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Driven: All-new Mazda MX-5 arrives in Australia

New classic: Mazda's fourth-generation MX-5 lands in Australian showrooms this month, in an eight-model range starting from $31,990.

Fourth-generation ND-series Mazda MX-5 roadster stays true to 1989 NA original

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Mazda logo7 Aug 2015

By BYRON MATHIOUDAKIS

MAZDA launched its long-awaited new MX-5 in Australia this week, releasing full pricing and specification details for the fourth-generation roadster ahead of its arrival in showrooms in coming days.

The Japanese car-maker announced in May that it had slashed $15,290 from the entry point to the range with the introduction of a new baseline 1.5-litre model, priced from $31,990 plus on-road costs.

Now Mazda Australia has revealed that all other variants of the new ND-series two-seater soft-top range – bar the automatic version of the top-line 2.0-litre GT – are priced below $40,000.

Upstream from the entry level roadster, the better-equipped 1.5-litre GT is priced from $37,990, while the more powerful 2.0-litre versions due in October or November – to be also sold in standard and GT form – are priced from $34,490 and $39,550 respectively.

Automatic transmission adds $2000 across the range.

In contrast, the previous NC Series II MX-5 was priced from $47,280 to $52,010, although this was for the RC (retractable coupe/folding hard-top) with a 2.0-litre engine rather than the more traditional fabric-roofed version (from $42,460 to $46,390) dropped by Mazda Australia in 2012.

Despite the lower prices, all models include four airbags, electronic stability and traction control, LED headlights, cruise control, Bluetooth phone and audio streaming, a leather-sheathed steering wheel and gearknob, trip computer, push-button start and a tyre-pressure monitoring system.

Alloy wheels are also fitted standard, with 16-inch rims on 1.5-litre variants (with 195/50-section tyres) and 17-inch rims on 2.0-litre models (with 205/45R17 rubber).

The GT – which is expected to account for two-thirds of sales volume – gains heated and leather-trimmed seats, automatic on/off lights with daytime running lamps, rain-sensing wipers, climate-control air-conditioning, an auto-dimming rearview mirror, seven-inch touchscreen, satellite navigation, internet radio app connectivity, nine audio speakers (up from six) through a Bose system, keyless entry and glossier trim highlights inside and out.

The new ND series was developed over an eight-year period, although this included a delay of some three years late last decade due to the global financial crisis. Program manager Nobuhiro Yamamoto – a 40-year company veteran who has worked on all previous iterations over the model’s 26-year lifespan – was in Australia for the launch this week and said a return to the values of the 1989 NA original permeated all facets of the new model’s development.

“My hobby is MX-5,” he said. “Innovate in order to preserve – a return to the aspirations of the original MX-5 … this became the motto of the ND’s development and helped us overcome challenges.”

Cutting weight – as much as 91kg on Australian-spec cars – and clipping the overall size over the preceding NC series were crucial, with the 1.5-litre manual tipping the scales at 1009kg. The 1989 1.6-litre model weighed just 940kg.

Designed at the company’s Hiroshima headquarters, Japanese calligraphy-inspired elements prevail throughout, highlighted by detailing such as in the small (and lightweight) LED headlights.

Reduced overhangs – 760mm versus 805mm up front and 845mm versus 885mm at the rear – have resulted in the shortest MX-5 ever, stretching 3915mm from end to end compared to 3955mm for the NA and 4020mm for the NC.

The ND also drops 10mm to equal the original in terms of height (at 1235mm), but is 10mm wider than before and a whopping 55mm fatter than the first iteration.

Though stiffer than before, the bodyshell is around 20kg lighter, benefiting from an increase in aluminium components (from 0.1 per cent to nine per cent) in areas such as the bumper bar reinforcements, powerplant frame, rear hub supports, front knuckle and vehicle undercover.

Aluminium has also found its way into the front mudguards, soft-top links, seatback bars, underbody crossmember and bulkhead panel – in addition to the bonnet and bootlid as per the previous model.

This is all part of Mazda’s ‘gram-by-gram’ kilo cull that also sees an uplift in the employment of high- and ultra-high-strength steels.

Redesigned suspension – still with in-wheel double wishbones up front and a multi-link rear end, but with altered geometry – is claimed to have saved 12kg.

