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Mazda MX-5: Old Can Be New Again!

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On: Wed, Apr 15, 2015 at 2:21PM | By: Lou Ruggieri

Mazda MX-5:  Old Can Be New Again!

In terms of model years, very few sports cars ever make it to old age. Brand image changes, budgetary constraints, gas-guzzling taxes, cooperate outlooks, designers being poached by other companies; there is a multitude of factors working against the idea of longevity amongst automotive models. Sure, every now and then there is the occasional Corvette or Porsche 911 that hangs around for more than half a century, or the namesake of some cars will live a long time, but the cars themselves deviate so far from their original roots they might as well be different cars altogether. More often than not, making it past ten years is an amazing feat, and keeping true to its original intentions is even more of an accomplishment for any car, never mind the constantly evolving, heavily competitive sports car market. That being said, the Mazda MX-5 (formally known as the Miata) has quietly logged 26 years of history and stayed surprisingly close to its parent company's original plans for it.

In fact, it seem the only thing the MX-5 has shed in a quarter century has been its childhood name. In a side-by-side comparison, it becomes clear pretty quickly just how similar the newest 2016 model is to the original 1990 version. Both are exactly the same vehicle type: front-engine, rear-wheel drive, 2-passenger, 2-door convertible/coupes. The engine type remains exactly the same, although the execution has gotten a little better with technology. The 1990 car had a DOHC 16-valve inline-4 iron block and aluminum head while the 2016 version sports a DOHC 16-valve inline-4 aluminum block and head, with direct fuel injection. Both motors are still tiny, the original being 98 cubic inches making 116hp @ 6500 rpm and 100 lb-ft of torque at 5500 rpm while the modern version sports a smaller 91 cubic-inch motor that makes an impressive 129hp @ 7000 rpm and 111 lb-ft of torque @ 4800 rpm. At least Mazda learned how to squeeze a bit more out of a sub-2-liter motor in a quarter century. The newer car gains some power and it has gained a gear on its predecessor using a six-speed manual as opposed to the 1990s original five-speed transmission.

The dimensions of the cars are eerily similar too—the original measured a wheelbase of 89.2 inches compared to the newer car's 91.1 inches, a length of 155.4 inches compared to 154.1 inches, and a height of 48.2 inches compared to 48.6 inches for the new car. Weight for the original is a svelte 2210 pounds, while the 2016 model shows only moderate weight gain coming in at right around 2300 pounds, thanks to two-plus decades of safety regulation-bloat.

Thanks to a bit better gearing and a few more ponies under the hood, the 2016 car has learned how to show up at the track, at least for a light-weight sports car. You'll never confuse the names MX-5 and ZO6, but compared to the debut model, the current MX-5 can hustle pretty well: Zero to 60 for the old car: 9.2 seconds versus 7,1 seconds for the new car. Zero to 100 mph for the old car: 28.4 seconds versus 22.1 seconds for the new car. Top speed for both cars is still 115 mph.

So, all in all, Mazda has done an amazing job of keeping the MX-5 true to the original in terms of measurements and power. But the real magic is how well they have been able to keep the soul of the Miata alive and well 26 years later in the MX-5. The little sporty front-engine, rear-wheel drive roadster that was and still is meant to be compact, toss-able around corners, and enjoyed as much on back country hairpins as well as interstate road trips. So thank you, Mazda, for the first two and a half decades of fun from this little bugger, we'll see you when the big 5-0 rolls around!


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