Derek Jenkins, Mazda’s director of design, introduced the 2016 Mazda MX-5 Miata at simultaneous events in Spain, Japan and—where Jenkins actually was—Monterey, California. While admitting that getting the opportunity was a dream-come-true type of thing for a designer, the next thought he had was “I hope we don’t screw this up.”
From our first look at the 2016 Mazda MX-5 Miata, they didn’t. While admitting that the difference between the third generation and the new fourth generation Miata was a bigger jump than between any previous generational changes, the choice was between going too modern, losing the fans of the iconic Mazda Miata, and not far enough to “capture the hearts and minds of potential new enthusiasts.” Not to worry. Although the 2016 Miata is significantly changed from its predecessors, it remains readily identifiable as a Miata.
The changes, naturally, begin at the front of the car. Jenkins noted that a design imperative was getting the front of the car as low as possible—“impossibly low”—while still meeting pedestrian impact requirements. Jenkins said this was made possible by placing the engine low in the car (which should also be good for keeping the center of gravity low as well).
The design team resisted the chrome trim design element of the Mazda family front ends (as on the Mazda6, for example) to keep the purity of the traditional Miata design, said Jenkins. The 2016 Miata will also have full LED headlights and running lights to allow the front light cluster to be as small as possible. The original Miata had pop-up headlights for a smooth front end, but also had the small turn signals set into the front bumper. The new headlights are a nod to those turn signals.
With the low hood, the prominent front fenders actually peak about halfway back to the A-pillar before it shoots to the back with a dip at the doors, for good visibility and the roadster look. Jenkins noted that there are no lines on the sides of the car—again for the purity of the original design—although a lot of attention was paid to the shape at the hip line and how it flows into large rear fenders.
The windshield and outside mirrors are black, regardless of the color of the rest of the fourth-generation Miata, to emphasize a cab-rearward look as well as make the car look lower.
The rear end was designed to have a “dramatic top view” with the fenders tapering in toward the rear. The taillights are set close together, helping to emphasize the width of the rear fenders. The shape of the taillights also pays homage to those of the first generation Miata, a circle set inside a pill shape. Jenkins said the design team didn’t want to just copy those lights, so instead took the circle and set it into the rear bodywork, with the rest of the taillight wrapping around the rear end to form the sidemarker light.
Wheels will be either 16-inch or 17-inch. Jenkins, for the record, likes the bigger wheels.
Overall, said Jenkins, the exterior design has more “confidence and attitude.” It’s a “classic silhouette with a contemporary feeling.”
Goals for the interior were to make it “more aspirational”—code for less cheap-looking—while retaining the driver-focused elements of previous Mazda cockpits. The symmetry of the original design was important, and Mazda’s interior designers worked on keeping the dash slim while still meeting all safety requirements. The thinking was that they didn’t want a bulky interior to go with the taut lines of the exterior.
The instrument panel will have three dials with the tachometer in the center, while the center console will be “prominent” while being shrink-wrapped around the transmission tunnel. With the center console high, the gearshift lever can be short, important for the Miata.
According to Mazda, the 2016 Miata will be the “most compact” Miata yet, putting to rest any fears that the fourth generation would follow the industry-typical pattern of making each generation of a model bigger and heavier. In fact, according to Mazda, the fourth generation will be more than 200 lbs lighter than its predecessor, or about 2,300 lbs, remarkable considering the emissions and safety requirements of the new car versus the first generation.
I had the opportunity to spend a week with the 1990 Mazda Miata when that particular car was one of only two Miatas on East Coast. Probably no car I’ve driven in my career as an automotive writer attracted more attention than did that Miata—perhaps more than when I drove a then brand new Viper through Manhattan. No one was able to ignore either and most people reacted, well, “favorably” just doesn’t go nearly far enough.