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.
Read next: 2017 Mazda MX-5 RF review
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 unique-to-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 high- engagement 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 16-inch 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 left to the accessories list in the current MX-5. It’s one of various equipment updates that’s also likely to usher in Apple CarPlay and Android Auto, two connectivity techs Mazda has been slow to adopt. That means the base MX-5s are likely to pick up the MZD colour screen, replacing the monochrome radio display.
At all levels the MX-5 will adhere to Mazda’s intensive gram-by-gram philosophy, where every component is analysed and designed with light weight in mind; every gram saved makes for better performance and they all add up.
However, Wheels has learnt the 2019 MX-5 will look little different to the current car. No sheetmetal or bumpers will change, with colours and trims likely to be the most obvious visual difference.
Mazda is also expected to offer more soft-top roof options, including red (already available overseas) and brown.