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First look: Ibuki previews next MX-5

Near-future concept: Ibuki features a mid-mounted hybrid engine and twin backbone chassis.

Mazda MX-5 replacement gets its first public airing at next week's Tokyo motor show

15 Oct 2003

TAKE a good, hard look. For this, right on cue, is what the replacement for the world's most popular sports car will look like in just two years.

Described as a near-future concept roadster, Ibuki will herald the first all-new MX-5 since the 1989 original when it stars at a rejuvenated Mazda's home motor show in Tokyo next week, as predicted.

A whole foot shorter and highlighted by a new mid-engined, twin-backbone chassis claimed to achieve big gains in balance, comfort and safety, the two-seater rear-drive Ibuki convertible also features a 1.6-litre hybrid engine and extensive plastic, aluminium and carbon-fibre components.

Much speculation has surrounded the redesigned MX5, which is expected to appear in production form at the 2005 Tokyo show. The showcar's four-cylinder petrol-electric hybrid engine is expected to make way for a conventional four-pot by then, despite recent reports the next MX-5 could employ rotary power like RX-8.

Further confusing matters, Mazda will also reveal a hydrogen-powered RX-8 rotary in Tokyo, and has hinted a similar engine could power a possible RX-7 successor. Also unclear from the concept pictures is whether Ibuki's roof is cloth or steel, however it does feature an active four-point rollbar within the super-slim A-pillars and rear cowl.

But most significant is Ibuki's high-mount twin-backbone frame incorporating a "super front midship" layout similar to RX-8.

Pushing the engine well behind the front axle (400mm further back and 40mm lower than in the current MX-5), the new chassis places all powertrain and accessory components within the 65mm-shorter wheelbase (2330mm) and allows substantially shorter and lighter overhangs at both ends.

The air-conditioning unit is located behind the seats in front of the rear axle, as is the fuel tank and main exhaust muffler, while overhangs are a combined 380mm shorter than MX-5 and overall length is 315mm shorter at 3640mm.

Similar in height, Ibuki is 40mm wider than MX-5 at 1720mm, and has 75/55mm wider front/rear wheel tracks (1490/1496mm). The showcar wears 215/40 run-flat tyres on 18-inch wheels.

Along with reducing the yaw inertia moment by 15 degrees to provide even more neutral handling, Mazda says Ibuki's upper and lower backbones achieve a level of rigidity similar to that of a closed roof chassis.

Attached to it, taking MX-5's lightweight theme to the limit, are plastic bumpers, bonnet, rear floor panel and door outers, while inner door panels and brake rotors are aluminium and the prop shaft and powerplant frame are carbon.

Described by Mazda as the "ultimate statement of the kind of roadster Mazda could be building before very long", Ibuki also features LED headlights, a wildly curved windscreen and keyless ID card entry.

The 132kW/180Nm 1.6-litre version of the Kusabi's 1.3 MZR engine features sequential valve timing and idle-stop technology, and is mated to a six-speed manual transmission.

Ibuki will be among Mazda's biggest ever array of concept cars at Tokyo, which will also include the world premiere of the Renesis hydro-rotary RX-8 Hydrogen RE prototype, the Mazda2-based Kusabi mini-coupe from Frankfurt last month and the next MPV-signalling Washu.

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