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Mazda’s Magnificent Miniaturized Marvel: MX-5 Miata

Way back in 1989, Mazda introduced the MX-5 Miata, its take on the two-seat convertible sports car. To say the car has been successful would be an understatement; it's perennially well reviewed and still going strong 34 years later.

Over the years, we've been lucky enough to own a couple—the first was a 1999 version that we sold shortly before the kids came along. And the second is still ours, a 2020 model that we bought used last summer...

We bought it to have something fun and involving to drive around in—complete with manual transmission, just like in the good old days. But this post isn't about our car, it's about something amazing that Mazda has done—or rather hasn't done—to the Miata over the 34 years of the model's existence: It hasn't bloated it into some oversized imitation of the car it used to be.

Aside: ChatGPT

As an aside, I've been wanting to write this blog post for literally years, but kept putting it off due to the amount of tedious work required to collect all the specifications I wanted—over 30 years' worth of figures for the car's length, width, weight, horsepower, and cost. I also wanted all that data for a second car, for comparison purposes. But over the weekend, I had a thought…I wondered how well ChatGPT might handle this task? So I asked it…and the results were simply amazing:

me> Create a table showing the weight of the Mazda Miata from 1989 to 2023, and include a placeholder row for any missing data
chatgpt> Here is a table listing the weight of the Mazda Miata from 1989 through 2023:

It took it maybe a minute or two to compile the data for each item on each car, and I was simple amazed at the results. If I were gathering this data by hand, I guess it would've taken me at least a couple of hours, if not more, and involved seeing lots of ugly web pages loaded with lots of ugly advertisements. And a whole lot of copying and pasting and/or retyping data. Thank you, ChatGPT!

Compulsory warning: Because this data is from ChatGPT, it's possible it's wrong. Really wrong. I spot checked a few years' data points for each car using Edmunds, and they were correct. That doesn't mean they're all correct, of course!

The Competition

Ideally, I would have found another relatively affordable two-seat rear-wheel-drive convertible to compare with the Miata. But the reality is that there is no other such car that's been in production continuously since 1989—the Corvette is really the only one I can think of, but it's definitely in a different class than the Miata. I couldn't even come up with a non-convertible two-seater that's been in production that long.

So instead, I focused on finding a car with similar dimensions as the Miata, and settled on the Honda Civic. This is definitely not a direct competitor, as one is a sports car and the other an economy family car. But it is close in size to the Miata (at least, it was), and it shows the general trends with most every car made over the years—you can pick pretty much any car that's been around for 34 years, and you'll see similar results.

The Methodology

For each car, I had ChatGPT collect data from 1989 through 2023 for the following specifications: length, width, weight, horsepower, and cost. Both cars are base models, and the costs represent just the MSRP for that model without any added options.

I then plugged all of that data into Excel, and then used the US Bureau of Labor Statistics' CPI Inflation Calculator to convert all the costs into 2023 dollars. (I originally asked ChatGPT to do this, and it did, but the results varied quite a bit from the calculator, so I ran them all manually.) I used July of each year as the starting point, and March of 2023 (the latest data available) as the endpoint.

I then made a few tables and a few charts, and here we are…

Summary Table

This table leaves out the original cost column, as without adjusting for inflation, it was more or less useless. For completeness' sake, the original cost of the Honda Civic was $8,995 and the Miata, $13,800. With that said, here's how each car changed from 1989 to 2023…

Length (inches)Width (inches)Weight (pounds)Power (HP)Adj. Cost (US $)
Raw change+22.3-1.3+4.1+2.4+518+232+66+65-$375-$5,058
Percent change+13.9%-0.8%+6.1%+3.6%+23.1%+11.0%+71.7%+56.0%-1.7%-15.1%

In plain text, the Civic of 2023 is 14% longer, 6% wider, and 23% heavier than the 1989 model. To cope with the greatly increased size, power is up nearly 72%. Note, though, that once adjusted for inflation, the true cost of the car is down over the last 34 years.

The Miata, on the other hand, is actually nearly 1% shorter than it used to be, and only about 4% wider and 11% heavier than the 1989 model. Power, though, is up 56%, and when coupled with the minimal weight gains, acceleration has greatly improved—zero to 60 times have dropped from nine seconds in 1989 to 5.7 seconds for the 2023 version.

