In the early hours of Thursday morning this week (and we do mean early – it’s at 3am!) Mazda will simultaneously rip the covers off its new Mazda MX-5 in Barcelona, Laguna Seca in the USA and Tokyo. The GRR team will be tucked up in bed, but don’t worry – we’ve hired a freelance insomniac to witness the unveiling of the next chapter in the MX-5 story in Spain.
The MX-5 narrative is one that goes back 25 years, and the excitement surrounding the arrival of a new one in is palpable in MX-5 enthusiast circles.
While we hang around waiting for the covers to come off the new one, join us for a quick tour of some the MX-5 highlights we’ve enjoyed over the last two-and-a-half decades…
1 – The original – 1989
Even today it’s difficult not to get excited about the very first examples of the MX-5. Introduced in 1989, Mazda openly took inspiration for its new roadster from British sports cars of the 1960s, such as the Lotus Elan. The first generation is the only one to feature smooth pop-up headlights, but the rest of the formula was unchanged through the years. A simple, curvy shape housed two seats, a quick-folding canvas roof and a rear-wheel drive chassis. Power initially came from a lusty 1.6-litre petrol engine that punched way above its weight, helped by the relatively low mass of the MX-5.
2 – Le Mans 24 edition – 1991
In 1991 Mazda won Le Mans in the rotary-powered 787B racer, and to celebrate produced 24 special examples of the MX-5 painted in the same lurid orange and green livery. Called the Le Mans 24 edition, it was more than just a cosmetic makeover. The 1.6-litre engine received a turbocharger upgrade courtesy of Brodie Britain Racing (BBR), taking power from 114- to 150bhp and upping torque from 136- to 209Nm. A substantial number of engine components were replaced to support this. Oh, and owners got an embossed leather wallet and a certificate signed by Johnny Herbert, one of the Le Mans drivers.
3 – Mark 2 – 1998
Mazda was slow to replace the MX-5 due to its phenomenal success, but legislation forced the Japanese company to abandon the distinctive pop-up headlights for the second generation. It was previewed at the Tokyo Motor Show in 1997 before hitting the market the year after. Inevitably added equipment meant the MX-5 grew and gained weight, but it was more aerodynamic and more powerful engines were offered from the outset. Just a year later the first of many birthday editions was launched – the 10th Anniversary Model – featuring a six-speed manual gearbox and upgraded dampers as standard.
4 – Mazda MX-5 MPS Concept – 2001
At the 2001 Frankfurt Motor Show Mazda revealed the highly promising MX-5 MPS (Mazda Performance Series) concept. Restyled headlights, a colour-coded hard-top, bigger wheels and brakes marked the show car out, but fans were more interested in the ‘nostril’ in the redesigned front bumper. That fed cooling air to the engine, said to produce 200hp thanks to independent throttle bodies and high-lift camshafts. The racing theme continued with adjustable suspension underneath. Shame it never made it here as a production car, but it certainly influenced many tuners.
5 – Mazda Ibuki Concept – 2003
The Ibuki Concept, unveiled at the 2003 Tokyo Motor Show, was created to preview Mazda’s plans to develop the MX-5 concept further. Ibuki comes from a Japanese word that refers to “breathing new energy into” and “adding vigour”. It took many styling cues from the original model and some of its detailing can be found in the subsequent third generation model. The concept was powered by an advanced petrol-electric hybrid unit utilising a 42-volt electrical system, in conjunction with a six-speed manual gearbox. Plastic was used for most of the body panels in a bid to bring weight down.
6 – Mazda Roadster Coupe TS Concept – 2003
In the same year that Mazda was looking to the future with its Ibuki concept, it also created this one-off retro-inspired Roadster Coupe TS Concept, a proper hard-top coupé built on the MX-5 platform, but with completely unique styling. Mazda’s designers harked back to British and Italian club racers for the design, including racing stripes and fared in fixed headlights. It also has a substantial roll cage and a massive centrally-mounted exhaust.
7 – Mark 3 – 2005
Though the third generation of the MX-5 looked to the first in design terms, it shared no body parts with its predecessors. Along with that, the suspension design was overhauled, with the double wishbone rear replaced by a multilink set-up. The engines were changed too. The entry-level unit – mated, as before, to a five-speed manual gearbox – became a new 1.8-litre engine, producing 128hp, while a 2.0-litre engine was launched with a six-speed manual transmission and 160hp. A total of 300 launch editions were sold in the UK, featuring unique styling and special alloy wheels.
8 – MX-5 Roadster Coupé – 2006
Somewhat controversially, Mazda introduced a new version of the MX-5 in 2006 featuring a folding hardtop. Purists initially baulked at the idea of adding extra complexity and weight to the MX-5 concept, but Mazda’s engineers managed to keep the weight gain to a modest number and the roof was still relatively simple. On top of that the main boot space itself was unaffected. The Roadster Coupé soon became available with all engine and trim options and a favourite in Britain thanks to the more cossetting nature of the roof.
9 – Superlight Version – 2009
Designed at Mazda’s German studio, the MX-5 ‘Superlight Version’ was only ever meant as a showcase for the MX-5’s core formula, though it was produced as a working model for demonstration to the media following a global debut at the 2009 Frankfurt Motor Show. The engineering focus was on low weight, most notably by the removal of the windscreen and folding roof. It celebrated 20 years since the inception of the MX-5.
10 – Mazda MX-5 GT – 2012
This is effectively the ultimate incarnation of the third generation MX-5 and we wonder what took Mazda so long. Built in conjunction with Jota Sport (responsible for the company’s GT4 racer), this orange and black wonder was powered by a 205hp 2.0-litre engine. Its suspension is lowered considerably, there’s a sports exhaust and intake and plenty of carbon fibre trinkets to remind everyone that this is a little bit special.