Stand and salute the courage of Mazda for not just talking "zoom-zoom," but driving it, top-down, hair pulled back by the wind.
Mazda has the courage of its slogan and the proof is the all-new, fourth-generation, 2016 Mazda MX-5 Miata. What a triumph. This crazy-good little two-seater looks to be a masterwork of art and cunning possible only from a car company that believes small is beautiful.
"Making something bigger and more powerful doesn't always make it better," says Bob Hall, product planner of the original Miata launched 25 years ago.
The new MX-5 is a mix of elegance and sports-car raciness, one with a nose so low it seems to kiss the ground. The proportions are perfect, the stance wide and bold. Squinty little wedges form the LED headlamps. From just aft of the front wheel arches, the body slopes gently down to the finished tail. Long nose, short rear deck, optional 17-inch wheels that fill up the arches. Perfect and perfectly simple.
"The body of the car has no lines on it, in respect to the original car," says Derek Jenkins, Mazda's North American design chief.
As for cunning, cast your eye to the overhangs front and rear – especially up front; they are impossibly short. Robert Davis, Mazda's chief operating officer in the United States, winks and smiles when asked how Mazda meets front crash-test regulations. Unspoken answer: We're clever here at Mazda.
And there is more. How can a car with such a low hood meet pedestrian (impact) safety regulations? The car is wide, bold and beautifully proportioned. Yet, while it's stuffed with air bags and electronics, it's smaller, 100 kilograms lighter and will surely sell for less than $30,000 to start. Mazda has somehow managed to take the MX-5 back to the future.
"Why do we persist at building cars other manufactures deem impractical?" asks Rod McLaughlin, the MX-5 vehicle line manager and product planner. "We do it because cars should be fun to drive, enjoyable and rewarding for the driver. This is our compass. It's our philosophy. It guides us in everything we do."
Look at the car, read what Mazda people say about it, and you'd be tempted to think they are crackpots. Affordable roadsters – as invented by the British, refined by the Japanese and briefly resurrected by the Americans – have for decades been toppling like a politician's promises, post-election.
Where once showrooms were lined with the likes of the Honda S2000, Toyota MR2 Spyder, Pontiac Solstice, Saturn Sky and Mazda MX-5 Miata, only Mazda soldiers on.
Most of the automotive world has given up on fun-to-drive, affordable roadsters – and for good reasons. Insurance is expensive, especially for young men and therefore a massive barrier to ownership. Car companies must meet demanding crash test standards, too. Air bags, anti-lock braking, robustly engineered and expensive vehicle structures, electronic stability control and more, all come at a cost many car companies consider prohibitive in a roadster with razor-thin profit margins.
"If you designed a 1989 Miata today, your [U.S. crash test] ratings would be terrible. You'd get a minus-one star [out of a possible five stars]," says Hall.
Baby boomers have also moved on from fun cars to something easier on the joints, such as sport-utility vehicles. As boomers have gotten fatter, stiffer and more grey, the contortions required to get into and out of a small two-seater seem like too much.
Mazda Canada president Kory Koreeda says that as baby boomers have aged, MX-5 sales have fallen. So the challenge of a new MX-5 is to become relevant for a new generation of youngish buyers.
In a nutshell, Mazda's marketers must entice younger people to put down their smartphones and drive this car. Trade the virtual for the real. If any car has a chance at this, the 2016 MX-5 looks to be it.
If you have questions for Jason Tchir about driving or car maintenance, please write to firstname.lastname@example.org.
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