Mazda MX-5 Limited (2006)
Thursday, March 19th 2009
Jinba Ittai, a Japanese phrase that translates to “the rider and horse as one,” has been the focus of the MX-5 Miata concept since its inception, and is the purest essence of Mazda’s Zoom-Zoom spirit. Oneness is the cornerstone of the Jinba Ittai driving experience and occurs when the boundaries between driver and vehicle melt away and create one single being. Essentially, Jinba Ittai is a celebration of the simple delights of driving a lightweight, nimble, open-air roadster, and anyone who has driven a Miata knows the feeling.
“We improved the all-new MX-5 to meet the needs of modern motorists while maintaining the passionate spirit of the original, best envisioned in the expression ‘Jinba Ittai’,” said Kory Koreeda, vice president, product development for Mazda North American Operations (MNAO). “As the range-topper, the MX-5 3rd Generation Limited’s eye-catching color and unique features will surely turn heads and bring pure driving excitement to all who sit behind the wheel.”
Only 3,500 3rd Generation Limited cars will be available globally – each delineated by a numbered plate on the transmission tunnel – ensuring they’ll be in short supply and moving fast off of dealers’ lots.
The exclusive color for the MX-5 3rd Generation Limited is Velocity Red Mica. Front and rear bumpers feature the same distinctive red color, while the front bumper grille, A-pillar, outer door handle, head lamp bezel and foglamp cover all boast unique, silver trim. In addition, and to make the car stand out from a distance, the windshield frame is clad in silver trim. Between the Velocity Red Mica paint, dynamic 17-inch alloy wheels with exclusive silver finish and the exterior trim changes, onlookers and owners alike will recognize it as a truly exceptional – and collectable – vehicle.
Inside, the MX-5 3rd Generation Limited includes a Sirius® satellite radio-compatible seven-speaker BOSE® AM/FM/CD stereo, stainless steel scuff plates and a numbered badge. In addition, exclusive red leather seats nicely match the exterior of the car and offer excellent support and an ideal driving position. Black leather seats are optional.
Mazda’s success in creating a dynamic two-seat roadster is evident from the large number of Miatas sold since its introduction – more than 700,000 – and the more than 100 consumer and industry awards won, including 11 prestigious Automobile magazine “All Star” awards. More than 320,000 Miatas have been sold in the United States alone, and there are still in excess of 270,000 on the road – true testament to the car’s “cult” following.
Another measure of the MX-5’s success is its rampant popularity in motorsports. On any given weekend, there are more Mazdas speeding around the racetracks of North America in club racing and autocross competitions than any other brand of vehicle, many of them Miatas. In 2004, the Sports Car Club of America’s (SCCA) fastest-growing regional racing class was the Spec Miata class. Racers piloting Miatas have won SCCA Showroom Stock races all over the country, including the SSB and SSC National Championships at the prestigious SCCA Runoffs. Sharing the same DNA as previous MX-5 generations, the 2006 MX-5 3rd Generation Limited is destined to exceed the high level of street and track performance expected of a vehicle bearing the MX-5 badge.
Although the 2006 MX-5 has grown in size relative to the previous generation MX-5, the exterior design and shape remain true to the lively roadster concept born by Mazda in 1989, while benefiting from modern style updates. The nose and tail are tapered as before, but on the new MX-5, the surfaces wrap smoothly between the wheels without narrowing, providing a wider cockpit with additional hip, shoulder and elbow room. The low, flowing shoulder line is complemented by body panels that smoothly wrap around the nose and tail.
The heart of the 2006 MX-5 is a highly-responsive MZR-series 2.0-liter, 170-horsepower (at 6700 rpm) powerplant, newly developed from the unit used in both MAZDA3 and MAZDA6. This is a light and compact engine, featuring chain-driven double overhead camshafts, four valves per cylinder, variable intake valve timing, electronically controlled port fuel injection and coil-on-plug ignition. The block, head and oil pan are cast aluminum, while cast iron liners provide a durable bore surface.
Revving smoothly to its 7000 rpm redline, the 2.0-liter powerplant delivers 140 lb-ft of torque at 5000 rpm for driving exhilaration throughout the rev range. More importantly, the torque curve is wide and flat, making this the most responsive MX-5 Miata yet. A complete redesign of the intake and exhaust tracts resulted in a 57-percent reduction in intake restriction and 40-percent reduction of exhaust pressure.
Throughout the development process, work focused on what Mazda engineers called “response” and “expansion feel.” A lighter flywheel, a quick response, an electric throttle and a stiff drive shaft all helped realize the responsive direct feel of the new Mazda MX-5.
In tuning the Mazda MX-5’s engine sound, a smooth, harmonic note was realized that increases with throttle opening. Above 5000 rpm, this becomes powerfully resonant, consistent with a spirited charge for the redline.
Throughout its storied history, the MX-5 Miata has been lauded for its positive shift action and short throws. Shifting gears in an MX-5 evokes the inherent oneness of the vehicle’s Zoom-Zoom driving experience. The all-new MX-5 benefits from three transmission choices: five-speed manual, six-speed manual and six-speed Sport AT automatic. The all-new six-speed manual transmission boasts ultra-short throws, reminding the driver that Miata is the benchmark for manual transmission feel and performance. Triple-cone synchronizers for the first four gears reduce shift effort, while low-friction bushings and a guide plate for lever motion ensure repeatable shifting precision.
The single most important element in creating oneness between car and driver is the chassis. The first and second generation MX-5 set a benchmark for chassis performance in the automotive industry, and true to form, so has the third generation MX-5. The spectacular new MX-5 chassis is at once responsive, precise and nimble.
