2010s / Japanese / Mazda

Mazda’s fourth-generation Miata almost went retro

The fourth-generation MX-5 Miata takes Mazda’s Kodo design language into new territory. It’s much sharper-looking than the first three generations of the car, and yet it remains instantly recognizable as a Miata. Sketches published recently by Mazda reveal its design team considered taking the roadster in a completely different direction.

The development process started in 2011, when Mazda asked its designers and engineers to come up with a fourth-generation model that needed to be roughly the same size and weight as the original Miata launched in 1989 at the Chicago Auto Show. The company’s design centers in Tokyo, Frankfurt, and Irvine independently began working on proposals. Ultimately, only the Japanese and the American designs were retained.

While the American design looked a lot like a futuristic concept version of the production car, the Japanese design stood out with a pure, back-to-the-basics look which unmistakably paid tribute to the first-generation model. The shape of the fenders, the door skins, and the quarter panels were reminiscent of the original car, too. In many ways, this design study was to the very first Miata what the modern-day Volkswagen Beetle is to its air-cooled predecessor.

 

No one would dare submit a design proposal with pop-up headlights in this era; 1990s nostalgia isn’t quite strong enough yet. Luckily, headlight technology has evolved considerably over the past few decades, and engineers are able to build smaller units that light up the road just as well (if not better) than older, bigger lights. The design proposal’s headlights were about the same shape and size as the original Miata’s front turn signals, a styling cue which emphasized the retro-inspired look.

“When the American design team arrived in Japan to share their final proposal, both teams sat down together to go over their designs. Nakayama felt the American proposal didn’t capture raw emotional excitement in a way that would captivate enthusiasts. The U.S. team felt there was still too much of the first-generation car tied up in the Japanese proposal,” Mazda explained.

The American proposal was ultimately chosen, which in hindsight was hardly a surprise. Mazda points out its popular roadster was initially developed largely for the convertible-crazy American market, and it’s not a coincidence that the United States remains the Miata’s single biggest market by a long shot. The American and Japanese teams came together to tweak the design until the car evolved into the roadster that went on sale globally in 2015.

 

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