MX-5 muscles up

Mid-life update will turn up the wick for even more atmo joy

TOBY HAGON

MAZDA is preparing its most serious power update yet to the ND MX-5 – and it’s all about revs.

Due late in 2018 or early 2019, the major mid-life update to the fourth-generation of Mazda’s COTY-winning roadster focuses on the internals of the 2.0-litre Skyactiv engine to boost output by about 20kW, a 17 percent improvement on the current car’s 118kW peak.

The aim is to get the 2.0 revving with the verve and character of the 1.5, an engine that makes up for its power deficiency with a sweet revving top end. Lighter pistons, valves and conrods will be matched to a new crankshaft engineered to cope with the loftier power and higher revs.

Mazda is also redesigning the air intake and developing a new exhaust to account for the extra energy the engine is producing.

The result will be a uniqueto-MX-5 2.0 that has a redline closer to the 7500rpm cutout in the 1.5 (currently the 2.0 gives up at 6800rpm).

Crucially, the heavily re-engineered engine will maintain its crisp throttle response, a key goal of the development team, which has repeatedly pushed back on calls to bolt on a turbo for an easy performance boost.

The rival Abarth 124 Spider – a reskinned MX-5 running a 1.4-litre turbo Fiat engine – has had more power than the MX-5 (125kW versus 118kW), albeit carrying more weight. But the Italian variant lacks the near-instant response of the Mazda and the extra kilos dilute some of the pureness oozing from the original.

This latest change will give the Mazda a handy power-to-weight advantage – for the 2.0-litre models at least; the 96kW 1.5 will be largely unchanged – given no extra kilos will be piled on.

Accompanying the power improvement will be dynamic refinements. However, the relatively low-grip but highengagement philosophy will remain. So don’t expect significantly stiffened springs or heavier anti-roll bars. Instead engineers are focusing on damper tweaks for better control. Even the tyres will be unchanged, with 16inch rubber for 1.5 models and 17s for 2.0-litre cars. So the MX-5 will still lean in bends – which we love – and progress to easily controlled slides (at either end) on the limit.

Other improvements will focus on active safety, with the MX-5 in line to pick up the full suite of i-ActivSense features available on all other Mazdas.

A key addition is the fitment of a long range forward-facing radar, which will work in concert with the camera already fitted to some MX-5 variants to deliver Smart City Brake Support, Mazda’s marketing term for autonomous emergency braking (AEB).

The lower windscreen and nose of the MX-5 has created headaches for engineers in Hiroshima, something that delayed the fitment of a radar and required some re-engineering and calibration.

Mazda is also expected to take the opportunity to fit a reversing camera, an oversight ht t left to the accessories list in the current MX-5. It’s one of various equipment updates that’shat’’s th t also likely to usher in Apple CarPlay and Android Auto, two w connectivity techs Mazda has been s been slow to adopt. That means the he base MX-5s are likely to pick up up the MZD colour screen, replacing acin g the monochrome radio display.

At all levels the MX-5 will adhere to Mazda’s intensive gram-by-gram philosophy, whereher every component is analysed and designed with light weight in ht in n mind; every gram saved makes for es f for better performance and they all all add up.

However, Wheels has learnt the t the e 2019 MX-5 will look little different eren nt to the current car. No sheetmetal meta al or bumpers will change, with h colours and trims likely to be the e the most obvious visual difference.

Mazda is also expected to offer more soft-top roof options, ons including red (already available ble overseas) and brown.

TOBY HAGON

China’s wall comes down

China has opened up its local car market — the largest in the world — this month by beginning moves to scrap a two-decade-old rule, which restricted foreign entities fr m ownin vehicle manufa from owning vehicle manufacturing plants in the uring plant in th viously count untry. Previously, car companies could not wholly not wholly mpanies own a factory, instead having to work through a 50-50 partnership with an existing Chinese company. Presiden nt Xi Jinping’s plan involves phasing out the regulation by 2022, while manufacturers of electric vehicles could begin begin building cars in China as early as next year. The Chinese Preside Chinese Pre ident also indicated the country would lower its 25 percent tariff on imported cars.

NON-PROLIFERATION TREATY

The high-revving 2.0-litre Skyactiv engine will remainremain exclusiv to the MX-5, despite sharing many ng 2 2 The high of its basics with the engines of the same capacity clusive t th of its basi l about creating an engine with character to used in the 3, CX- CX 3 and CX-5.

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