The MX-5 was conceived as an elemental small roadster – with light weight and minimal mechanical complexity limited only by legal and safety requirements; technologically modern, but a philosophically direct descendant of the small British roadsters of the 1960s such as the Triumph Spitfire, Austin-Healey Sprite, MG Midget and Lotus Elan.
The MX-5 was designed with a traditional front-engine, rear-wheel drive layout and four-wheel independent double wishbone suspension. It has a longitudinally-mounted four cylinder engine coupled to a manual transmission (5 speed for NA, 5 or 6 speed in NB & NC); an automatic transmission is a cost option.
The body is a conventional, but light, unibody or monocoque construction, with a (detachable) rear subframe. The MX-5 also incorporates a truss marketed as the Powerplant Frame (PPF) which connects the engine to the differential, minimizing flex and contributing to responsive handling. Many MX-5s feature limited slip differentials and anti-lock braking system. Traction control is an option available on NC models. The earlier cars weighed in at just over a ton, with engine power output usually 120bhp (89kW). The later cars were heavier, with higher power engines.
With an approximate 50:50 front/rear weight balance, the car has nearly neutral handling. Inducing oversteer is easy and very controllable, thus making the MX-5 a popular choice for amateur and stock racing, including, in the USA, the Sports Car Club of America's Solo2 autocross and Spec Miata race series.
Beginning with the third generation, Mazda consolidated worldwide marketing using the MX-5 name, though enthusiasts in the USA still refer to it as Miata, a name that means "reward" in Old High German.
The MX-5 has won over 150 awards in its history, including making Car and Driver magazine's annual Ten Best list seven times; Wheels Magazine 's Car of the Year for 1989 and 2005; Sports Car International's "best sports car of the 1990s" and "ten best sports cars of all time"; 2005-2006 Car of the Year Japan; and 2005 Australian Car of the Year.