As of today the first reservations are being made in Japan for the the new Mazda MX-5 Roadster. The Japanese two-seater is 25 years old and in sales terms is the most successful sports car ever. The original was launched at a time when affordable sports cars had all but disappeared at the hands of the oil crisis along with the rise of the hot-hatch. The MX-5 Miata was carefully designed to take the best of european sports cars of the 1960s and combine it with a modern
The result was a car that was attractive, great to drive, affordable and most of all fun. The use of a simple lightweight chassis and an off-the-shelf engine kept costs down and made it cheap to run and easy to maintain. Mazda realised that the recipe for a great sports car was simplicity rather than trying to add more. It had many imitators but none really grasped this recipe and watered it down by adding luxuries, power, weight and sophistication.
Over the years the Roadster has inevitably gained weight and size with increasing safety requirements but the new car which arrives this summer will cut the flab right back. Once again the recipe is simple. There is no power roof just a manual soft-top that can be operated with one hand from the drivers seat. It’s lighter than ever, it’s even a little smaller than the previous generation. But if the recipe is basically unchanged why do we think that it will be such a big success?
First off, the new car looks great. It may not quite suit everyone’s taste but the design takes the classic proportions and brings them right up to date. There are elements of the Jaguar F-Type in there, particularly around the rear end, and that’s no bad thing. It is a more masculine design and this should broaden the appeal of what is sometimes accused of being a girly sports car. Either way, few cars have been so desirable at such an accessible price point. It is cheap to buy and run but as a result of the less-is-more principle it is only more attractive as a result. It even manages to cross classes of buyer, being as popular with young people as a daily driver as it is with retirees or those wanting something fun for weekend blasts.
The MX-5 has never been about power, in fact Mazda have made a point of not being tempted to ruin it with too much horsepower. Those that have driven this roadster will know that it cuts a perfect balance of power and handling that make it great fun to drive at legal speeds. Big power output may be great on a track but on a windy country road agility is far more useful than wheel-spinning power. Despite this, the new car leaves open a lot of tuning possibilities that might be too tempting for owners. It has huge potential as a weekend track machine which will only add to the car’s image.
Most important of all is the market into which this car is launched. Affordable convertibles are once again a little thin on the ground. Many have been discontinued after those that remain are looking dated. Post-recession buying habits mean that many opt for cars that at least have a feeling of practicality – sense the rise of the crossover. The MX-5 has little competition in a market where disposable income is growing and a new generation of young buyers are looking to stand out from the crowd. Throughout its life the MX-5 Miata has had to deal with competitors such as the BMW Z3, MG F, Fiat Barchetta and Mini Roadster; this time it has the market to itself with only the more expensive Audi TT Roadster posing any threat at all. Even the Fiat Roadster developed alongside the Mazda and based on the same chassis is not due for release until 2016 so until then at least the Mazda MX-5 Roadster will be the car to have.