Bologna Motor Show 2008 highlights

December 16th, 2009 by Darren Cottingham
Includes the world debut of the Mazda3 Hatch

Includes the world debut of the Mazda3 Hatch

New Mazda MX-5 to use just 3.4l/100km fuel

December 16th, 2009 by Darren Cottingham

Mazda MX-5 superlight concept s

Recent reports are suggesting that the next generation Mazda MX-5 will be lighter and smaller than the current model. Now, there are reports stating that the new model will achieve an almost unbelievable fuel economy figure of just 3.4 l/100km – compared to 8.1 l/100km for the current generation MX-5.

The massive gain in fuel economy is expected to come thanks to the next MX-5’s rumoured 1000kg kerb weight (only 60kg heavier than the original MX-5) and Mazda’s new SKY-G petrol engine.

Mazda says that enhanced thermal efficiency is one reason the new Sky-G direct injection petrol engine offers significantly improved fuel economy over the carmaker’s current 2.0 litre engine.

The Sky-G motor makes use of an all-new engine block, designed to reduce mechanical friction and produce an optimal air-fuel mix.

Mazda also claims the new Sky-Drive automatic transmission chips in as well and improves fuel economy by approximately five percent. But whether the low reported fuel figures are based on an automatic or manual variant of the new MX-5 is unclear.

With the demands of modern safety requirements the next MX-5 will probably be only slightly smaller than the current model, meaning that smart design and lightweight construction will be vital for the success of the next generation MX-5.

To prove it’s all possible Mazda’s MX-5 Superlight concept (pictured) revealed at the Frankfurt Motor Show weighed in at just 995kg, thanks to numerous weight-saving techniques.

Mazda MX-5 superlight concept

December 7th, 2009 by Darren Cottingham

The Mazda MX-5 has become the biggest selling roadster of all time thanks to a simple, unchanging formula of low weight and fun dynamics.

To celebrate the car’s 20th anniversary, Mazda recently unveiled a special edition model for sale in the Japanese domestic market, but that wasn’t enough. Now Mazda has released images of a speedster-style concept dubbed the MX-5 Superlight. The concept, which is set to be revealed at next month’s Frankfurt Motor Show, has the front windscreen removed and futuristic-looking roll bars at the rear.

While Mazda is keeping mum about the finer details, it is expected that a number of weight-saving measures have been undertaken on the car. The MX-5 Superlight was designed by Mazda’s in-house team in Germany, and other unique cosmetic and structural changes include the absence of A-pillars and door handles as well as the smooth front and rear decks.

In terms of engines, the concept is expected to be fitted with the standard MX-5’s range-topping 2.0L gasoline engine, and with all the weight-saving measures put in place the Superlight should be very rapid.

Sadly, a production version of the car will most likely never happen, and the MX-5 Superlight will most likely remain a commemorative concept for the 20th birthday of the MX-5.

Mazda celebrates 20 years of the MX-5 with special edition

December 4th, 2009 by Darren Cottingham

When Mazda debuted the MX-5, or Roadster as it’s known in Japan, back in 1989, few would have thought it would go on to become the best-selling open-top sports car of all time. Now, over 860,000 vehicles later, the car is officially the most popular roadster in existence. To celebrate its success and the 20th anniversary of the car, Mazda has released a special edition for the Japanese market.

Based on either the soft-top six-speed manual version or the retractable hard-top automatic version of the car, the Roadster 20th Anniversary comes with a bespoke equipment set to make it stand out from the regular lineup.

Red and black Recaro seats, 20th Anniversary badges and clear fog lights are some details that are different, while 17in alloys, a front strut tower bar, five-setting heated seats and synthetic leather door armrests finish off the unique package.

As for the exterior colour, the Roadster 20th Anniversary only comes in Crystal White Pearl Mica.

Pricing in Japan starts at 2,860,000 ($45,530 NZ) for the soft-top/manual version, while the power-retractable hardtop with the automatic goes for 3,110,000 ($49,500 NZ).

Mazda3 MPS 2009 Review

November 20th, 2009 by Darren Cottingham

mazda3-mps-2009-fq

While they may not have the lengthy history of roadsters or coupes the hot hatch is now a well-established vessel for automotive performance and practicality. Since the VW Golf GTI of the 1970s, hot hatches have been in the mainstream and back when I was a teenager in NZ their popularity was unmatched. In my suburban slice of the country, king of the hatchbacks was the Mazda 323 DOHC Turbo. The 323/Familia was an unrelenting angry little car with sharp styling and an appetite for budget performance modifications. A quick look in the car classifieds reveals almost no 323s of that era for sale – most have been crashed, driven to death or hidden away. Rather than a sign of poor reliability it may be the mark of a much-loved hot hatch.

A lot has changed since the mid-eighties 323 but the Kiwi thirst for the raw power of the hot hatch remains.  In a recent effort to satisfy that desire Mazda has released its second generation Mazda3 MPS.

This new MPS sees no increase in power, torque or performance figures. Instead, massive effort has been put into refining and finessing almost everything else.

The previous MPS was often accused of being aesthetically dull and near indistinguishable from its lower spec Mazda3 siblings. The new car is far more aggressively styled with large chunky bumpers, low side skirts, a high rear spoiler and an Impreza-style bonnet scoop. Finished off with 18-inch rims, extensive colour coding and twin exhausts the end result is a purposeful and menacing looking machine.

