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Next-gen Mazda MX-5 takes shape

Screen test: Mazda’s next-generation MX-5 will be inspired by the Superlight concept shown at the Frankfurt motor show two years ago

Creator of current Mazda MX-5 details lighter 2014 SkyActiv-based version

1 Nov 2012

THE man responsible for the current Mazda MX-5 roadster says the next-generation SkyActiv-based model due in 2014 will look similar to – but weigh substantially less than – the current version, despite featuring a much greater array of standard equipment and safety technologies.

MX-5 program manager Nobuhiro Yamamoto told GoAuto at this week’s Australian launch of the facelifted MX-5 that it was crucial for the fourth-generation version to “keep the unique character” of its affordable and featherweight predecessors.

Mr Yamamoto ruled out the use of lightweight materials like carbon-fibre, saying such a strategy “would add too much cost”, but he confirmed previous speculation that the car would be “much lighter” than the current folding hard-top model’s 1167kg.

As well as reduced weight, the program manager said retaining the MX-5’s character would be achieved through “evolutionary, not revolutionary” styling changes – in line with the gradual design progression of the previous three generations.

Shortly after the reveal of the new MX-5 in 2014, Alfa Romeo will unveil its re-born Spyder, based on the MX-5’s Sky architecture but using a unique Fiat MultiAir engine – the result of a collaboration deal between cash-strapped Mazda and Fiat/Chrysler announced earlier this year.

22 center imageFrom top: Mazda MX-5 program manager Nobuhiro Yamamoto Mazda SkyActiv technology.

The bulk of the weight savings will come from the SkyActiv platform, engine and transmissions under the subtly redesigned bodyshell.

Mr Yamamoto told GoAuto the car will sit on a modified version of existing architecture used for the CX-5 SUV and Mazda6 sedan.

But the program manager said it was unlikely the fourth-generation MX-5 would match the 1989 original’s 990kg weight, considering the increased amount of active and passive safety technologies required, plus the extra equipment levels now expected by customers.

The extra safety kit will be necessary to meet stricter occupant and pedestrian protection legislation, while the extra standard equipment will include features like the USB and Bluetooth connections that are conspicuous by their absence from the current version.

The SkyActiv-based CX-5 and Mazda6 are both roughly 100kg lighter than the vehicles they replace, suggesting a figure of around 1050kg for the Mk4 MX-5 would be close to the mark.

Naturally, the configuration of the MX-5’s shared architecture will be unique, in order to accommodate the familiar front-engine/rear-drive configuration of its predecessors.

In time however, this platform may accommodate a much-hyped re-born RX-7 coupe tipped for 2017.

Mazda has previously said a return the the RX-7 is on the cards, but only if it can turn around its precarious financial position through the release of new, more mainstream models.

Mr Yamamoto hinted to media this week that a new RX-7 could feature a new-generation SkyActiv hybrid rotary drivetrain.

He did not say if the new MX-5 will keep the current MX-5’s ‘powerplant frame’ design, which adds rigidity between the transmission and rear differential, but considering the new Mazda6 body is 30 per cent stiffer than before, the open-top body is expected to make similar strides.

It is also unclear what engine will sit under the bonnet, although again the company is likely to re-purpose an existing SkyActiv petrol engine – possibly the Mazda3’s 2.0-litre unit.

Mr Yamamoto told GoAuto the engine used would have its own state of tune, making it sportier and more free-revving.

The 113kW/194Nm 2.0-litre unit in the Mazda3 produces less power but more torque than the current MX-5’s older 2.0-litre engine (118kW/188Nm), and consumes around 25 per cent less fuel – so the 2014 MX-5’s powerplant is likely to outstrip the current Mazda3 engine for both performance and efficiency.

This engine will be matched to both six-speed manual and six-speed torque converter automatic transmissions, as Mr Yamamoto said developing a more dynamic dual-clutch transmission – such as Volkswagen’s DSG – would add too much cost.

It is unclear if Mazda will gamble on developing a suitably communicative electric steering system to replace the current hydraulic steering set-up, although the inherent fuel savings and Mazda’s propensity for common architecture across its range indicate it probably will.

The 2014 MX-5 is also a lock to retain the fabric roof available in overseas markets – its was recently dropped in Australia in favour of the folding hard-top – since 40 per cent of all examples sold globally still feature the soft-top.

Mazda Australia national marketing manager Alastair Doak said the company may return to offering the fabric roof on the next-generation, and would look at the design “with fresh eyes”.

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