This is it, the fourth-generation ‘ND’ 2015 Mazda MX-5 roadster, a new iteration of the Japanese brand’s modern classic entrusted with carrying the baton held by its record-selling predecessors.
Revealed today with some fanfare in the US, Spain and its home of Japan, the new model is made to return the car to its humble roots, not so much reinventing the wheel as bringing it full-circle. The car you see here is the shortest of any MX-5, and lighter than any we have seen in years.
The new version of the world’s top-selling sportscar — as of July this year, 940,000 and counting including almost 17,000 in Australia — is the fourth update since the iconic 1989 original, itself a then-modern take on the classic 1960s British icons from the likes of MG and Triumph.
Mazda no doubts hopes this car returns some of the magic to its sales figures. The current more expensive NC version has sold in appreciably smaller figures (half or less) over the past six years of its nearly nine-year life-cycle than the NA and NB iterations regularly did.
Long-anticipated and much-publicised, the new two-seater MX-5 is the first properly sporty application of the company’s weight-saving and cost-favourable Skyactiv suite of platforms, engines and transmissions.
It is 95 millimetres shorter yet 10mm wider than before (3915mm long, 1730mm wide and 1235mm high) and — as repeatedly promised — weighs about 100 kilograms less thanks to significant use of aluminium on the boot and bonnet, fenders and bumpers and the fitment of a lighter fabric roof.
The company has therefore put a rubber-stopper on the progressive increase in size and weight over the first three generations brought about, Mazda says, by safety requirements. This one is actually 35mm shorter than the NA generation from 1989.
Hallmarks such as even weight distribution (now exactly 50:50), rear-wheel-drive and an emphasis on lightness rather than power continue unabated — in fact, they appear to be enhanced. Mazda’s team of marketers describes this approach with the maxim “innovate in order to preserve”.
It might also be because the company has set its own bar that much higher. The company says the ethos it calls Jinba Ittai (horse and rider becoming one) that emphasises lightness and driver-focus is now carried over to its more humble cars such as the Mazda 3 and Mazda 6 too. Apparently.
We still, unfortunately, cannot bring you everything. Mazda is still playing coy on some crucial details, such as specifics surrounding the engine/s to be used and the ND’s actual kerb weight.
Speculation suggests a circa-130kW 2.0-litre Skyactiv naturally-aspirated unit based on that in the Mazda 3, plus a price-leading circa-100kW 1.5-litre engine for entry cars. A turbo option is also understood to be a possibility. We’ll just have to wait and see.
For reference, the outgoing NC model’s port-injected 2.0-litre non-turbo unit makes 118kW/188Nm.
We do at least know that the engine/s are to be laid out in a front-midship configuration and, befitting the car’s rear-drive layout, mounted longitudinally. As reported previously, Mazda has positioned the engine closer to the middle of the car which, paired to the lighter kerb weight, renders a lower yaw inertial movement and a lower centre of gravity.
Available are new Skyactiv six-speed manual and six-speed torque-converting automatic gearboxes familiar from cars such as the Mazda 3 but re-tuned for the MX-5.
Underneath the body sits redesigned suspension with a carryover double-wishbone front/multi-link rear configuration, a new electric-assisted power steering system (the NC’s lovely hydraulic system has gone the way of the Dodo) and ventilated front/solid rear brake discs.
Interestingly, this version sports skinnier tyres than the NC (at least in Japanese spec), with the car we viewed fitted with 195/50 R16 hoops rather than the NC’s 2015/45s.
From a design perspective, the new MX-5 builds on the angular, swooping design language Mazda calls Kodo. In design-speak, the shorter and wider shell improves the squat proportions, while the complex body surfacing gives the contrary impression of something being both static and moving.
Touches such as the lines the travel from the headlights, peak at the front fenders and converge in front of the rear tyres and sweep up over the rear haunches were influenced, Mazda says, by Japanese calligraphy.
The height of the bonnet is lower on this version than before and both the A-pillar, windscreen header and seats have been shifted rearward. This windscreen-surrounding pillar is also thinner in order to improve visibility through corners, and the hip point is lower.
Mazda says it tasked its designers with penning what it considers a timeless design rather than one that “simply accommodates current trends” and claims to have come up with something “even purer” than the one its enthusiasts have been familiar with.
“Just one look at the fourth-generation MX-5 should get one’s pulse racing,” the company claims. “Sitting in it should bring a smile to the driver’s face and instantaneously spark an urge to take the top down and for for a drive.”
The focus on the stripped-back two-seater cabin was to “melt away the boundaries between the inside and outside of the car”. The company says the fabric roof (manual) is easier to operate, wind-buffeting is reduced and headrest speakers improve the ambience.
Interestingly, the body panels appear to extend into the door trim and help “dissolve the visual boundaries” between the MX-5’s outside and its inside. From the driver’s seat, the ridge line that runs atop the door trim appears to traverse towards to front fenders.
Mazda says its decision to position the tacho and small-diameter steering wheel on the same axis creates symmetry with the round vents on either side of the central instruments, establishing a single running lines across the cabin’s breadth. A familiar MZD multimedia system lies within.
Curiously, Mazda says a “human-centric perspective” was adopted in the “pursuit of developing advanced safety performance”. We aren’t sure what other perspective it could muster as an alternative though…
Speaking on the launch of the fourth-generation car, Mazda’s program manager for the MX-5 Nobuhiro Yamamoto paid homage to the MX-5’s forebears, inferring the company wears its influences on its figurative sleeve.
“I wish to express my gratitude and heartfelt respect to the European car-makers that originally pioneered the fun-to-drive lightweight sportscar,” Yamamoto-san said.
The first MX-5 premiered in Chicago in February 1989, and is credited with reintroducing the world to the cheap and compact roadster started in Britain in the 1940s and popular through the 1960s.