Role Reversal - 1997 Mazda MX-5 Miata Long-Term Road Test

1997 Mazda MX-5 Miata Long Term Road Test

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1997 Mazda MX-5 Miata: Role Reversal

May 25, 2012

1997 Mazda MX-5 Miata: Role Reversal 

You probably read the news that Fiat is piggybacking on Mazda's next MX-5 ("ND") to create the next Alfa Romeo sports car.

It's a funny twist of fate, considering that the original Miata was openly inspired by/a modern recreation of British and Italian ragtops like the Alfa Romeo Spyder shown above. Shortly thereafter, of course, the Miata became the very definition of the genre and the best-selling sports car in history by improving on its inspirations in every conceivable way, and today Alfa openly points to Mazda as being the global experts in rear-drive sports car manufacture.

Anyway, the Fiat-Mazda partnership is poised to be a very good thing for all parties involved including consumers. Mazda has been in desperate need of a stable partner ever since Ford sold off their remaining interest in Mazda a few years ago, as the absurdly strong yen in the meantime has taken an unusually high toll on the small, export-heavy Japanese automaker. As a result Mazda isn't taking in large profits these days despite high demand of the Mazda 3 and a promising start with the CX-5 compact SUV.

On the Italian side, Fiat has been looking for a way to revitalize the iconic Alfa Romeo brand in a global way. Sharing a sports car alone won't be enough to turn each manufacturers' tides, but it's a good start, and it portends future collaborations between the two automakers.

Development and production costs of the MX-5/Alfa sports car will be spread among higher volumes and Fiat will shoulder some of the burden, which is goodness in alleviating cost pressures on all fronts. As such, in an indirect way the partnership will facilitate one of Mazda's primary design goals of the ND -- to achieve the same 2,200-lb curb weight of the original NA car. This is an exceedingly tall order given the safety, NVH, stiffness and feature content demands of modern cars, especially in a car that's supposed to be as affordable as the MX-5 is.

But what I'm most intrigued by is the parts-swapping potential. The Alfa variant will likely command a higher point, have a different suspension calibration, styling and a 1.4-L turbo Multiair engine, whereas the ND is expected to have a feeble normally aspirated 1.5-liter Skyactiv four-cyl. Can you say engine swap?

And maybe, if we're lucky, Fiat will require a fixed-roof version of one or both cars be produced, too.

--Jason Kavanagh, Engineering Editor  

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