Mazda finally decided to put one of its awesome Miata concepts into production.No car in the latter half of the twentieth century changed the way enthusiasts think more than the Mazda MX-5 Miata.
Living up to its name, which is a rough translation from Old High German for the word “reward,” the Miata has remained true to its original form as an approachable, simple, reliable sports car that blends modern convenience with classic charm.
The basic genes that make the Miata so good have largely remained unchanged since the first, $14,000 model (that’s about $27,500 today) debuted at the 1989 Chicago Auto Show. Light weight, rear-wheel drive, and a chassis more capable than its powertrain have kept things true to the original idea.
That said, the new Miata RF — that’s for Retractable Fastback — that goes on sale soon represents arguably the biggest diversion. With a targa-esque electric roof that stows, leaving the rear section in place, the Miata RF is as close to a traditional coupe as we have seen from Mazda.
But that’s not to say that the folks in Hiroshima haven’t toyed with the idea of a coupe (or a bare-bones roadster) before.
They’ve teased us with concepts for more than 20 years, and now they’ve finally rewarded us with the Miata RF, which looks more like a concept than a showroom-bound production model.
Let’s take a walk through a timeline of a few of Mazda’s most interesting Miata concepts, some of which have inspired what you can actually own.
M Speedster Concept (1995)Mazda returned to the site of the original Miata’s unveiling—the Chicago Auto Show — with its 1995 Speedster Concept, a style the automaker subsequently repeated several times.
The original Speedster Concept appeared at first glance to be most notable for its gigantic driving lamps, but its low-roof look and fixed panel behind its seats gave it a distinct appearance all over. Oh, and then there are the five-spoke alloy wheels – they look dated and anonymous now, but were considered stylish at the time.
Mazda continues to tease us with speedster versions of the Miata — even through to the current model.
M Coupe (1996)Mazda first played around with the idea of a fixed-roof Miata early into the life of the original, or NA model (subsequent Miatas are known internally as NB, NC, and now ND).
The M Coupe, which uses a name BMW later grabbed, had a fiberglass roof melded onto the convertible’s body but was otherwise basically a standard Miata.
Sure, it had sportier tires and a few bolt-ons that looked more like accessories than showroom features, but the M Coupe accurately previewed a factory fixed-roof NB model (with a proper metal top) that went on sale in Japan several years later.
However, it wasn't until the NC that Mazda finally offered American buyers the choice of a permanent, folding hard top Miata – a power folding metal roof that added a bit of weight and complexity in exchange for extra security and weather protection.
Research the Mazda MX-5 Miata
Mono Posto Concept (2000)Intended to recall sports cars from the 1950s, the Mono Posto Concept that arrived on the scene at 2000’s SEMA show in Las Vegas derives its name from its single-seat arrangement
It was the first concept Mazda built on the then-new NB Miata, the car’s second generation.
Not much of the Mono Posto ever inspired a production Miata, but it did link the modern sports car to those racing greats of the 1950s like the Porsche 550 Spyder that came before it.
At the time, Mazda fell somewhat under Ford Motor Company’s once enormous umbrella, so the Mono Posto shared space on the stage with concepts from brands as diverse as Lincoln, Volvo, Mercury, and Aston Martin.
Research the 2000 Mazda MX-5 Miata
MX-5 Superlight (2009)
In Frankfurt, just as the recession was taking hold of the world, Mazda released a bare-bones Miata concept that was rather in line with the times.
In many ways, the Superlight addressed long-standing concerns that the NC was too heavy at about 400 lbs. portlier than the original NA. It lost its windshield and utilized high-tech lightweight components in an effort to shed weight.
The Superlight tipped the scales at 2,200 lbs., close to what a no-options NA Miata weighs.
Research the 2009 Mazda MX-5 Miata
MX-5 Speedster (2015)Mazda took the wraps off of two concept versions of its new ND Miata last fall at the SEMA show, and while the Spyder was the looker of the two, the Speedster best represents the platform’s capability.
Tipping the scales at a hair over 2,000 lbs., the Speedster is a bit lighter than the original NA Miata’s curb weight. That’s no small achievement given that the current car complies with modern safety and emissions standards – and for the most part, so would the Speedster.
If the M Coupe eventually inspired the new RF, does that mean a lightweight Miata could show up in showrooms? Don’t hold your breath—but no automaker surprises us with such consistency as Mazda.