Fair Warning: I can't claim to be completely impartial (I own a second-generation NB and consider the Miata franchise to be one of but a few sacrosanct franchises in modern motoring), but I will share my honest first impressions of the new car, both good and bad.
Here are my notes:
- 2,200 pounds. That's roughly what this car will weigh if we can take Mazda at its word that it has managed to cut over 100 kilos – 220 pounds – versus today's NC Miata. Given that this car will almost certainly be safer, stiffer, better equipped and more refined, that's incredibly impressive engineering. In fact, that's lighter than an NB generation car.
- First Impression: The new car looks incredibly compact yet sinuous, with tightly snubbed overhangs what designer Derek Jenkins called an "impossibly low" hoodline - impressive in this day and age of pedestrian crash regulations. Largely free of adornments, I think this is a shape that will age well.
- While still looking like a proper MX-5, this ND trades some of its predecessors' occasionally cartoonish and friendly rounded lines in favor of something more aggressive.
- Piercing stare from those small, lightweight LED headlamps contrasts with its large lower air intake.
- Profile is clean with almost zero character lines but nice barrel to the doors and fenders, with prominent J-kick to doorline retained and better rear-drive proportions thanks to a more harmonious door line/rear wheel relationship. Fender-resident side lenses are a nice design detail that add visual thrust.
- Rear end has a lot of taper to it and is likely to be the car's most controversial view. There's almost some scaled-down Jaguar F-Type in the way it curves inward, not to mention the taillamp forms. The rear bumper cap looks better integrated than before, and the whole back end looks more athletic, but not necessarily prettier. It looked better the more I looked at it, but it's going to take some getting used to for me, mostly due to those light fixtures.
- Mazda claims the new car is lower, too, and it definitely seems to sit more snuggly on its wheels, but as Tom Matano, one of the fathers of the original Miata reminded me, "See, this is a design model... 'design height' means fully loaded with gas and one person. So it's not necessarily like a production car sitting in a parking lot." Said another way, these cars could sit slightly lower than unladen production models.
- There are two Miatas in these photos, both Soul Red. The car shown indoors is a left-hand-drive working prototype riding on
18-inch16-inch four-lug wheels, while the outdoor car is a right-hand-drive fiberglass mockup wearing 17-inch four-lug alloys.
- Mazda officials tell me there are just three drivable prototypes of this car in the world – the one seen here, one in Barcelona and another in Tokyo for the other reveal events.
- The interior looks like a major improvement in terms of material choice and overall aesthetics. That's important – the cabin was arguably the biggest single area that needed improving in the current car.
- Center-mount tachometer, proper handbrake and a stubby gearshift lever appear to be all business. Steering wheel looks nice, too with a not-too-thin, not-too-thick rim. Excellent.
- Despite being a smaller overall car footprint-wise, officials say the NC's headroom and overall interior overall have been maintained.
- Handsome body-color door panels seen here will be limited to upper trim levels. It's possible the infotainment screen won't be fitted to all models as well. I know many Autoblog commenters have expressed aesthetic reservations about such tablet-style mounts, but at least the dashboard is very thin and minimal as a result, so sight lines and cabin airiness should improve.
- I worryingly spotted a sport-mode switch on the outdoor mockup, adjacent the six-speed gearshift. Mazda vehicle development engineer Dave Coleman assures me that the manual model will receive no such affectations – this fiberglass model accidentally used a shifter surround panel from an automatic model. Manual Miatas should be all sport, all the time.
- I know as an enthusiast I'm not supposed to care about such things, but the cupholders appear to continue a Miata tradition of being truly lousy afterthoughts. The cars we were shown had plug-in passenger knee-knockers and 'chicken wing' arm-reach units just ahead of the rear bulkhead. There might be better ones beneath the lidded center console storage but Mazda officials wouldn't share what's inside.
- The engine: Mazda still isn't saying how big, or how powerful it is, but it will certainly incorporate Skyactiv learnings and I'm anticipating our model will come with a 2.0-liter naturally aspirated four-cylinder. A turbo is also possible. Expect specs to be revealed soon, possibly at next month's Paris Motor Show.
- Cutaway powertrain diagrams reveal that the new car is in fact a front mid-engined design, with the entire block in between the axles. That's typically great for weight distribution, less so for interior space. Still, it's the proper tradeoff for this type of car.
- Mazda previously revealed that this car will make the switch to electric power steering – in this case, a rack-mounted dual-pinion system. The company's engineers have been far more successful tuning for feel than most automakers (see: RX-8, new Mazda3 and Mazda6), but proper calibration will be a make-or-break feature of the MX-5.
- Officials dutifully deflected questions about the rumored hardtop coupe version of this car – or even a lift-off hardtop accessory. Retired MiataFather Matano did express support to me for the idea of a hardtop coupe model, going on to say, "This time, well, a club racer – a coupe – would make sense. And it could even be made lighter by taking stuff out of it." As he is no longer working for Mazda, he says he has no personal knowledge as to whether Mazda is working on such a model.
- That said, I certainly expect a power-retractable hardtop (PRHT) to make a return appearance, but one wasn't shown. The fabric soft top is said to be similar in style and operation to the NC, but I didn't notice a header latch, so it's probably fully automatic in operation.
- No on-sale date has been given, but given that it's a 2016 model year, it cannot go on sale before January 1, 2015. More than likely, it will hit dealers significantly later. Given what little has been seen of development mules and prototypes so far, third-quarter of next year, (before summer is out) seems like a decent bet.
As the best-selling roadster of all time and perhaps the most road-raced car of the modern era, the Miata is a car that's pretty near to the spiritual center of gravity and moral center of the auto enthusiast world, too. Only a proper thrashing will really seal the deal, but upon first encounter, I don't see anything in the new fourth-generation Miata that should endanger that lovefest. What may be in danger, conversely, is my bank account.