Two key words for the feeling Mazda’s engineering team pursued were precise and nimble. The goal was for a natural, lively feeling instead of the cold efficiency of some well-oiled machines. While solid stability is essential for safe driving, the ideal for the new Mazda MX-5 was to develop a chassis that is keen to alter speed or direction as swiftly as the driver changes his mind.
Every aspect of driver control had to be coordinated with steering, suspension, brakes, engine, and transmission responses. How the driver’s seat was configured, the distance to the steering wheel and shifter, the feeling of the brake pedal, the ability to heel and toe, all played a significant role in achieving the Jinba Ittai driving experience. The original Miata was quantified and higher targets of opportunity in all aspects were identified.
A lightweight, stiff unibody serves as the chassis’s foundation and provides the rigidity needed to deliver the performance synonymous with Mazda. The all-new MX-5 unibody boasts a 22 percent increase in flexural stiffness and a 47 percent increase in torsional rigidity over the previous generation MX-5 for a more direct, connected driving experience.
The tendency for curb weight to increase when trying to meet growing market demands is contrary to the Jinba Ittai goal and that extra weight would have a dramatically negative influence on driving, cornering and braking performance. Therefore, Mazda engineers made every gram count. Their “gram strategy” assessed weight in the smallest possible increments and carefully scrutinized weight-trimming opportunities. Advanced technology was applied where practical to achieve a light and rigid unibody using materials that offered higher strength and lighter weight.
In its final form, the new Mazda MX-5 is more powerful, more capable, more comfortable and more useful. As a result of this “gram strategy,” curb weight has only increased by approximately 22 pounds compared to the previous generation MX-5.
A double-wishbone front suspension setup complements a multi-link rear suspension system for optimized handling and chassis stability. Stretching the front track by 3.0 inches, rear track by 2.1 inches and overall wheelbase by 2.6 inches while moving the engine back in the chassis by 5.3 inches also helped improve the new MX-5’s handling and balance characteristics. The advanced anti-dive and anti-squat geometry integrated into the suspension controls unwanted steering and pitch motion during acceleration and braking for a predictable driving experience. The end result of the numerous efforts made by Mazda engineers is a chassis that promotes driver-vehicle oneness while offering excellent road feel, predictable handling and a 50:50 weight distribution.
The new MX-5’s power-assisted rack-and-pinion steering is tuned to be precise and responsive with only 2.6 turns lock-to-lock, giving the car a keen sense of agility. For braking performance, Mazda engineers selected 11.4-inch ventilated discs in front and 11.0-inch solid discs in back to deliver rapid, controlled stopping. Because the new MX-5 was developed to “feel” right, caliper stiffness was increased by 25 percent, brake hoses are now less resilient and the power booster is one-inch larger than before.
Although Mazda’s engineers placed a premium on vehicle performance, safety continues to assume a high level of importance with the 2006 MX-5. For the first time ever, MX-5 now offers side airbag protection as standard equipment. A two-volume side-impact airbag is positioned inside each seat backrest. A single inflator simultaneously expands the torso portion of the airbag and the larger-volume head-protection airbag. This innovative design is light, compact and highly effective at minimizing occupant injury in a side impact collision.
The interior of the MX-5 received the same careful craftsmanship and attention to detail as the exterior. The design and placement of all switches and controls communicate the care taken to make the cockpit as driver-focused as possible. A highly legible instrument cluster clearly displays all necessary information, including speed, engine rpm and oil and coolant temperature. Coated glass covers the cluster for visibility even in direct sunlight.
Chrome and silver highlights accent the interior, distinguishing the instrument panel and gauge rings, air-vent bezels and outer door handles. The spokes of the three-spoke tilt steering wheel share the silver trim as well. For added safety, steering wheel-mounted audio and speed controls allow the driver to keep both hands on the wheel when not shifting. Both the steering wheel and the seats are adjustable to allow drivers of all sizes to enjoy the pure exhilaration of the newest generation Mazda MX-5.
The high-quality folding soft top is a Z-fold design with one centrally located latch handle, and the top can be raised or lowered easily without undue effort or stretching. In the lowered position, the top fits flush and smooth, without the need for a detachable boot cover. A removable hard top also will be available as an accessory, and is perfect for all-year operation.
To enhance comfort when the top is down, waist-level louver vents direct warm and cool air throughout the cockpit to maintain a comfortable cabin temperature, effectively extending the open-air driving season. A mesh aero-board deflector mounts vertically behind the seats to reduce wind buffeting and top-down turbulence for a comfortable driving experience.
Interior storage accommodation is plentiful. Three separate compartments are built into the back wall of the cockpit, with one compartment readily accessible and lockable with room for 10 CDs, and the other two compartments positioned behind the seat backs. Bottle holders, pockets and additional compartments are placed strategically throughout the rest of the MX-5’s interior. The end result is a comfortable, driver-focused cabin with a surprising amount of functional amenities.
The all-new 2006 Mazda MX-5 Miata has inherited its predecessor’s sporty DNA and continues to exemplify Mazda’s Zoom-Zoom philosophy. To convert the subtle imagery of Jinba Ittai into nuts-and-bolts reality with a body shell, drivetrain, and chassis components, Mazda designers wielded a tool called Kansei Engineering.
Like Jinba Ittai, Kansei is difficult to translate into Western terms, although “thoughtful awareness” and “heightened sensitivity” are the expressions that come closest to defining Kansei. It is the realization that the fitness of every constituent part underlies the goodness of the whole, that the aforementioned synergy between driver and car can be honed so that it can be felt by anyone who experiences the vehicle in motion. Another Kansei canon is that every aspect of design, mechanical function and dynamic response ultimately contribute to driving satisfaction.