The switch to SkyActiv-G engines based on the Mazda2 (1.5) and CX-5/Mazda3 (2.0) units lop off 14kg and 8kg respectively. The all-new six-speed manual gearbox produces a 6kg saving. Plastic is now used in the clutch assembly. And the more compact rear diff is 10kg lighter.

Holes have also been drilled in areas where they do not impact on structural strength, and even the seat-sliding lever has a slimmer handle in order to save weight.

One of the key motives for the new MX-5 was to design it from the driver outwards, to meet both weight and size targets. Mr Yamamoto believes the interior of an open car is also part of its exterior, and so the newcomer’s door spears, for instance, visually integrate with the bonnet line.

Compared to the previous model, occupants sit 15mm closer, with a seating hip point that is 20mm lower “for a greater sense of oneness with the car” as well as an improved centre of gravity.

The engine is mounted 13mm lower and 15mm further rearward, the bonnet line is 28mm lower and the front A-pillars sit 57mm further back.

The cabin is 65mm longer (940mm), 10mm wider (1425mm), and with the same maximum legroom as before at 1096mm, but shoulder space shrinks by 30mm to 1325mm.

A “single central axis” positions the driver perfectly centred with the steering wheel, behind controls that are laid out symmetrically, and human-centric, for maximum man/machine interface. Wider-spread and narrow pedals, a smaller steering wheel with greater tilt (but no telescopic) adjustment, and relocated power window switches (now on the door) are further ergonomic advances.

Redesigned seats feature newly developed metal springs and urethane pads for better damping and reduced weight. The deletion of a glovebox for additional passenger legroom is addressed by an increase in alternative cabin storage options, while luggage space is both longer and deeper for taking in more awkward items, despite being 20 litres smaller overall at 130 litres capacity.

Mazda says opening and closing the lighter fabric roof is easier than before as it now uses loaded springs. The aforementioned aluminium header and tauter material also make it a quieter and more insulating turret. Increased sound-deadening material was also applied, with particular attention paid to sources of vibration within the body structure.

Though based on the units found in more conventional front-drive passenger cars, the Hiroshima engineers have greatly modified the MX-5’s engines, down to the use of a die-cast aluminium head cover “for the joy of looking at the engine when you open the bonnet”.

Except for the limited-edition (and locally developed) 1.8-litre SP turbo model available in the NB Series II during 2002, the ND represents the first time the MX-5 has been launched with two engine choices in Australia.

Both are naturally aspirated 16-valve four-cylinder SkyActiv-G units, with the 1.5-litre developing an impressive 96kW of power at 7000rpm and 150Nm of torque at 4800rpm, while the 2.0-litre ups the ante to 118kW at 6000rpm and 200Nm at 4600rpm.

Both drive the rear wheels via either a six-speed manual (with limited-slip differential) or Aisin-sourced (but Mazda-tuned) six-speed torque-converter automatic transmission with paddle shifts.

Both engines feature reduced resistance exhausts, with lighter air intakes and a revised 4-2-1 exhaust manifold design compared to the front-drive applications. A ‘sound enhancer’ synthesises the exhaust at certain engine speeds. Smaller yet more efficient radiators promote better cooling performance.

Official combined-cycle fuel economy for the 1.5-litre engine comes in at 6.1 litres per 100km (auto: 6.4L/100km), while the 2.0-litre averages 6.9L/100km (auto: 7.1L/100km).

The MX-5 now moves to electric rack and pinion steering, with a dual pinion system for a more connected and linear feel, while the brakes are vented discs up front and solid discs at the rear.

The latest MX-5 has not yet been crash-tested by the independent ANCAP regime in Australia, however Mazda expects it to achieve a four-star result due to the inability to fit a child booster seat in the front passenger position.

The company anticipates it will sell around 125 MX-5s a month during the new model’s first year on sale, with the manual accounting for 60 per cent of volume.

The total 2015 global sales forecast for the ND is 110,000 units.

2015 Mazda ND MX-5 pricing*
1.5L Roadster$31,990
1.5L Roadster (a)$33,990
1.5L Roadster GT$37,990
1.5L Roadster GT (a)$39,990
2.0L Roadster$34,490
2.0L Roadster (a)$36,490
2.0L Roadster GT$39,550
2.0L Roadster GT (a)$41,550

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