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Stylish Japanese Sports Car Aims to be Affordable

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ITS name is German, its heritage British, and it's designed for the United States market. But the RX-5 Miata is the newest Japanese sports car. With a name that translates into ``pride,'' the 2-seat Mazda Motors Miata evokes the heritage of such British sports car legends as the Triumph Spitfire and TR-3 and the MGB. A ``simple'' car offering just one 4-cylinder engine and a single body style - a convertible - it is, at ``under $14,000,'' aimed at young, first-time sports-car buyers.

These customers, ``who really wanted a sports car, couldn't find one he or she can afford,'' says Mazda Group vice-president George McCabe. Mazda's own RX-7 is a good example. Originally introduced a decade ago at well below $10,000, the typically equipped RX-7 now costs more than twice as much.

The Miata is one of three new Japanese sports cars introduced at the Chicago Auto Show this month. According to auto analyst William Pochiluk of Autofacts Inc., the new Mazda ``should be a big hit, and the main reason is [its] price.''

There are several negatives, however. High insurance rates on this class of car could price the Miata out of the reach of many young buyers, despite the relatively modest price tag. And for those who plan on hauling a lot of cargo, the Miata isn't the most roomy car. The emphasis here is on style and performance.

That is more than enough, Mazda officials believe, and they expect to sell about 40,000 Miatas a year.

At the other end of the spectrum in terms of both price and sales goals is the new NSX, the code name for a 2-seater that the Acura luxury division of Honda will put on the market late next year.

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