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Why American Buyers Really Don’t Want the Lightweight 990S Mazda MX-5 “Miata”

Here’s why the special lightweight 990S Roadster offered only in Japan is not what most American Miata buyers would want.

Mazda is offering a new lightweight 2022 Roadster 990S trim in the Japanese market. Saying “lightweight” to a Miata fan is like saying “squirrel” to a dog. Therefore, many publications have highlighted the innate awesomeness of having a Miata a.k.a. Roadster that is lighter - even though they haven't driven it. If it is lighter it must mean that it is more fun to drive and faster, right? Wrong. At least in this case.

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Back in the day when the American-market Mazda transitioned to the NC (third-generation) Miatas, the NA and NB Miata owners were dismayed their cars were no longer the best Miatas, and thus some were set to dismiss the NC. They pointed at it and said things equivalent to a bully saying “fat kid!” The trouble was, that "fat kid" was faster, safer, and better at pretty much everything a new Miata buyer wanted.

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The ND continued Mazda’s improvements to the model, making it even quicker than the NC. The 2022 Miata is still an ND (fourth-Gen). The U.S. Miata has been updated a few times in meaningful ways since the 2016, but the chassis and most of the running gear are the same. There was an engine improvement a few years back. The biggest difference between the U.S.-market Miata and the Japanese-market Roadster is the engine. In the U.S. Miata, we get a 2.0-liter engine with 181 hp. The Japanese market Roadster has a 1.5-liter engine which creates just 130 hp (97 kW). Fifty-one horsepower is a massive difference in a sportscar that is already underpowered by most yardsticks.

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Mazda has reportedly said (not to us) that the ways it shaved about 160 pounds off the Japanese-market Roadster are not possible for the U.S.-market Miata. In a nutshell, Mazda sourced lighter wheels and brakes, took out some sound foam, deleted the good audio system, and fitted a lighter hood. Mazda also doesn’t offer the lighter Roadster with a limited-slip differential. If you own a Miata, and if you have the 181 hp engine, trust this past and future Miata owner, you want the limited-slip Diff.

In a nutshell, the Japanese market 990S Miata (Roadster) will remain a slower car than the U.S. Miata with much less power and without a limited-slip Diff, but will be lighter by about the weight of a medium-sized passenger.

Tell us in the comments below if you would prefer the lower-powered, open-Diff car with its lighter weight, or the faster car we get in the U.S. Your opinion is valued, regardless of which you prefer.

Image of Japanese-market 990S Roadster courtesy of Mazda Media Support

John Goreham is a long-time New England Motor Press Association member and recovering engineer. John's interest in EVs goes back to 1990 when he designed the thermal control system for an EV battery as part of an academic team. After earning his mechanical engineering degree, John completed a marketing program at Northeastern University and worked with automotive component manufacturers, in the semiconductor industry, and in biotech. In addition to Torque News, John's work has appeared in print in dozens of American news outlets and he provides reviews to many vehicle shopping sites. You can follow John on TikTok @ToknCars, on Twitter, and view his credentials at Linkedin

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Roger (not verified)    December 31, 2021 - 10:32AM

Don't know what Mazda engineers are thinking. What would be the attraction of eliminating that much performance over saving 160 lbs? Another crazy Mazda engineering blunder like the Renesis Rotary Engine.
I have owned quite a few Mazda vehicles starting with a 1972 RX-2 which was a great first gen rotary engine vehicle which lead me to later trust in owning a 2003 RX-8 which was one of the worst cars I have ever owned based on its redesigned Renesis Rotary Engine powertrain issues. I currently have a 1995 NA Miata that I still love to drive but have apprehensions in moving away from the bullet proof 1.6/1.8L engines of the old NA/NB models and into the newer NC/ND powertrains based on my previous Mazda RX model powertrain experience.

Large Lampard (not verified)    October 6, 2022 - 5:13AM

In reply to by Roger (not verified)

The reason is taxes and limitation of Japanese strict traffic laws.
In Japan 2.0 have higher taxes over 1.5. Also there are weight tax which changes every 0.5 ton.
Japan's speed limit is very low and the lane is pretty tight. There's no point driving things more than 200hp on road although my car is over 200hp. 130hp is more than enough to enjoy or get into trouble.

Alex Wilson (not verified)    January 11, 2022 - 9:16AM

Owned an ND1 with open diff and now own an ND2 with LSD. Why would you want the lighter weight for more performance, but then not want the performance diff? I understand the concept of reving the heck out of the 1.5 being fun. In the ND2 2.0 liter, if you start reving the heck out of it, you end up getting into speeds that get you in trouble. The 2.0 is getting on the border of getting beyond the "slow car fast" fun factor, as it is getting kind of fast itself.

Jerald Fachette (not verified)    January 30, 2022 - 10:09AM

I own an ‘06 NC Miata with the 2.0L engine and find it very well matched with the cars handling abilities. It is neither too fast, nor too slow. It’s a perfectly balanced Sports Car with a great hoarse power to weight ratio. Why would any auto manufacturer product a light weight auto without a limited-slip differential? That makes no sense! The entire purpose of a lighter weight car is PERFORMANCE! Without a limited-slip rear end the performance would be unbalanced. If that were the only model choice, I would have to have a limited-slip added after purchase, or not buy it at all.

Bob (not verified)    November 3, 2022 - 11:07PM

I think that the 990s works in Japan because drivers are not so much interested in high speed and acceleration so much as in driving along bendy country roads that are in great supply in this mountainous country. The original concept of the Mazda roadster was to provide a classic British sports car experience. The classic British sports cars were in the most part low-powered but highly manoeuverable in the narrow British country lanes, and this is what the Mazda designers and engineers were aiming at, even including the exhaust note. I think they still have this in mind. I drive a 1600cc 110bhp NB around the mountainous roads of central Honshu, and here fast acceleration and top speed are not necessary (and impossible), but good cornering is. It is more about enjoyment of driving, top-down fresh air, country views, and so on. There is no need to be obsessed about 0-60mph times. The NB weighs about the same as the 990s but has much less power and no lsd; nevertheless it is a lot of fun to drive (I have driven for 56 years in many countries including north America). The 990s is not designed for racing ... you can buy the NR-A instead. Anyway, Mazda obviously realised that the 990s would not be the right car for north America and is thus not selling it there, so the article and comments are somewhat moot. The attitude and demands of drivers are clearly different, as is the definitiion of performance. Personally I won't be getting the 990s; the NB is just as good !
Best wishes from a Brit in Japan.