This is the all-new Mazda MX-5, which will go on sale in the UK in late summer 2015 and is showcased here in our exclusive studio pictures.
The fourth-generation version of the 25-year-old rear-drive roadster - unveiled at the 2014 Paris motor show - is new from the ground up and enters the market with a brand new rear-wheel-drive chassis and two new petrol engines, all built using the company’s SkyActiv technology.
Mazda MX-5 program manager Nobuhiro Yamamoto said the new car had to conform to five crucial rules that now characterise the MX-5 – rear drive with a front-mid engine layout, 50/50 weight distribution, minimal “yaw inertia” (how quickly it changes direction), a low kerb weight and affordability.
Yamamoto, who developed the original MX-5 and has worked on all the generations of the car, said he went back to the first car for inspiration.
This latest version reverses the trend of generational changes of MX-5s by being lighter and smaller than the car it replaces. Mazda isn’t saying exactly what the new weight figures are but it will admit to savings "of around 100kgs", meaning that the base model should end up being just a shade over one tonne.
As well as using SkyActiv design to cut weight from the Mazda's chassis, the bonnet, boot and front wings are now made from aluminium – and a lighter material has also been used in the soft-top hood construction.
Additionally, most of the front suspension is aluminium, as is the gearbox casing, the differential casing and the pierced structural bracing that runs down the car’s centre. Many of the components, such as the front upper suspension wishbone, have also been reduced in size.
Weight saving extends as far as reducing the wheel bolts from five to four, possible because the lighter car can use lighter wheels requiring fewer fixings. In turn, this means the brakes can also be smaller, further reducing mass.
The new car is also 105mm shorter in overall length than the outgoing version, though its wheelbase has only shrunk by 15mm. It is also 20mm lower, but 10mm wider.
Under the bonnet of model on show in Paris was a direct-injection SkyActiv 1.5-litre petrol engine which, like the other petrol units in Mazda's SkyActiv range, features a high compression ratio. The engine is longitudinally mounted in the nose of the car. The Paris car featured a six-speed manual gearbox, but a six-speed automatic transmissions will be offered as an option in some markets.
There's also set to be a 2.0-litre engine for some regions. Both powerplants are reworked versions of engines already powering the company’s hatchbacks and are likely to offer around 140bhp and 180bhp respectively.
This represents a small power advantage over current models – our source admitted that the "US market wouldn’t accept less power" – but with the weight savings they promises superior power-to-weight ratios, extra performance and considerable fuel economy and CO2 advantages.
Mazda is already being bullish about the credentials of the new rear-drive chassis which, as before, has double-wishbone front suspension and a multi-link rear end.
Company boss Masamichi Kogai has already talked about the new car recapturing the agility and fun of the first generation model. "The original concept behind the MX-5 was so simple; to offer the pure joy of a lightweight sports car that moves precisely as the driver intends," he said.
To assist this the engine now sits lower and further back than previously, lowering the centre of gravity and, according to product development boss Nobuhiro Yamamoto, the MX-5 now has a perfect 50:50 weight balance.
The design work was mainly carried out at the company’s Japanese headquarters under the direction of Ikuo Maeda. Like the company’s recent saloons and hatchbacks it’s referred to as being part of the ‘Kodo’ design philosophy – but it’s a more simple, sculptured look than we’ve come to expect from modern Mazdas. It's more sharp-edged than with previous MX-5s too.
Inside, there are plenty of MX-5 hallmarks. It’s still a snug two-seater and it’s still possible to lower the manually operated soft-top hood with one hand. You still sit low in the car but the view out is claimed to be superior as the bonnet has been lowered and the A-pillars and windscreen header rail have been made thinner.
Like previous incarnations the cabin looks cluttered and all the controls are simple. The centre of the dash top is now dominated by an infotainment screen, derived from the Mazda 3 hatch. Like other Mazdas it’s also controlled by a rotary knob, nestling next to the conventional handbrake.
There’s also a tangible uplift in cabin quality compared to previous incarnations, with far more soft-touch surfaces and more stowage space. More attention has also been paid to keeping passengers from being buffeted whilst driving with the hood down. Mk1 MX-5 fans will also no doubt recognise the headrest-mounted speakers, intended to help maintain music volume with the roof down.
Body-coloured inserts on the door tops are, said Yamamoto, designed to bring the outside into the car’s cabin and break down the “border” between outside and inside that the doors would normally form.
Prices will be announced closer to the on sale date but there’s likely to be a small rise compared to current models. As such a base 1.5-litre model should cost around £20,000 when it hits the showrooms.
When the new Mazda MX-5 launches there will only be a soft-top model - though a folding metal-roofed coupé will join the line-up later, as this model currently accounts for 80 per cent of UK sales and is popular among many European and Japanese market buyers. The second generation folding hard-top is said to be lighter and packaged more efficiently, delivering slightly improved boot volume.
To achieve economies of scale, the MX-5 is being developed built alongside a Fiat Chrysler Automobiles model, originally announced as an Alfa Romeo. Insiders suggest around 40 per cent of parts will be common between the two cars; typically, joint ventures use upwards of 60 per cent of common parts.
However, with Fiat chief Sergio Marchionne insistent that any future Alfa would only be built in Italy, the MX-5’s sister model is likely now to wear a Fiat or Abarth badge, something which our source indicates had yet to be fully communicated by Fiat to Mazda.
See What Car?'s Mazda Mx-5 video preview
Watch the Mazda MX-5 reveal video
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