7 March 2005

These are the first pictures of the new Mazda MX-5, the car charged with replacing one of the biggest successes in recent automotive history. The original MX-5 was unveiled in February 1989, since when it has received just one major facelift and a few minor tweaks. More than 700,000 MX-5s have been sold worldwide, so the all-new model has plenty to live up to.

Revealed at the Geneva Motor Show, the MX-5 will arrive in the UK late this year with a new chassis, new looks and new engines. Using a shortened version of the RX-8’s platform, the new car is still unmistakably MX-5. Mazda’s design team, led by Brit Moray Callum, has played it safe, reinterpreting the classic shape into an updated, more muscular design.

Callum has also resisted integrating the MX-5 into Mazda’s family style. ‘The 2, 3 and 6 are a deliberate attempt to give Mazda an identity, but the MX-5 has its own identity,’ he told Autocar last year.

The looks carry over several elements from the Ibuki concept car shown at the Tokyo Motor Show in 2003, particularly at the front end with its gaping oval mesh grille, rounded bonnet and aggressively flared wheelarches.

The new roadster is bigger than its predecessor in every dimension. Larger, 17-inch wheels fill the arches and the track is 75mm wider at the front and 55mm wider at the rear. The figures hint at more cabin space, with the wheelbase up 65mm to 2330mm, while shorter overhangs mean the car is just 20mm longer overall at 3995mm. An extra 40mm of width allows Mazda to offer side airbags for the first time, with the MX-5 now measuring 1720mm across, while 20mm of upward growth leaves the height at 1245mm.

The only big change to the manual canvas hood is the switch to a single latch from the current two-latch format. When folded, the roof still nestles behind the seats without encroaching on boot space. The rear end stays close to the current design, although the light cluster is reworked. Engineering

The same two-seat, front-engined, rear-wheel-drive format is retained, although the rear suspension is new, with a multi-link arrangement replacing the original double wishbone set-up.

Mazda’s engineers have worked overtime to keep the weight down: the new car is just 10kg heavier than the current model, thanks in part to the use of aluminium in the chassis. Kerbweight is 1110kg, despite more equipment and increased safety features. Power comes from two new engines derived from those used in the Mazda 6: a 124bhp 1.8-litre with 123lb ft of torque (only for Europe) and a 158bhp 2.0-litre with 139lb ft. Both engines rev to 6700rpm. Although official performance figures are yet to be revealed, expect them to better the 8.2sec 0-60mph time and 125mph top speed recorded by Autocar in the current 1.8, the most powerful version offered in the UK.

The 2.0-litre model will get a new six-speed gearbox that Mazda says was developed to provide a low-effort, short-stroke shift, while the 1.8 will get a five-speed manual. A six-speed auto complete with paddle-shift, is also on the cards, although the previous automatic MX-5 proved unpopular with UK buyers, so the auto may not make it to the UK.

Using the RX-8 platform has allowed Mazda to shift the engine 135mm back in the bay, creating a claimed perfect 50:50 weight distribution. The driving experience should also be helped by increases in chassis rigidity as well as the wider track.

The MX-5’s excellent rack-and-pinion power steering has been tweaked, with Mazda describing the steering response as ‘delightfully smooth.’ Insiders have previously said that anything other than an improvement on the current car’s fabulous handling will be seen as a failure.

Cabin On the inside, MX-5 fans will recognise the three-spoke steering wheel, which is rake-adjustable for the first time, and the driver’s seat has been given added movement to accommodate especially short or tall drivers. There are now three storage compartments behind the seats, including a lockable space that will hold 10 CDs. Two cupholders are located beneath a sliding panel behind the gearlever and there are bottle holders in each door. To encourage top-down driving in cooler weather, Mazda has added new waist-level air vents in the dashboard and a mesh wind deflector behind the seats.

Plans to build a folding hard-top version of the new roadster appear to have hit the buffers. Insiders had previously revealed Mazda’s plans to attract those buyers put off by a soft-top’s lack of security and all-weather protection. The folding hard-top was being developed in-house, according to rumours, but has now been shelved.

The all-new MX-5 will jump in price by up to £1500 on the old car, due mainly to the increased spec and more powerful engines, so prices should start at around £17,000. Even so, expect there to be a waiting list.

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