strong, with a Sport version and a stiffer suspension option (Hard S, in Mazda speak) for folks that really wanted to wring the most performance out of their roadster. The shape was a bit more styled (maybe a little wimpier?) but it was still a great road and track companion.
Unfortunately, by 2001, more ride height and creature comforts disturbed what was once a minimalist driving experience. Sure, Miatas have never been about absolute perfection in a singular area, but rather the car as a whole—and that's what was dulled as it drifted away from its roots.
Near the end of the NB’s life cycle in 2003, there was a Club Sport edition, which lost weight and gained handling, thanks to a stiffer suspension. This limited edition package was really just aimed at a few road racers and they were not widely marketed. The Club Sport option was, oddly enough, only available with the hard top—much like the Honda S2000 CR, relegating it to footnote status, rather than real commercial or enthusiast success.