Purity Threat? Mazda Ponders What to Do With the MX-5

Steph Willems
by Steph Willems
purity threat mazda ponders what to do with the mx 5

Like Jeep’s Wrangler, Mazda’s MX-5 Miata is a vehicle both beloved by purists and under threat from changing norms. Little has changed about the model since its inception, and redesigns — especially the last one — are the product of untold levels of scrutiny, calculation, and deliberation.

It’s a vehicle with an inherent purity. Weight, power, and balance are all arrived at after months and years of careful planning, and any upset to the recipe carries with it the danger of alienating owners and intenders alike. And this is why high-level talk of electrification for the ND’s successor is bound to raise eyebrows.

According to Britain’s Autocar, Mazda bigwigs are considering adding a new ingredient to the Miata mixture: an electric motor, either part of a hybrid drivetrain, or the sole motivator of the vehicle.

The fourth-generation MX-5 kicked off production in 2015, meaning it’s come time for Mazda brass to start thinking of a follow-up. Careful consideration (and engineering) went into the ND in order to ensure the roadster was still a plucky, easy-to-live-with car with attractive sporting attributes. Keeping weight down sits at the top of an MX-5 designer’s to-do list.

And that hasn’t changed.

“The lightweighting and compact size are essential elements of MX-5, so even if we apply electrification, we have to make sure it really helps to achieve the lightweighting of the vehicle,” said Mazda R&D head Ichiro Hirose.

Electric motors are compact and powerful, capable of delivering maximum torque from rest, but to keep up the momentum they require hefty battery packs. Should Mazda go the hybrid route, an electric motor and associated (albeit smaller) battery pack will still add weight to the vehicle. Hardly ideal. Currently, a stock MX-5 tips the scales at about 2,345 pounds, with motivation provided by a 2.0-liter four-cylinder making 181 horsepower and 151 lb-ft of torque.

But why go this route, or even think about going this route at all? Blame a shifting landscape.

The preference of people who enjoy driving sports cars might be changing, so we need to think about what direction society is going,” said Mazda’s design chief, Ikuo Maedahe. “We want to look at the best powertrain to keep the vehicle lightweight, but because of the diversifying requirements and preference, we need to explore various options.

He added, “I don’t have the answer now but we need to make a vehicle that people can own without worrying that they are not being eco-friendly.”

That comment isn’t a confirmation that the next-gen MX-5 will adopt an electrified powertrain, but it’s a strong hint that Mazda plans to go that route. A successor to the current MX-5 isn’t expected to appear until possibly 2022, but the jury’s out on whether the automaker will offer updates to the existing product, or go in a new direction. Being that it’s not a huge source of volume, Mazda has the luxury of taking its time.

MX-5 sales reached a post-recession high in the U.S. in 2017, with some 11,294 of the little things finding new buyers — nearly double the volume its NC predecessor saw earlier in the decade. Since that high point, demand has fallen off. Some 8,971 MX-5s left the lot last year, and the first 10 months of 2019 saw the model fall 14.6 percent.

[Images: Mazda]

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  • Jeff S Jeff S on Dec 03, 2019

    Mazda should just continue making the MX-5 the way it is and wait till the battery technology gets smaller, longer range, and less expensive and go all electric. Keep the manual transmission option until they go all electric and lighten the body with an aluminum hood, trunk lid, and doors. Maybe eventually go to a carbon fiber body.

  • Brian in oz Brian in oz on Dec 11, 2019

    I think mazda is missing the boat. A hardtop miata/mx5 without the added weight & wasted boot space of the folding hardtop or a targa style roof. A car sized a smidge bigger would help.

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