Could the current (NC) Mazda MX5 be the last of the proper Miata’s?

Any car guy that “gets it” knows that the Miata is the answer for many enthusiasts looking for a inexpensive, fairly reliable, common, good-performing car with a large aftermarket to boot.  If you’d rather see the Miata as gay/an old womans car, this post isn’t for you.  Otherwise, the Miata is a car that ended the reign of what would become (at least to me) one of the most over-lived poser mobiles to grace the American market: the Alfa Romeo Spider.  The funny thing is, the MX5 and Alfa Romeo Spider (if you haven’t already heard) will be co-developed between Alfa and Mazda to lower costs, much like the Subaru/Toyota/Scion BRZ/GT86/FRS… that’s the worry.

There’s no doubt in my mind the car I only acknowledge as “Subaru BRZ” is a true enthusiast vehicle.  I’ve seen them two out of three times I’ve been to Thunderhill Raceway (not even the same car), and I can’t go for a fun mountain drive without seeing at least one owner enjoying the same drive I am.  Rather my concern is that the Miata/Spider connection will somehow water down what made the Miata such a special car.

The little Mazda didn’t need a movie with Dustin Hoffman stalking a girl in San Francisco to make it a success, and the Alfa Spider did (also note: hoodies date back that far).  Why else did the Spider live in such a relatively archaic state until 1993?  The common “Alfa Romeo Graduate” nomenclature should be enough to make my point.  The old Duetto Spider was a great car in the 1960’s and was part of a dying breed in the 1970’s and ‘80’s (thanks to the VW Golf GTi), but the mid 1990’s?  They changed very little underneath from the 1966 origins, making for a nostalgia piece rather than a modern drivers car.  At least the Duetto had four wheel disks and avoided leaf springs (I’m looking at you MGB’s). Come the Mazda-copy of the Lotus Elan, the Miata injected a hint of reliability and build quality (the roof worked for more than just shade) and the Alfa Spider soon disappeared.  Indeed Alfa as a company left the American market until now soon eventually with the 4c.

Sharing a platform doesn’t mean the Alfa RoMiata will be a simple cut/paste rebadged and a slight change in rear sway bars (I hear the BRZ has a larger rear sway than the FRS). Instead both companies will use different engines to say the least.  Still, there’s that inkling of not bespoke that the new Miata will have.  At least the NC Miata (the third generation that came out around 2004) shared some platform and chassis pieces with the RX8, which was still in-house.  The distinct Mazda-ness of the car remained.

“Come the Mazda-copy of the Lotus Elan, they injected a hint of reliability and build quality (the roof worked for more than just shade) and the Alfa Spider soon disappeared.  Indeed Alfa as a company left the American market until now soon eventually with the 4c.”

Not only is the brand split of the platform a possible downer, but the prospect that the Miata has done.  A lot of what the Miata purity could accomplish since its inception have been so whittled down by regulations or trends: power steering makes it easier, air conditioning and power-everything more comfortable to live with, ABS and stability/traction control for required safety and so on.  Popular Mechanics put out a list of “10 Great Analog Sportscars” that highlighted just how long the Miata had put off things like power steering, anti-lock brakes, and traction/stability control as standard equipment for the sake of remaining a pure drive.  The only other car on that list that is still produced in the Viper, which may be a brutishly fast car, but doesn’t have that same finesse that makes the Miata such an instant classic.

We shall see if the Miata still rules the roost, as the BRZ seems a compelling competitor for the Miata for not using the exact same two-seat, I-4, convertible recipe so many companies failed-n-bailed with.  Now that the Mazda and Alfa may remove some of the distinction, only the long wait until they are finally done can tell if the Miata remains an honest-sportscar king.

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