23 March 2004

Mazda has a huge surprise up its sleeve with the next MX-5: it will split into two models next time, with a classic soft-top roadster due in autumn 2005, while a folding metal coupé-cabriolet will arrive a few months later.

The Japanese firm is developing the metal roof in-house, instead of taking the supplier route picked by GM, Peugeot, Renault and Mercedes, who rely on the likes of Karmann and Heuliez to devise and build their folding roof systems.

Having two roof designs should attract those currently turned off by the security and refinement sacrifices of a cloth top, without alienating the cult following built up by the current car over the past 15 years.

A senior Mazda source told Autocar that the MX-5’s rear end has been redesigned to accommodate the shape of a folding metal roof. Inevitably, boot space will suffer.Although fundamentally a 15-year-old design, the MX-5 was last year crowned best driver’s car by Autocar, and the new model will be based on the RX-8 platform with more electronic driver aids. ‘The engineers know that if it doesn’t handle better than the current car then we have failed,’ said an insider.

The engine line-up will mirror the current car’s, although Mazda promises to go beyond today’s 146bhp 1.8. Bigger engines could take it into BMW Z4 territory.

The MX-5 is so recognisable that Mazda won’t introduce the family nose and styling cues; instead it will become a more muscular take on the classic roadster shape. ‘The Mazda 2, 3 and 6 are a deliberate attempt to give Mazda an identity, the MX-5 has its own identity,’ said Mazda design boss Moray Callum.

The Ibuki concept shown at last year’s Tokyo Motor Show doesn’t give many clues towards the new car’s styling. ‘The Ibuki was a car that suited the Tokyo show,’ said Callum. ‘It’s not the MX-5.’

However, that concept’s interior reflects the production car’s. The dividing line styling cue down the centre of the cockpit is carried over from the RX-8 and the drab black plastics of the current car are dumped. Stephen Odell, Mazda’s head of sales and marketing, revealed that the MX-5’s design has already been signed off and the production car will appear at next February’s Geneva show. UK sales follow in October 2005.

Mazda’s design boss Moray Callum has also confirmed the possibility of another, larger convertible based on the RX-8’s platform. The car is likely to be a drop-top version of the RX-7 sports car, due to arrive in two years’ time. The RX-8’s ‘Freestyle’ suicide doors and lack of a B-pillar mean that there is already enough torsional rigidity in the car to chop the top off without the need for further strengthening.

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