The original Mazda MX-5, like the British roadsters that inspired it, was a small car. Less than 156 inches long and under 66 inches wide, the first Miata had a curb weight of just 2,178 pounds. Drivers soon rediscovered the joys of a car with low weight and modest power; you couldn’t go very fast in a straight line, but the tradeoff was that you could carry a significant amount of speed into corners. The scant horsepower from the car’s 1.6-liter in-line four made the Miata an economy car in the eyes of insurance agents, adding to its affordability and forever labeling it a "chick car" in the eyes of the uninformed.
By the time the third generation was released in 2006, the MX-5, like many of us, had picked up a few extra pounds. Dimensionally larger (to the joy of drivers over six feet tall) the new car measured nearly 158 inches in length and 68 inches in width. It got a bigger, more powerful engine, too: the 2.0-liter Mazda MZR engine now made 170 horsepower, moving the MX-5 from the “underpowered” category to the “sufficiently powered” category. Despite Mazda’s focused efforts to reduce weight (shaving grams off the rear view mirror, or using thinner floor mats to save ounces), the 2006 Mazda MX-5 tipped the scales at 2,510 pounds, some 332 pounds heavier than the original MX-5.
For the next generation MX-5, Mazda is said to be going back to basics. The design goal for the car is to shed 720 pounds from the 2011 MX-5’s curb weight of 2,480 pounds, which would yield a flyweight roadster that tips the scales at only 1,760 pounds. Getting there will require significant weight savings from the engine, which may shrink to as small as 1.4 liters. Equipping it with a turbo, direct injection and variable cam timing will ensure that performance improves (or at least stays on par) compared to the current MX-5.
A lighter engine won’t save 720 pounds, so Mazda is expected to make the new car narrower and to strip out content like an owner’s manual (which can be replaced by a flash drive) and a glove box (replaced by storage molded into the rear bulkhead, perhaps). Impact protection standards will still need to be met, so it’s likely that the next generation car will see increased use of high-strength steel in key areas, perhaps in conjunction with an increase in aluminum body panels.
Whether or not Mazda will get the next MX-5 down below 1,800 pounds remains to be seen, but it’s clear that they haven’t lost sight of the original car’s goal. Build an affordable, entertaining and reliable sports car, and the buyers will come.