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Redesigned 2016 Mazda MX-5 Miata's Designer Discusses New Approach to Iconic Roadster

Redesigned 2016 Mazda MX-5 Miata's Designer Discusses New Approach to Iconic Roadster

By Jeff Youngs, September 04, 2014

Mazda has revealed the redesigned 2016 MX-5 Miata, and while few new mechanical details were divulged, Derek Jenkins, Mazda North America director of design, discussed the new Miata's design in detail with reporters at an event in California. Before sharing Jenkins' analysis of the 2016 Miata's styling, let's recap what we know about the new sports car's hardware.

Having shed approximately 225 lbs., the 2016 Mazda MX-5 Miata will employ the automaker's fuel-saving Skyactiv powertrain technology. The 4-cylinder engine is mounted behind the front axle and resides lower in the chassis than before, giving the new Miata a front-midship drivetrain layout while at the same time reducing the center of gravity and ensuring a 50/50 front-to-rear weight distribution.

The Skyactiv engine powers the Miata's rear wheels. The cars displayed in California were equipped with short-throw manual gearboxes, but an automatic transmission option is expected, likely paired with paddle shifters.

Lightweight, multi-spoke aluminum wheels measuring 16- or 17-in. in diameter were bolted to the display cars, and wrapped in Yokohama Advan performance tires. The 16-in. wheel had a dark finish, while the 17-in. wheel featured a smoked chrome appearance. Note that each wheel employs a 4-lug design, perhaps a nod to quicker wheel swaps during track day events.

For greater mechanical details, we'll all need to be patient. Beyond these confirmations and observations, Jenkins kept discussion of the new car primarily to exterior and interior design.

The mission, according to Jenkins, was to create a simple, lightweight, and affordable roadster, which is what the Miata has been since it debuted 25 years ago. However, given modern safety regulations, achieving such goals is harder than ever. For example, pedestrian-collision standards require a certain amount of crush zone between the hood and the engine in order to reduce the potential for injury, yet the new Miata's hood remains low and rakish while still meeting the requirements.

Additionally, Jenkins acknowledged that the design team needed to be careful not to alienate the Miata's existing enthusiast base while at the same time pushing the styling envelope enough to attract new enthusiasts to the car. "We had to get that balance right," said Jenkins. "The balance between a classic roadster and something totally modern and new."

Starting at the front of the redesigned Miata, Jenkins said the new MX-5 is wider and lower than the car it replaces, and that all versions will have standard LED headlights, LED running lights, and LED fog lamps in order to ensure slim lighting designs. Claiming the new Miata displays more "confidence and attitude"--a direct result of feedback from current Miata owners--Jenkins explained that the design team emphasized "taut, lean" lines and resisted certain elements of Mazda's current "Kodo" styling traits to ensure that the next-generation Miata remained pure, simple, and clean.

A defining character line is pulled sharply up and over the front fenders, and then down and back to the roadster's beltline in order to emphasize the Miata's cab-rearward styling, emphasizing a long hood and short rear overhang. The blacked-out windshield posts and header will be standard on all versions of the car, helping to make the redesigned Miata look lower and the cabin to appear pushed farther back on the chassis.

One of the original design details of this fourth-generation Miata, a subtle line rises from the doors, starting beneath the door handles, flaring into the rear fenders and up over the rear wheels in order to emphasize the fact that the MX-5 is rear-wheel drive. "All the power and strength (of the design) comes through this hip area and puts the power on the rear wheel." Jenkins says.

Around back, the trunk tapers into round, inboard-mounted taillights, a treatment that Jenkins claims will accentuate the Miata's wide rear fenders and further emphasize the rear-drive powertrain. The taillight design is a reinterpretation of the original Miata, according to Jenkins, the blades extending to the sides of the car to further imply width.

Though the new Miata is lighter and smaller than the car it replaces, Jenkins says the new design does not compromise interior space. Clearly driver focused, the Miata's cabin is designed and executed to deliver an "aspirational, high-quality feeling" and a "premium, sophisticated look and feel," according to Mazda. One new detail is upper door panel trim rendered in the same color as the exterior paint.

Jenkins describes the Miata's dashboard as being as low, as thin, and as simple as it can be. The driver faces a 3-gauge binnacle designed to re-create the intimacy and immediacy of the original Miata. A large tachometer resides in the center of the cluster, and the steering wheel is flanked by large, round air vents. The Mazda Connect infotainment system's display screen rises from the top of the dashboard, above air vents, a large hazard flasher button, and round climate control knobs. A rotary control knob sits on the center console aft of the stubby, short-throw shifter, and is used to operate the Mazda Connect system. Storage bins are located between the new Miata's seats.

In summing up the 2016 Mazda MX-5 Miata's design, Jenkins told his California audience: "Never before in the history of this car has the jump from generation to generation been so profound."

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