This improved performance did not come at the cost of gas mileage, either, as it's increased from 25/30mpg to 26/34mpg (city/highway). (By comparison, the 1989 Honda Civic earned 36/42mpg ratings, but that has dropped to 30/38mpg in the comparable 2023 car.)

The real standout here is the inflation adjusted cost—today's Miata is over 15% less expensive in real dollars than it was in 1989.

The Graphs

The following graphs show the changes in each item on a year by year basis; there's nothing here that's not in the summary table, but I found it interesting to see how each vehicle changed over time.



Some of the things I found interesting on the graphs:

  • The Miata's weight had been creeping up over the years, but with the latest redesign, they cut nearly 200 pounds from the car. The Civic has had some minor dips over the years, but the trend line is definitely upwards.
  • Most of the Civic's length gain came in the first two redesigns, though it's still up nearly seven inches since the last major jump. The Mazda's line looks completely broken, but it's not. They shrank the car. Amazing.
  • Both cars added nearly the same amount of power (65 or 66hp) over the years, leaving them with about the same gap today as they had when new (23hp). On the Civic, the added horsepower is moving an additional 518 pounds. On the Miata, it's only moving an added 232 pounds. That's a recipe for improved performance.
  • If you think cars are ridiculously expensive nowadays, the Cost graph shows that's not the case, at least for these two examples. Both cars are cheaper today than they were in 1989, after adjusting for inflation. What's really amazing is just how much cheaper the Miata is now than it was when it launched. On the graph, you can see a few years when the Miata was the opposite—dramatically more expensive than it is now. Over time, though, Mazda more than corrected for that aggressive pricing.
Why the weight gain?

Even though Mazda has done an admirable job of keeping the Miata small and light, it's still put on over 200 pounds. For what, you might ask? Here are some of the major items that are now standard on every Miata that either weren't on the original car, or were smaller and lighter…

Antilock brakes • Advanced keyless entry and push button start • Blind spot and rear cross traffic monitoring • Display screen (7") • Electric windows • Forward collision mitigation • Four wheel disc brakes • Glass rear window with defogger • Larger gas tank • Larger rims and tires • Multiple air bags • Rear view camera • Seatbelt pretensioners • Side impact protection • Six speed manual • Stability and traction control • Telescoping steering wheel • Upgraded stereo system • Wireless Apple CarPlay and Android Auto

Many of these changes are mandated by changes to federal safety laws, while others are related to performance, comfort, or convenience. To get all of that, though, with just 200+ pounds of added weight (and a lower cost and improved performance) is just incredible.

Wrap up

Mazda has done an amazing job at keeping the Miata small, light, and affordable—and doing so while adding a ton of new features and safety enhancements, increasing gas mileage, and improving performance.

I've been asking ChatGPT to compare various cars over similar time periods to see if I can find another example like the Miata, and so far, the closest I've found (though way out of the Mazda's price bracket) is the Porsche Boxster. From its introduction in 1996 through today, it's gained 3.5" of length, 200ish pounds of weight, 2" of width, and about 100 horsepower, which is quite impressive in terms of keeping to the original blueprint.

This was an interesting exercise, and the most useful thing I learned while doing it actually has nothing to do with the Miata, and everything to do with ChatGPT—I had no idea it had access to such a deep wealth of historical automotive data.

3 thoughts on “Mazda’s Magnificent Miniaturized Marvel: MX-5 Miata”

  1. I often thought of doing something like this only with pictures. But my though usually goes to mainstream cars like an Accord, but Civic was on the list (no list, this is a passing thought I have every once in a while). Or worst would be pickup trucks. And pickups (and SUVs get [or have gotten] a pass on some of the safety and fuel economy requirements). The Boxster is a surprise. I wonder how the 911 compares.

    PS. Still loving your search KM shortcut.

    1. You mean the web search one? That turned into one of my all-time favorites, no doubt. I use it so regularly I feel lost without it. There are lots of commercial apps that do the same (our own Butler, for one, can do similar), but I like the way mine works. :)


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