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Mazda will belatedly celebrate the 25th anniversary of the MX-5 at the NY Auto Show with a selection of Miatas past and present.

For many folks, the first sighting of a crocus or a robin mark the return of spring. For gearheads, the real signal that warm weather is on its way comes when we see the top rolled back on a convertible. And Mazda plans to do just that in a few weeks when it rolls out an assortment of 15 MX-5 Miatas out for the New York Auto Show to mark the little roadster’s 25th anniversary.

Actually, the celebration will come just a little late, the Miata making its formal debut on February 8, 1989 at the Chicago Auto Show. But considering the big chill that fell over the Midwest this past winter, perhaps holding the celebration off until April wasn’t a bad idea.

For the moment, the maker appears to be planning a retrospective, but we’re hoping that company officials will also offer at least hint of the future as the Japanese carmaker is getting ready to bring a fourth-generation model to market in a couple years – the all-new model part of an unusual joint venture pairing Mazda and Italy’s Alfa Romeo.

“MX-5 Miata is the quintessential Mazda,” said Jim O’Sullivan, president and CEO of Mazda North America.  “And after 25 years, every vehicle in the lineup continues to feature some characteristic of MX-5:  a fluid shifter, lightness on its feet, quickness around a corner, a fun-to-drive DNA.  With all the whiz-bang technology and comfort amenities increasingly added to modern vehicles, MX-5’s direct connection between car and driver still remains the standard feature that puts smiles on drivers’ faces.”

While not the best-selling model in the Mazda line-up – the company has produced a grand total of just 900,000 of them over the last quarter-century – perhaps none better represents the marque’s “zoom-zoom” characteristics.

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But the Miata has undergone some significant updates since the bare-bones original debuted in 1989.  It is a fair bit heavier – in part due to new crash and emissions standards, but also due to the addition of new customer comfort content – has abandoned its original pop-up headlights, and is even offered with an optional retractable hardtop.

As for the next-generation model, development is well underway and while some news reports earlier this year had suggested a concept version would be on hand at the New York Auto Show, has learned we’ll not likely see the all-new version until later in 2014 – very probably at the next Los Angeles Auto Show.  That would suggest we could be driving one by the following spring.

The new model is being developed as part of a joint venture between Mazda and Fiat Chrysler Automobile’s Alfa Romeo division.  But while they will share the same underlying platform each will boast unique body designs – and powertrains.

Significantly, at least for Alfa, the roadster will be the first and only model the brand has ever produced outside Italy – and according to FCA CEO Sergio Marchionne, that will be the last time that happens.

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Don’t expect the next Miata to be the fastest, or the quickest in and out of a corner, but it will be a fair bit lighter than the current model — which weighs in around 2,400 pounds.  The Japanese maker has been targeting an average mass reduction of around 100 kilograms – 220 pounds – on each of its redesigned models.  That would make it just slightly heavier than the 2,100 pounds the first-gen Miata weighed in at.

That’s no mean feat considering the original had manual window winders, mirrors and door locks and a plastic rear window.  The next Miata will likely have even more features – might a locking differential be among the offerings? – and will also have to meet ever-tightening emissions and safety standards.  It is unimaginable it would not score at least a “good” rating in the new small offset crash test run by the Insurance Institute for Highway safety.

Even then, it has been widely reported that Mazda would like to deliver as much as a 30% increase in fuel economy – which could mean highway ratings of as much as 37 mpg.  Again, one might dismiss that as another “thing I read on the Internet,” but the maker has lent credence to that reported target.  It will help to have two new SkyActiv powertrains available for the next-gen Mazda Miata, including both a 1.5-liter inline-four and a more peppy 2.0-liter engine, both naturally aspirated.

Perhaps we’ll be able to glean at least a few details about the future as Mazda offers us a look back at Miata’s past.

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