Mazda's MX-5 celebrates its 20th birthday

There may not be too many cars one can refer to as iconic in this day and age, but the Mazda MX-5 certainly is just that.
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Celebrating its 20th anniversary this week, the world’s best-selling lightweight two-seat roadster has sold more than 850,000 units across the globe since being revealed at the Chicago Motor Show on February 9th, 1989.

On February 27, the latest and greatest version of that roadster will make its Australian debut at the Melbourne International Motor Show.

Today, the Mazda MX-5’s popularity is unchallenged and is to this day the only two-seat roadster to combine the traditional front-engine, rear-drive layout with an affordable price tag.


Mazda considers the MX-5 the purest exponent of Mazda’s Zoom-Zoom philosophy. The diminutive roadster holds a special place in the hearts of Mazda employees and car enthusiasts alike.

None more so than Takao Kijima, Mazda MX-5's long-standing programme manager.

"I have been involved with the Mazda MX-5 since the project was first approved in 1986, and was lucky enough to be a chassis engineer on the first model that established the MX-5 roadster’s reputation as an exciting and affordable lightweight sports car," Mr. Kijima said. "I was honoured to succeed Toshihiko Hirai as MX-5 programme manager in 1995 and lead the team on the second and third generation MX-5. For me, there is no greater joy than to look back on 23 years with the Mazda MX-5 and I look forward to 23 more."

The first-generation Mazda MX-5 launched in Australia in October 1989 with a price tag of $29,550. Reflecting its purist intentions, it was powered by a spritely 88kW, 1.6-litre engine mated to a five-speed manual transmission and like most cars of that era, the MX-5 did not have power steering, anti-lock brakes, traction control, airbags or a CD player. Accordingly, its kerb weight was 960kg.

The facelift of the third-generation MX-5, which hits Australian showrooms in late March, reflects the high levels of safety and technology expected of 21st century cars. It has all those features missing from the first generation, including an iPod jack, cruise control, and even a hardtop roof which folds in 12 seconds.


The MX-5’s 2.0-litre engine is capable of revving to 7,500rpm and makes 118kW of power. It can be teamed with either a six-speed manual or six-speed automatic transmission. And, where the original sported 14-inch alloy wheels, the 2009 model wears visually arresting 17-inch alloy wheels.

It’s fair to say the Mazda MX-5 has matured into a class act that has proven impossible to match.