2016 Mazda MX-5 Miata: Freakishly Lightweight
by Jason Kavanagh, Engineering Editor on February 12, 2016
Well, duh. There's nothing illuminating about saying that our long-term 2016 Mazda MX-5 Miata is lightweight. But in the context of today's cars, it's staggeringly lightweight.
Consider that at 2,350 pounds, the new model weighs the same as a 1994 Miata. This despite the modern car's vastly stiffer chassis, superior noise isolation, significantly increased performance, a far longer features list, and crashworthiness that's lightyears beyond the old car.
But even that comparison doesn't really do the situation justice. For that we need to turn outward. To Italy.
The next-lightest car on the market today is the Alfa Romeo 4C. With the benefit of a carbon fiber tub, a more mass-efficient transverse midship layout and a coupe body style, the 4C undercuts the Miata by, well, that's just it — the 4C doesn't undercut the Miata. It weighs in more than 100 pounds heavier than the Miata.
And starting at $54,000, the 4C costs more than double what the Miata costs.
The steel-chassis-havin', propshaft-totin', convertible roof-saddled, mass-produced Miata out-featherweights the 4C. How is this possible? It's an intriguing question. For sure, there was a ruthless, relentless focus on mass in every conceivable facet of the Miata's development. Millimeters drew blood. It's why it has LED headlights, nylon springs in the seats, four-lug wheels and so on.
But Alfa/Fiat engineers surely shared a similar weight-obsessive mindset. Maybe the situation is more nuanced than that.
It's possible that the Alfa enjoys a much stiffer chassis, with the attendant mass that that entails. The Alfa also has to cope with the loads induced by its higher power output and higher cornering grip, and that will directionally result in a more massive platform. And perhaps there are differing corporate philosophies on how much margin is permissible in key mass-related areas of the cars' constructions.
So assuming the Miata's platform is comprehensively pared-down to live through its various qualification tests and nothing more, this poses an interesting challenge for future variants of the Miata. Some of these will need to manage more dead weight (power retractable hard top) and some of which will inevitably ratchet the performance capability upwards. In the former case, mass will beget structural mass, and in the latter case, the additional load-management will do the same.
Whatever the case, today's Miata is a brilliant example of automotive shrewdness, as Mazda brings the joys of light weight to the masses (nyuk nyuk). Imagine what they could do with a carbon fiber chassis.
Jason Kavanagh, Engineering Editor @ 4,521 miles