3 Generations, 25 Years, 6 Covers
The fourth-generation Mazda MX-5 Miata roadster is on the way, and we couldn’t be more excited. After all, we’ve featured various Miatas on the cover of Motor Trend print magazines six times over the last 25 years, and as recently as 2013, the outgoing drop-top won a comparison against the much newer Scion FR-S. While competitors from automakers including Mercury, Pontiac, and Saturn have come and gone, the Miata has survived and is approaching its third decade of international sales.
Potentially debuting as the 2016 Mazda MX-5 Miata, the next-gen model will be lighter than the current car, and the automaker promises its physical footprint will be more in line with the original car. When that first-generation Mazda MX-5 Miata arrived, we were so impressed we featured it on the cover of our July 1989 issue, calling it “The Best Sports Car Buy in America.” Will we be just as enthused by the next-gen MX-5 Miata? We’ll see, but in the meantime, take a look at these Motor Trend covers from the last 25 years that featured the Miata.
“WARNING! This Car May Be Addictive” That warning, printed on the cover of the July 1989 issue (our first all-color issue), is no less true for newer Miatas. “This is a serious for-real sports car that churns up all sorts of wonderful memories of late, great roadsters,” we wrote in that issue. “The only difference is that this one is a far better, more capable car. And it even starts in the morning.”
Our 10-car comparison for “the lead-footed penny pincher” included fun-to-drive two-doors with a functional base price of $15,000 with no turbos or V-8s to lower the cost of insurance and gas. Aside from the Mazda Miata, others that showed up included the Chevrolet Beretta GTZ, Ford Escort GT, Honda CRX Si, Hyundai Scoupe, Nissan 240SX SE Coupe, Nissan NX 2000, Plymouth Laser RS, Saturn Coupe, and Toyota Paseo. The Miata did well in the mountain winding roads, but was found to be a bit buzzy on the highway. In the end, the Miata scored a third-place finish price-independent (behind the Nissan NX 2000 and Nissan 240SX SE Coupe), but a sixth-place finish when considering price.
A special convertible section in the May 1993 issue included everything from a Suzuki Samarai to the Dodge Viper RT/10. The cover featured a Ferrari Mondial t near the 1993 Miata, about which we said its 116-hp 1.6-liter I-4 engine was a “standout performer.”
The goal was to find aftermarket-tuned cars that could beat in performance (and price) the Viper and Corvette ZR-1, and the Monster Miata was one of many that answered the call. Tuned by Monster Motorsports, this extraordinary Miata was powered by a supercharged, 400-hp 5.0-liter Ford V-8 and, well, there weren’t any dynamic surprises: “…it’s plenty obvious this is a machine for those who value brute force over finesse and live for the smell of burning rubber.” Back then, the car cost $45,000 compete with modifications, turning in a 0-60 mph time of 4.2 seconds, tying a Bittle Mustang for best-in-test. Through the quarter mile, the Miata again performed well with 12.6 seconds at 111.6 mph just behind the Bittle Mustang’s 12.2 seconds at 118.3 mph. The Miata may have easily overcome the stock ZR-1 and Viper in acceleration, but it was dead last in its road course lap time.
The third-generation roadster was new back in the mid-2000s, with a fresh look but the same spirit we’d come to love: “First impressions? The new MX-5 is just like that bubbly, blonde cheerleader you knew in high school 15 years ago. Only now she’s grown up and has a college degree. She’s also put on a few more pounds. But she still knows all the moves.”
We revisited the large two-door fun car segment in July 2012, but more than 20 years later, the budget wasn’t $15,000 but $28,000. Of course, the Miata was included in the comparison, which included feedback from multiple editors and Randy Pobst. The Miata finished in the top half, ahead of the Hyundai Genesis Coupe 2.0T R-Spec, Volkswagen GTI, and Ford Mustang V-6, but behind the Scion FR-S and Subaru BRZ in that order.
How will Mazda Skyactiv technology impact the fourth-generation Miata’s driving performance? Will we ever see a hardtop variant to compete directly with the BRZ/FR-S twins? We can’t wait to find out.