The world is in a state of flux yet Mazda are still holding the candle up for simple and efficient motoring experiences with the MX5.
What will the next MX5 look, sound, and drive like? Will it be designated the ‘NE’ or ‘NF’? Nothing has been released yet officially apart from Mazda’s intention to create an even better version of what exists today. However, there are press releases and statements by Mazda heavyweights which suggest certain avenues.
Mazda have been huge advocates of finding efficiencies in current technologies while not entirely convinced of the virtues of all electric motoring. That’s an argument for another day but for the immediate future, Mazda look invested in combustion engine technology with their SKYACTIV-X engines.
The philosophy of the MX5 has always been of a lightweight vehicle capable of real world speed. So far, the company has resisted turbo charging or fitting more powerful engines to stay in line with the idea of a balanced lightweight car and one would think that will continue.
Naturally aspirated cars exist in small numbers today due to emission regulations of today and the tougher ones of tomorrow. Despite Mazda’s extensive experience with turbocharged rotary engines, it’s doubtful they will go down the turbocharged route as this would alter the nature of the car.
Would they consider hybridisation? If we look at their current line up and product development, probably not. Hybridisation adds weight, something engineers will be trying to avoid. There’s also the issue of balance and weight distribution.
I would wager Mazda would sooner find ways to make the car lighter and fit a less powerful engine than fit complex hybrid systems to the car.
What about making an electric MX5? Like Porsche’s 911, the MX5 would probably be the last model in the lineup to go electric as it is at odds with the engaging, tactile, and mechanical feel the MX5 promises and delivers. Sure the sound isn’t anything to write home about but I for one would take a four cylinder buzz over the sound of…stones hitting the undertray or a fake interpretation of speed by a theatrical composer.
Mazda simply aren’t that invested in electric vehicles, yet. The infrastructure isn’t there in most countries unless you’re driving a Tesla and the environmental impact seems to be debated no end.
So what will an NE Mazda MX5 be driven by and look like?
Mazda translated it’s Kodo design language to the MX5 with some success depending on who you talk to. Some lamented the loss of the happy face that adorned the original NA MX5 right through to the NC, while others found the rear a little confused. It was a shame to lose the legacy of the MX5 face and rear lozenge tail lights but progress must be made and an audience must grow. If only Product Development Owners of these iconic cars took a leaf out of Porsche’s book and iterated carefully they would create a wonderful legacy.
The squinty lights at the front would likely continue as it would be too soon to change the new design direction. Personally I would like to see cleaner tail light integration at the rear rather than a mix of two design approaches.
One thing the current ND MX5 has introduced is a wonderful set of curves. The previous NC aped the original NA bathtub look successfully, but adding curves along the hip line and front arches just gave the car a more sporting look. Hopefully this continues.
What about the things we don’t want to see? Fake vents, running lights in the shape of a logo, electric folding top, slab sided panels, big bum fake diffusers, and definitely no more slats and vents cut through the bodywork than we already have. It doesn’t need to look like a time attack vehicle!
The interior on the current MX5 is classic Mazda, meaning it’s functional with a few nice touches here and there. The lightweighting continues inside however at times this gives the impression, upon touch, that the build is a little flimsy. I’d like to see Mazda improve their perceived quality inside the cabin while remaining true to their lightweight ethos.
I’d also like to see the return of the tombstone centre console. It doesn’t need to look exactly like the original but it felt very much like Mazda owned that with the original. Every new car seems to be designing a horizontal line from driver side to passenger, offering nothing unique. The challenge is making the car feel modern while paying respect to the past.
This is the big one. The latest reports are mixed. Mazda are keen to continue making fuel efficient internal combustion engined cars with their range of SKYACTIV engines.
Mazda have so far steered clear of hybridisation of their other models, nor have they truly explored electrification although the newly planned architecture is said to factor in electrification according to an interview with Mazda CEO Akira Marumoto by Autonews. Either of those two options are then unlikely given the complexity and cost of development, testing, and production.
Where Mazda have invested in is their SKYACTIV range and more recently the 2.0-litre four-cylinder SKYACTIV-X engine which promises better fuel efficiency and improved emissions. And if the MX5 is going to remain free of weight adding hybridisation and yawn inducing electrification then emissions will be a big part of that story. Should Mazda be forced to add hybridisation, the SKYACTIV-X engine is capable of supporting it.
The other reason they would most likely stick to the development of the SKYACTIV range of engines is from a marketing perspective. Mazda have publicly questioned the well to wheel environmental credentials of electrification instead putting faith in their own resources, development, and engineering to continue to push for more fuel efficient vehicles.
So what about power? The obsession with weight takes precedence over power, so an engine that’s more powerful but with weight penalties won’t be factored in. The balance of weight and power is at the very core of the MX5 ethos, with neither dominating the other despite a large majority of voices in the car community crying out for just a bit more.
The current line up consists of a buzzy 1.5 and more potent 2.0 litre engines so it’s hard to see how much smaller Mazda would go without turbocharging. Given the company’s long history with turbocharging it surely must be considered an option.
Mazda have also filed patents for an in-line 6 cylinder engine with a degree of modularity which would factor in 4 cylinder variants. At the same time a new rear drive platform looks set to deliver the same efficiencies by underpinning the next generation Mazda 6 and potentially the MX5 although given the size difference of both vehicles this would be unlikely.
It goes without saying the MX5 will still be offered in manual as well as an auto option, in that order.
One of the key aspects of the MX5’s success is its low weight. Over the years it gradually gained weight but for the current ND model Mazda focused on getting the weight down as close to the original as possible. Reports suggest this approach is set to continue although how they will achieve further weight reductions will be a big challenge. Carbon fibre is the material of choice for making vehicles lighter however the cost to produce may be prohibitive as one of the other key aspects of the Mazda’s success has been affordability.
Mazda have to be careful not to push the MX5 too far into the grey area between affordable sports cars like the Toyota GT86 and ever faster hot hatches, and the lower end of luxury sports cars occupied by the Porsche Boxster and Cayman, BMW M2 and Z4, Toyota Supra, and Alpine A110 soon to be joined by the next Nissan Z. Importantly that grey area is full of used examples of those vehicles making the decision making process very difficult indeed.
Any price increases have to be carefully considered and justified but could be realised by releasing a tiered offering much like today. Don’t care about performance that much? Here’s the entry level MX5 for you with all the essence of the MX5 engineered in at a reasonable price. Want Lotus-like handling if not performance with a few more luxury features? Here’s the top line MX5 but it’s going to cost a bit more.
The next MX5 is going to be a very important vehicle for Mazda. Appetite for little sports cars may have waned but if there’s something we have been reminded of again most recently, we need joy in our lives, and fun, and shared experiences. And the MX5 fills that criteria time and time again.