Opinion

New Japan-Only Miata Asks You To Trade Power For Yet More Lightness

This isn’t the Roadster 990s, but it basically looks the same.

This isn’t the Roadster 990s, but it basically looks the same.
Image: Mazda

The latest-generation Miata, which is about five years old at this point, has been celebrated for being the closest in spirit to the original car’s promise of light, accessible fun. But the pursuit of eradicating every last unnecessary ounce is never done, and so Mazda will soon offer its Japanese customers an even trimmer Miata called the Roadster 990s.

The 990s is so named for a theoretical curb weight of 990 kilograms, or 2,182 pounds — but even then, things get a little confusing. If you peruse Mazda’s Japanese website, there the base-model Roadster S is listed with an identical weight.

Image for article titled New Japan-Only Miata Asks You To Trade Power For Yet More Lightness

So the 990s is presumably even lighter than its namesake, thanks to a number of small changes. The exclusive Rays rims are each about one-and-three-quarters of a pound lighter per corner, according to Japan’s CarWatch. A change from iron to aluminum Brembo calipers saves a pound and a half, all told. All sound insulation has been deleted, as has the touchscreen infotainment system. The 990s’ head unit is that of an old-school stereo with a volume knob, preset buttons and a black-and-gray LCD strip that I didn’t know were still being manufactured in 2021, other than for use in calculators.

Japan’s Driver Channel can at least visually walk you through the changes, if like me you’ve disappointed that damned Duolingo owl countless times:

These are really granular, minute nips and tucks than probably won’t matter to nor be felt by a great many people. Still, they make for the lightest Miata in decades, particularly when you consider that our Miata tips the scales between 2,340 and 2,400 pounds depending on transmission. The only catch is that Mazda has chiseled away at the version of its roadster with the 1.5-liter engine that we don’t get here in the States. Rather than the 181 horsepower of 2019 and later two-liter models, the 990s offers just 130 HP.

Why not build the lightest Miata with the most powerful engine? Well, then it wouldn’t be the lightest Miata, as Mazda’s Shigeki Saito told CarWatch earlier this week. Via Google Translate:

There are many requests to put out a similar lightweight model even at 2.0 liters, but the power plant frame and drive shaft are also strengthened to receive tires, wheels, brakes, cooling systems, and even more power, so it is expected that it will be heavy about 50 kg as a whole, and this is like a person getting on the passenger seat. It is said that the ride taste as a car becomes completely different. Of course, lightness may be spoiled, but there is a sense of power, so it will be finished in such a different vector.

Mr. Saito said, “horsepower and fun are not proportional, but lightness and fun are proportional, and if horsepower is increased, the body etc. must be strengthened, so it will inevitably become heavier. The lighter the car, the more fun the car is, and I think this Roadster is the best now if you enjoy driving.”

There’s an unending call for turbocharged versions of historically low-power sports cars, like the Miata, Subaru BRZ and Toyota GR 86. The Toyobaru twins sort of got their bump with their second generation, and the Miata’s recent 26 HP boost (remember, early fourth-gen 2.0 models had just 155 HP) muted some of those cries. But there will always be those begging for more power from these small, light cars, forgetting all the while that more power requires more strength, and more strength equals more weight.

In that context, I appreciate Mazda’s commitment to what they believe the Miata’s ethos is, rather than what other people want it to be. Because when you compare the 990s to the original NA Miata, it’s roughly as powerful as the final run of that series and weighs about 50 pounds more despite being safer and more modern overall. 990s is a sporty name, but I reckon “Classic” may have been more spiritually appropriate.


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