New Mazda MX-5 finally lands in New Zealand
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THE GEN 4 MX-5 HAS GAINED A SMILE, AND A BESOTTED CHAMPION
If Mazda were looking for a spokesperson for the all-new MX-5 it couldn’t have found a more enthusiastic and knowledgeable advocate than the roadster’s project manager, Nobuhiro Yamamoto.
Involved since the generation two MX-5 in 1996, Yamamoto was determined to have this fourth incarnation stand out — so much so that it took two years just to perfect the bonnet to his standard.
Yamamoto has worked for Mazda for 40 years, half that time on the MX-5.
“My hobby is the MX-5,” he joked to local motoring media while in Auckland for the New Zealand launch of the roadster.
When the MX-5 was launched in 1989, Yamamoto said “no one thought there was a market for a lightweight sports car ”.
“The MX-5 is a pure fun ... and there has been 26 years of fun.”
The fourth-generation MX-5 will come in two variants — the the GSX (1.5-litre engine) and the Limited (2-litre engine) with a six-speed transmission in manual or automatic.
Mazda New Zealand managing director Andrew Clearwater said the 1009kg 1.5-litre manual was seen “as the purist’s car”. Its engine produces 96kW of power and 150Nm of torque .
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It is also 120kg lighter than the previous version. The 2-litre manual will be 96kg lighter than its predecessor, with output figures of 118kW and 200Nm.
The GSX will sit on 16-inch alloys while the Limited gains 17-inch, plus it has black leather seats instead of the standard black fabric.
Mazda said it expected there would be an even split in demand from buyers between the 1.5-litre and the two 2-litre models.
“Previous MX-5 models have won a total of 180 awards around the globe including two New Zealand Car of the Year Awards, in 1990 and 2005, and I really believe this latest MX-5 will significantly add to this number,” he said.
When it came to creating a new version of the famous roadster, Yamamoto said the company needed to “innovate in order to preserve”.
Not only does the MX-5 include Mazda’s Kodo (“soul of motion”) design ethos and SkyActiv technology, but the designers also focused on the Japanese phrase ‘‘jinba ittai’’ (“horse and rider as one”).
Generation four MX-5 is lower and wider than the previous model with a short overhang and the driver’s seat closer to the centre of the car to create a sense of “oneness” with the car, Yamamoto said.
With a 50:50 weight distribution the new roadster has the lowest centre of gravity of any MX-5.
Mazda also used aluminium where it had the “greatest effect”.
“We used any technique to reduce weight in the Mazda; every gram counted,” the project manager said.
“Every gram counted” was a frequent refrain as he explained to the media the design and build process of the car.
The bonnet design was also essential to Yamamoto, with a strong line from the inside of the front light curving across to the outside of the rear window and a wheel arch panel merging with the bonnet create a “masculine” and assertive appearance.
It took two years from the reveal of the prototype for the engineering staff to get it the pre-production model perfect.
“When we showed the model to the teams, and there were a few hundred people there, they said it couldn’t be done,” Yamamoto said.
“I said to them, they are not just engineers, they are artisans.”
His pep talk — and more likely his determination — worked and he got the bonnet he wanted.
Yamamoto also challenged critics of narrow front headlights.
With the grille and lights combined in this way, Yamamoto said the the front looked like a face.
“Get down and look at the front grille, and now it looks like a smile,” he said.
The boot isn’t the largest, but has enough space for two standard carry-on bags, though probably isn’t wide enough for a golf bag.
But Yamamoto gave even that a positive spin, telling the Kiwi media that golfers could place the bag in the passenger seat so they didn’t have to transport a friend to the course andcould thus claim the car to themselves.
The interior gets an all-new look too, with the three-gauge analogue instrument panel centred around a large tachometer with the speedometer to the right and an information display on the left.
Winding down the fabric roof is done manually, with the removable wind deflector between the headrests now having a notch for easy access when you need to pull the roof back on.
And, as the project manager pointed out, the notch also saved a few grams when it came to weight-saving.
Yep, literally every gram counted.
Safety-wise, the cabin has front and side airbags as standard equipment.
The side airbags are on a bracket on the outside shoulder of the seat to protect occupants’ heads, even with the top down.
Both GSX and Limited models have blind-spot monitoring and rear cross traffic alert.
The Limited model also comes with lane departure warning.
To demonstrate how far the roadster has come — plus show how the company remained true to the original concept — Mazda New Zealand had two first-generation NA modelsof the MX-5 at the Hampton Down racetrack launch venue.
Journalists were given the chance to drive the new ND version, and the original, at speed around the track.
The simplicity of the NA nearly stole the attention from the generation four.
But the handling of the new MX-5, plus the output from the engine, showed why the 1.5-litre will be favoured by driving enthusiasts.
Unfortunately, torrential rain meant we had to keep the speed down, but as we drove around Hampton Downs, Yamamoto was watching us from the side of the track, and even-present smile on his face.