Mazda's all-new MX5 is likely to go on sale in New Zealand towards the end of this year, possibly around September.
The third generation version of the iconic Mazda roadster, the biggest-selling sports car in history, was unveiled in left-hand drive form at this month's Geneva Motor Show in Switzerland.
The new car is bigger and wider than its predecessors which re-established the affordable, two-seater, open-topped sports car as a viable genre.
It is also said to be more refined, with a roomier and quieter cockpit, and is decidedly faster.
The new MX5 runs a 117kW, 2.0-litre Double Overhead Camshaft four-cylinder engine, driving the rear wheels through a newly-developed six speed manual gearbox.
The engine develops 188Nm of peak torque at 5000rpm.
The engine is mounted in a front mid-ship layout that gives a 50/50 front/rear weight distribution.
The car runs double wishbone front suspension and a newly-developed multi-link rear suspension.
A six-speed automatic with steering wheel-mounted manual shift paddles will be available as an option.
The new MX5 is built on the RX8 Coupe platform, and its styling departs from the Coke bottle waisted look of the 1989 original.
There is now no tapering of the body width between the front and rear axles, allowing greater cabin space for occupants and room for side impact airbags.
The nose and tail remain recognisably MX5, but the screen - incorporating a rollover bar - has a higher, bolder, look and the front and rear wheelarches are more pronounced and muscular.
Seen in the metal, the new car is said to have a more masculine look than its predecessors.
The fender arches are more pronounced to accommodate a wider wheel track.
The interior includes an adjustable steering wheel and there is additional seat adjustment help extremely tall or short drivers fit the cockpit better.
For additional comfort with the top down waist level vents direct warm and cool air through the cockpit to maintain comfortable cabin temperatures and enable top-down driving year-round.
An air deflector reduces buffeting and top-down turbulence.
What price a new MX5?
Mazda New Zealand chief executive Peter Aitken says exact pricing for the new MX5 is yet to be set.
But he says he doesn't expect it to be significantly dearer than the current car.
"We should be able to keep it pretty competitive, in the same pricing area of the current model.
"I'd be surprised is the price was significantly more than the current model. There may be some increases for enhancements."
Aitken says the current MX5 has been selling around 40 a year in recent years.
He says new model MX5 sales will peak through 2006, and he predicts them to be "quite strong."
He says Mazda NZ will ensure local pricing will be competitive against the inevitable grey imports from Japan.
He concedes some grey imports may arrive here before official Mazda NZ MX5s.
"If it happens, it happens. It won't cause us any great concern."
The problem for grey importers is trying to second-guess the price at which officially-imported cars will be sold.
Aitken says he has driven pre-production third generation MX5s on the Mazda test track in Japan. He says the seating position is lower than in the current car and the cockpit noise levels with the hood down are much lower.
He says the Mazda engineers have evolved the small sports car to a whole new level.
Mazda MX5 fast facts
In 2000, The Guinness Book of World Records recognised the Mazda MX5 as the best-selling two-seat convertible sports car in history. Till then, Mazda had built 531,890. Now more than 700,000 MX5s have been sold around the globe.
Mazda New Zealand has sold 900 MX5s since the car's introduction in 1989. An estimated 3000 others have come here as Japanese used imports, including many built under the Eunos Roadster nameplate.
In Japanese, the MX5's essence is described by the expression Jinba Ittai (pronounced gin-buy ee-tie). The direct translation is "rider and horse as one."
Yabusame, an ancient artistic ritual ceremony in Japan, truly embodies the essence of Jinba Ittai. An archer mounted on horseback gallops past a target and shoots an arrow. To achieve a bullseye, the archer and horse must move as one. There must be a natural two-way communication and a high degree of synergy in their alliance.
This oneness of motion between rider and horse was selected as the most apt analogy depicting the relationship between the driver and a Mazda MX5.
The rider-and-horse idiom and the effort to create a car universally seen as "lots of fun" served as the focal point around which the original and the all-new Mazda MX5 were designed and engineered.
MX5 design parameters
When they started developing the new MX5, Mazda's design team carefully discussed what should be retained from the first and second-generation MX5 models, and what to evolve for generation three.
Six key categories, were decided on.
They are styling (inside and outside), touching (every aspect concerned with the tactile sense), listening (dominated by the engine's voice but also encompassing wind effects), cornering (handling dynamics), driving (everything from ride quality to acceleration response), and braking.
They also defined five basic requirements to realise the Jinba Ittai concept of oneness between drive and car.
The car had to be as compact and as light as possible while meeting global safety requirements.
The cockpit had to comfortably accommodate two full-stature occupants with no wasted space.
The basic layout would continue with the original's front-midship rear-drive configuration with the engine positioned ahead of the driver but behind the front axle for 50/50 weight distribution.
That all four wheels would be attached by wishbone or multi-link suspension systems to maximise tyre performance, road grip and dynamic stability.
A powerplant frame would again provide a solid connection between the engine and rear-mounted differential to sharpen throttle response.
To avoid the car putting on extra weight that would have a dramatically negative influence on driving, cornering, and braking Mazda engineers made every gram count. The resultant "gram strategy" assessed weight in the smallest possible increments and carefully scrutinised weight-trimming opportunities. Advanced technology was applied where practical to achieve a light and rigid unibody design using materials that offered higher strength and lighter weight.
In its final form, Mazda says the new MX5 is more powerful, more capable, more comfortable, and more useful. It offers several new features and further improves occupant protection from collision injury. Yet its kerb weight has only increased by about 10kg.
The new car's unibody is 22 percent stiffer in flexion and 47 percent in torsion.
Moving the engine rearward 135mm was a major step to achieving a 50/50 front/rear weight distribution.
The new MX5 is bigger in all dimensions. The wheelbase is 65mm longer; the car's length is up by 20mm; width by 40mm, and height by 20mm.
More potent engine
The 2.0-litre engine in the new MX5 for New Zealand develops around 117kW at 6700rpm.
Peak torque is 188Nm at 5000rpm.
That gives the MX5 0-100km/h acceleration in the seven-second bracket.
A lighter flywheel, a quick response, an electric throttle and a stiff driveshaft have all developed to give the MX5 a responsive direct feel. The new engine's torque curve is held nearly level at high revs by major reductions in intake and exhaust restriction.
Additional attention was paid to intake and exhaust passages.
A 57 percent reduction in intake restriction was achieved with a large, open intake pipe and smooth layout.
On the exhaust side, the pressure loss of the system was reduced by 40 percent thanks to the use of a high-volume muffler and a dual tail pipe.
In tuning the Mazda MX-5's engine sound, a smooth, harmonic note was realised that increases with throttle opening. Above 5000rpm, it becomes powerfully resonant, consistent with the charge to the 6700rpm redline.
Mazda MX5 specifications
Engine: MZR 2.0-litre inline four-cylinder
Maximum power: 117kW at 6700rpm
Peak torque: 188Nm at 5000rpm
Transmission: Rear-wheel drive. Six-speed manual or six-speed automatic gearbox with manual shift capability
Suspension: Front, double wishbone. Rear, multi-link
Brakes: Front, ventilated disc. Rear, solid disc
Wheels: 17-inch by seven-inch wide
Tyres: 205/45 R17
Dimensions: Length, 3995mm. Width, 1720mm. Height, 1245mm. Wheelbase, 2330mm. Front track, 1490mm. Rear track, 1495mm