“It might have been 20 years ago, or just yesterday… a roadster caught your eye,” touted the magazine ads for the new Mazda MX-5 Miata in 1990. A decade after MG, Triumph, Jensen-Healey, Alpine, etc. had sadly stopped exporting (and even manufacturing) their loveable British roadsters to the U.S. and convertibles were a dying breed, the Miata recaptured the hearts of thousands of Americans with pure sports car fun.
Mazda’s concept was hardly new, though to many youths of the 80′s who had never even heard of an MG, it seemed that way. In fact the Miata looked very much like an updated Lotus Elan from the 70s, with its wide-open mouth and overall proportions. Its handling and spirited 4-cylinder performance was even Lotus-like. The chrome door handles, it seemed, were ripped right off of Alfa Romeo’s long-running Spider. The exhaust note and driving position were reminiscent of that of an MG or Triumph. Yet, there was a crucial difference compared to all of these machines (with perhaps the exception of the Italian Alfa). The Miata was ultra-reliable. The top (which could be put up or down in seconds with a near-flick of the wrist) actually sealed. All the electrics worked. For heaven’s sake, the car did not even leak oil!
Ironically, despite these attributes, many hardcore British sports car buffs at the time had trouble warming up to the car, disdaining all the modern plastic inside (which, nevertheless, was elegantly stylish-yet-simple esp. compared to all other offerings at the time) and for its lack of “character”. The rest of the nation, however, fell in love with the car immediately. For the first year the Miata rolled onto the nation’s shores, dealer prices were many thousands above the bargain MSRP (just $13,300 in 1990!) as supply struggled to meet demand. The Miata was so successful that competitors started springing up, including the Mercury Capri and even a resurrected Lotus Elan, the latter being far less true to the original than the Miata. Those two front-wheel-drive competitors did not make even a dent into the Miata’s sales and died off rather quickly whereas the MX-5 nameplate soldiered on, still sold brand-new (now in 3rd generation guise) today.
The 1990 Miatas achieve 30 mpg on the highway and 25 mpg in the city, per the original EPA estimates. Later iterations became slightly heavier and more powerful at the expense of fuel efficency. While the 2nd generation (or even 3rd generation) Miatas are good alternatives, the originals’ ultra-low prices (just a few thousand dollars) and superior gas mileage make them the true hi-mpg.org Hot Green Machines.