Mazda's drop-top cutie now into new generation
Mazda MX-5 roadster keeps a firm grasp on fun
When Mazda first pulled the covers off the original MX-5, the motoring world was divided in its opinion of the little roadster.
It bore hallmarks of the great British sports cars such as the Austin-Healey Sprite and MGB, but with the reliability of Japanese mass production and the marketing might of Mazda it was dripping potential.
After 25 years in production, while keeping a firm grasp on fun and sports car purity the whole time, the new MX-5 - badged Roadster in Japan and Miata in the United States - is still the drop-top cutie that's won it legions of fans around the world
Last week in California - timed to coincide with similar events in Tokyo and Barcelona - Mazda tore the covers off the long-awaited fourth generation of the MX-5.
Speculation has been rife on how the car would change with the need to fit in with Mazda's "kodo" design - the flowing form that can be seen in the Mazda2, Mazda3 and Mazda6, as well as our 2012 Driven Car of the Year, the CX-5 mid-sized SUV.
It also needed to integrate Mazda's SkyActiv efficiency programme - which has seen engines, transmissions, chassis and bodies rethought from every angle to meet an ambitious efficiency goal of 30 per cent improvements overall.
The Mazda MX-5 surges past spectators on the way to Laguna Seca race track.
Translating this to suit the most popular roadster ever produced is obviously not a simple task, and Mazda has yet to tell the world what the specification of the car actually is.
Driven had a good crawl over the new car at the launch event, and we've managed to fill in a few of the gaps - and Mazda will reveal more details of the car the upcoming Paris Motor Show.
The current design language easily fits the generation four car, with the guards pumped up to accommodate the kodo lines. A radically redesigned rear end continues the theme, with new LED lights reminiscent of Jaguar's stunning F-Type roadster, and a more aggressive front bar that tapers towards a far lower point, accented by stylish new lights that thankfully move away from the awkward "soapbar" lights from the past two generations.
Mazda hasn't yet confirmed that there will be a hard-top version, but it has been revealed to Driven that there again will be a model with a folding hard top.
Word from within the Hiroshima-based company is that the hard top uses an entirely new design, and promises to be lighter and faster than the current version.
The car has an impressive 100kg weight saving over the third-generation model, with the soft-top tipping the scales at 1129kg, the manual coupe at 1161kg and the auto version at 1171kg.
The Mazda MX-5 has an impressive 100kg weight saving over the previous model.
There are said to be two versions of the MX-5 on the way - one powered by a 1500cc longitudinally mounted four-cylinder and a two-litre. Power outputs, emissions and torque figures are still a mystery - despite guesses from the motoring world - with the engines likely to be part of Mazda's next-gen SkyActiv programme.
A host of new technologies are rumoured for the next stage of the highly successful efficiency programme, including HCCI engines running incredibly high compression ratios, predicted to be as high as 18:1. This means big power without the need for turbocharging, and helps put Mazda a step ahead of the rest of the car industry. Mazda plans to reveal the SkyActiv 2 changes at an event in the United States in November.
The engines will be teamed with six-speed automatic and manual transmissions specially calibrated to suit the mid-front mounting of the engines.
Suspension and braking changes aren't too radical, with double-wishbones at the front meaning maximum contact between rubber and road on aggressive turn-in, keeping the front wheels as vertical as possible; and a multi-link rear end. Like its predecessor, the new MX-5 will be set up relatively softly, which engineers say improves the road driving experience.
The Laguna Seca track displays a 25th anniversary message for the Mazda MX-5.
Safety features on the new MX-5 are in fitting with the rest of Mazda's range - including lane-departure warning, blind-spot monitoring and advance traction and stability controls.
The MZD-Connect infotainment system means a big screen front and centre, with controls mounted on the sporty steering wheel, set-up so drivers can easily use the system's host of features, and perform tasks such as sat-nav searches without taking their eyes off the road for extended periods.
The new car is expected to arrive in New Zealand towards the end of next year, with first media drives likely at the end of the first quarter. Mazda expects to be able to sharpen the pencil on the car's pricing, given that more sports models are in the market now than when the third-generation launched.
Comparative pricing was difficult when the current MX-5 landed, with few vehicles in the segment.
And pricing against rag-top Porsche and Lexus models was never going to see the MX-5 priced as the accessible convertible it was always designed to be.
MX-5 meets the Corkscrew
The previous generation Mazda MX-5, at the US launch of the all-new roadster, line up at Laguna Seca racetrack.
The Mazda MX-5 is the most-raced machine on the planet and to underline this fact, Mazda Raceway Laguna Seca, California became the battleground for media from around the world to put generation two MX-5s through their paces last week.
Laguna Seca, near Monterey, is one of top-rated tracks in North America - and with very good reason.
It combines high-speed, relatively flat corners with some elevation changes that really are crafted to challenge drivers and cars.
The most famous - not to mention most hair-raising - turn is the Corkscrew. It drops like a stone through a set of esses, leaving the driver blind from its super-steep entry until the exit of the second corner. Get it wrong at the start, and it's all over.
The famous Mazda Raceway Laguna Seca racetrack in California features one particularly stomach-dropping turn.
Thankfully for us, the Skip Barber Racing School instructors stopped anything too untoward happening - and really helped us understand just how well-sorted the MX-5s were on track, even with a power output that's only a fraction of that from most racecars.
• For a tour of the track, and the secret of beating the mighty Corkscrew, go tonzherald.co.nz.