KONA, Hawaii - Mazda Motor Corp. has redesigned its seminal Miata convertible to be more refined yet retain the charm of the original roadster.
To retain the car's essence, Mazda brought the original Miata's program manager out of retirement to lecture the staff of younger engineers.
As part of its global alphanumeric naming strategy, Mazda has deleted the name Miata and replaced it with MX-5 for the 2006 model year. Mazda used that name in Japan and Europe in the past. Now America gets it as well.
The basics: The U.S.-spec MX-5 carries no parts in common with its predecessor. But it does share many parts with other Mazdas, says Nobuhiro Yamamoto, deputy program manager for vehicle engineering.
The 2.0-liter engine comes from the global MZR four-cylinder engine family used in the Mazda3 and Mazda6. It shares its cylinder block, cylinder head, camshaft and connecting rods. The six-speed automatic transmission comes from the RX-8. The MX-5's new six-speed manual will be installed on the RX-8 later.
The MX-5's chassis has suspension mounting points similar to those of the RX-8. That means the two vehicles can run on the same assembly line despite being on different platforms. The antilock brakes, stability control, keyless locks and audio systems are shared across several platforms. Many of the MX-5 interior pieces will be used on other future vehicles.
Just like the Miata, all MX-5s are convertibles.
Notable features: Though the MX-5 is larger than its predecessor, its body is lighter and more rigid, Yamamoto says.
Mazda market research shows that Miata fans love the suspension dynamics of the ragtop. Although the redesigned vehicle has meatier tires and bigger brakes, Mazda engineered the MX-5's suspension to have the same road feel and grip as past models.
To get the suspension feeling just right, Mazda tested 96 tires and 473 damper settings. Engineers also hooked 42 sensors to a test driver to monitor biofeedback triggered by different dynamic settings on the vehicle. The result is a responsive suspension that is less harsh than past versions.
What Mazda says: "The new MX-5 reflects the joy of everyday driving, not just at the racetrack," says Tetsuo Fujitomi, deputy program manager for powertrain. "You can tell within five meters of driving."
Compromises and shortcomings: There will be no Miata badges on the vehicle, just the global MX-5 name. But if a particular market wishes to use the Miata name in brochures or advertising, that is acceptable.
The engineering team already is at work on a MazdaSpeed version of the vehicle. But given the eight-year life cycle of the new model, racers likely will have to wait several years for it to arrive.
Nuts and bolts: Mazda North American Operations has priced the 2006 MX-5 convertible, starting at $20,995, including shipping. Accounting for inflation, that is $1,190 less than when it was launched in 1989, excluding differences in equipment, according to Mazda. On a comparably equipped basis, Mazda says, the new model is $3,130 less than the original, adjusted for inflation. The car goes on sale in late August or early September.
The skinny: Mazda expects the new MX-5 to return to its glory days of selling 15,000 to 20,000 units a year in America, after dropping to 9,356 last year. c