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Future models - Mazda - MX-5

First look: Mazda lays new MX-5 bare

From the top down: Mazda’s new MX-5 was unveiled simultaneously in California, Japan and Spain.

Biggest-ever makeover to MX-5 revealed as Mazda rediscovers its roadster mojo

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Mazda logo4 Sep 2014

By RON HAMMERTON in MONTEREY

MAZDA went back to the future when it unveiled its lighter, shorter and sharper fourth-generation MX-5 simultaneously in three locations around the world today.

The much-anticipated new MX-5 – known in North America as Miata – not only brings the world’s favourite front-engine, rear-wheel-drive roadster bang up to date in terms of styling and technology, but in many ways returns it to the light and lusty core values of the original that was unveiled 25 years ago in Chicago.

The Japanese company employed 1980s British boy band Duran Duran – all the rage when the original MX-5 was launched in 1989 – to serenade the all-new ND model at the United States launch in Monterey, California, today in an event beamed live on the internet.

Similar extravaganzas were held in Japan and Spain to herald the latest version that will go on sale around the world next year, with an expected arrival date in Australian showrooms about mid 2015.

The launch was made all the more special by the fact that Mazda had managed to keep the new drop-top car under wraps right up until launch night – a rare occurrence in an era of internet leaks.

While the new MX-5 stays true to its front-engine, rear-drive, two-seat, open-top format, Mazda has drawn on its SkyActiv engineering technologies to strip more than 100kg from the kerb weight of the two-seat soft-top in a bid to sharpen the MX-5’s “chassis first” performance characteristics that have drawn more than 940,000 buyers over the first three generations.

More extensive use of aluminium and high-strength steel has cut the pork from the body that has been re-styled in the latest take on Mazda’s “Kodo – Soul of Motion” design language in the biggest makeover in the roadster’s history.

Although the final kerb weight has not been released, chopping 100kg from the 1165kg manual transmission current model would take the new generation close to the 1000kg mark, but short of the 940kg of the 1989 original.

And like the original, the new MX-5 returns to a lightweight folding soft-top in place of the folding three-piece hard-top of the third generation offered in Australia.

The new MX-5 is the shortest of the four generations – just 3915mm long – but the widest, at 1730mm. By comparison, the original was 3950mm long and 1675mm wide.

The new wheelbase is 2315mm long – 15mm shorter than the current model but 50mm longer than the 1989 original.

Mazda MX-5 program manager Nobuhiro Yamamoto said the development of the new generation became “a struggle with the model’s 25-year history”.

“Each successive model of the past three generations has seen slight increases in body size and weight in response to demands,” he said.

The engineers and designers were faced with the challenge of maintaining the “fun to drive” element while at the same time adopting appropriate safety and environmental standards.

This time, Mazda came up with the maxim “innovate in order to preserve”, and thus employing innovative technologies and designs to preserve the fun element of the car, Mr Yamamoto said.

The new SkyActiv rear-drive architecture – which will be shared with Italian company Fiat for a sportscar of its own – rides on double-wishbone front suspension and multi-link rear suspension, as before.

The Japanese model gets 16-inch alloy wheels shod with 195/50 tyres – smaller than the 17-inch wheels with 205/45R tyres of the current Australian spec car.

However, that might change to suit the Aussie market.

Mazda has jettisoned the hydraulic power steering for a modern electric-assisted system to reduce both weight and fuel consumption.

At this stage, the company has held back powertrain details but has indicated the new MX-5 will get more than one engine, referring to “SkyActiv engines” in its press blurb.

Most pundits expect the mainstay engine to be a normally aspirated SkyActiv-G 2.0-litre unit, producing more than the 114kW/200Nm of the similar engine in the new Mazda3. The current car’s 2.0-litre engine produces 118kW.

And to keep the price of entry down and add more range flexibility, a 1.5-litre SkyActiv engine from the upcoming Mazda2 is likely to power a junior variant.

Both engines are set to be offered with a choice of six-speed manual and automatic transmissions, driving the rear wheels.

As we saw when the MX-5’s underpinnings were revealed at the New York motor show in April, the engine will sit behind the front axle, contributing to a 50-50 weight distribution for pin-sharp handling.

The American media speculates that a permanent-roof coupe version will follow, apparently as a direct rival for Toyota’s 86 and its Subaru twin, the BRZ.

Today’s event in California will be followed on Saturday by a Mazda MX-5 Miata fan gathering at Mazda Raceway at Laguna Seca, attended by more than 2200 Miata owners with an expected 1500 Miatas from all over North America.

In Japan, Mazda is staging a Mazda Roadster Thanks Day at Chiba, just outside Tokyo, in conjunction with the MX-5 public reveal.

Since it was launched in Australia in 1989, more than 12,000 MX-5s have been sold here, carving out an enviable reputation for sharp handling and rewarding ownership.

Compared with the British and Italian sports cars that inspired the MX-5’s original designers, the Japanese roadster has been long on both reliability and build quality, ensuring strong repeat business from a legion of sportscar lovers.

The original idea for the MX-5 came from American journalist-turned-Mazda product planner Bob Hall who suggested it to Kenichi Yamamoto, who went on to become chairman of Mazda.

Although there was pressure to adopt a front-wheel drive layout, Hall and designer Mark Jordan favoured the classic rear-drive format.

After a competition between the Hiroshima and California design studios, the American team was given the go-ahead for the MX-5 project in 1984.

Code-named NA, the first MX-5 – distinguished by its pop-up headlights and double-wishbone suspension – was armed with an 86kW 1.6-litre engine. In 1993, a 98kW 1.8-litre engine was introduced as part of a facelift.

The second-generation NB MX-5 came along in 1998 with modern-style fixed headlights and a more powerful 100kW 1.8-litre engine (lifted to 109kW in 2001).

The current NC MX-5 introduced multi-link rear suspension, 118kW 2.0-litre engine and six-speed gearbox in 2005.

For the first time, a folding hard-top was offered from 2006 as an alternative to the traditional soft-top. In Australia, that three-piece hardtop has been the only choice recently.

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