Mazda MX-5 NA 1

At the launch of the new fourth-generation ND Mazda MX-5 on Friday, local distributor Bermaz also corralled each of the two-seater roadster’s forebears, resplendent – like their highly-awaited offspring – in red. It’s a brilliant move that brings a sense of rearward perspective to the story of how the young ‘un came to be.

That story, actually, started way back in 1976, when Motor Trend journalist Bob Hall floated the idea of a remake of the simple British roadster to Hiroshima’s bosses. Six years later, Hall, now a product planner at Mazda USA, was given the green light to develop the car – a back-to-basics front-engined, rear-wheel drive sports car built around the Japanese credo of Jinba Ittai, or “horse and rider as one.”

Fast forward to present day, and against all odds – and despite what everyone said about the dearth of buyers for such a thing – the Mazda MX-5 became something of a phenomenon. It holds the official Guinness World Record for the bestselling two-seat sports car with sales now at nearly a million units, with the millionth vehicle set to roll off the production line by the end of the year.

But this was the car that started it all – the NA model bowed at the Chicago Auto Show in 1989 to widespread acclaim. It wasn’t hard to see why: underneath the sleek-but-derivative styling (the pop-up headlights, oval air intake and even the valve covers were modelled after the original Lotus Elan) sat a 1.6 litre naturally-aspirated four-pot sending 115 hp to the rear wheels via a five-speed manual gearbox – a four-speed automatic was also offered, but why would you want to?

That power figure may not sound like much, but the car only weighed 940 kg at the kerb, so it was capable of Zoom-Zooming from 0-100 km/h in 8.1 seconds and hit 203 km/h – impressive figures during the day. A 133 hp 1.8 litre engine was added in 1994 before production ended in 1997.

This particular NA is actually the JDM version, badged the Eunos Roadster as part of Mazda’s ill-fated experimentation with different branding in its home market. It’s been tastefully and subtly tweaked, with a Racing Beat bodykit, 15-inch five-spoke alloys, a small bootlid spoiler and a larger exhaust.

At the beginning of 1997, Mazda rolled out the second generation of the MX-5, codenamed NB. This brought along a more modern and organic design, if somewhat less iconic – the pop-up headlights were replaced by fixed egg-shaped units, for example. Fortunately, the rest of the recipe remained mostly intact, save for a more powerful 140 hp 1.8 litre engine; a 1.6 litre option was also available in certain markets.

The NB was given a facelift in 2001 – as seen on this fairly stock (apart from a larger exhaust) example here – with a sharper front bumper, improved seats, and options for larger 16-inch wheels, larger brakes, additional chassis bracing, a limited-slip differential, Bilstein shocks and a six-speed manual ‘box. The engine has also been made stouter, now kicking out 152 hp.

In 2005 came the third-gen NC, featuring a minimalist version of Mazda’s then-current styling language, all big arches, round surfaces and sharp lines. A clean-sheet design, the car boasted a new engine in the form of a 2.0 litre engine developing 158 hp (a 126 hp 1.8 litre mill was optional), sent through either a six-speed manual or a six-speed automatic with paddle shifters.

The latter is what we have here; it’s also in Roadster Coupe form with a power-retractable hardtop (PHRT) introduced at the height of the folding metal roof craze back in 2006. Purists fearing a significant weight increase were pleased to find that it added just 36 kg to the overall weight, with no boot space penalty whatsoever, up or down.

Sources say that this particular unit – made before the 2008 and 2013 facelifts – was actually part of Bermaz’ test fleet before being sold off, and it too has a couple of tweaks, including a black finish for the factory 17-inch wheels, a black roof and Greddy twin exhausts.

And of course, it leads us back to the new ND MX-5. The roadster comes back in fighting form – it’s smaller even than the original, and in base form weighs just 50 kg more, at 990 kg (though with the automatic transmission and a host of options on our car, it should weigh somewhere around the 1,060 kg region).

Under the bonnet sits a 2.0 litre SkyActiv-G direct-injected four-cylinder engine making 158 hp – that’s the same as the outgoing NC, but with the car weighing some 100 kg less than before, it should make for an awfully quick car. It’s mated to a six-speed SkyActiv-Drive automatic gearbox, but we hear a six-speed manual version is on the way, so rejoice, enthusiasts!

So there you have it – whether you know it as the MX-5, the Miata or the Roadster, and whether NA, NB, NC, or ND; the seminal Mazda sports car remains true to its simplistic, lightweight roots and remains loved the world over. Browse the galleries of each model below, and have a happy Sunday!

NA Eunos Roadster

NB Mazda MX-5
NC Mazda MX-5
ND Mazda MX-5