Inside you get a mix of uniquely shaped dark plastics and red accents, general quality and fit is very good and it’s far more spacious than hot hatches of old. Half-leather buckets with red stitching look great and provide firm lateral support. The steering wheel is busy with control buttons and although pleasing to the touch can easily obscure the ringed instrument cluster depending on adjustment. Nighttime illumination is a bit special with some trick touches to impress passengers. Other standard equipment includes, dual zone climate control, 10-speaker Bose premium stereo with amp and subwoofer, keyless entry and start, and rain-sensing wipers. Overall the MPS interior is a pleasant place to be, switch gear and displays are functional if a touch cluttered but everything is well screwed together.

Push the go button and the beauty quickly turns to beast as the MPS sucks in its first breaths. Sitting under the curved bonnet is Mazda’s 2.3-litre direct-injection turbocharged motor. It’s no toy and puts out a thumping 190kw of power and 380Nm of torque, this unit will take the MPS from 0-100kmh in 6.1 seconds and not give up till it reaches 250km/h.  The engine’s generous power is detectable from low revs but the real thrust builds from 2800rpm making eager straight-line acceleration a signature trait for the MPS.

Mated to a sharp six-speed manual box, it’s easy to keep the MPS going hard with well-sorted gear ratios that maximize available power.  It may take a while to get used to the clutch and it’s guilty of being a touch jumpy when the MPS is high in the rev-range.  Fuel economy is 9.9l/100km combined, a respectable figure for a performance vehicle.

While offering four-wheel-drive was part of the success of the early Mazda 323s the new Mazda3 MPS shifts power exclusively to the front wheels. So the big question is: what about torque steer?

Mazda has worked hard on minimising torque steer and this has included limiting the amount of torque delivered in the first three gears, and also when the wheels are not pointing straight ahead. It works well, you can still find some torque steer if you seek it out but in dry conditions it’s not a major concern. That said, an MPS with half-worn tyres on wintery NZ roads would make for a much truer test.

The MPS is most fun on twisting open roads where it’s well balanced, has good grip and is a rapid point-to-point driver. The steering is light but precise and provides keen communication with those busy front-wheels.

In terms of comfort, the ride is firm but no more than you’d expect with a stiff chassis and a sports handling focus. What’s impressive is how quiet the cabin is even with the engine working hard, this significantly adds to an overall feeling of refinement.

If the MPS gets out of shape a Dynamic Stability Control system with traction control and a limited slip differential is ready to pull it back straight. If that doesn’t work out a full compliment of airbags are waiting.

There’s a lot to like about the Mazda3 MPS it’s got the ultra-modern styling the raw pace and the right equipment level. It also shows that there’s a much larger dose of practicality to sports hatchbacks now and this can be achieved while making very few compromises in performance and driver appeal.

It’s easy to get caught up in figures and specifications with hot hatches and forget the most important thing — they’re meant to be fun. The MPS is definitely that, it’s not knife-edge, “I’m about to crash backwards” fun, but has still inherited much of the character of its 323 ancestors. If you’re in the market for a new performance-orientated hatchback and you don’t want to join the VW GTI driving masses, then the MPS could be the right match for you.  If not, it will still be a blast test-driving it.

Click through to the next page for a list of specifications.

Price: $48,545

What we like:

  • Purposeful styling
  • Straight-line pace
  • Refined cabin atmosphere

What we don’t like:

  • Steering wheel obscures instruments
  • Tight clutch pedal

Words and Photos: Adam Mamo

Mazda3 MPS (2009) – Specifcations

Engine

Type 2.3L Direct Injection Spark Ignition (DISI) Turbo-charged, In-Line 4 cylinder DOHC
Engine Capacity cc 2,261
Displacement Bore and Stroke mm 87.5 x 94.0
Maximum power (EEC) kW 190@5,500rpm
Maximum torque (EEC) Nm 380@3,000rpm
Top Speed km/hr 250
Fuel Supply Direct injection
Fuel Tank Capacity L 60
Recommended Fuel Premium unleaded 95RON

Fuel Consumption (EC)

Combined 9.9/100km
Emissions Rating Euro Stage V

Dimensions and Weight

Overall length mm 4,505
Overall width mm 1,770
Overall height mm 1,460
Wheelbase mm 2,640

Track

Front mm 1,535
Rear mm 1,520
Minimum turning circle m 11
Luggage Volume (VDA) L 268
Cub weight kg 1,456

Towing capacity

Braked kg 1,200
Unbraked kg 500

Steering

Type Electro-Hydraulic Power-Assisted (EHPAS)

Drivetrain

Driven Wheels Front
Transmission Type Multilink 6-speed Manual

Suspension

Type
Front MacPherson Struts
Rear Multi Link

Brakes

Type
Front
Ventilated Discs
Rear Solid Discs

Diameter

Front mm 320
Rear mm 280

Next Mazda MX-5 – smaller and lighter

November 10th, 2009 by Darren Cottingham

Mazda MX-5 superlight concept fq

The launch of the next-generation Mazda MX-5 has reportedly been delayed as far as late 2011 because of a number of major changes in store for the car. Not only is Mazda developing a new lightweight platform and more fuel-efficient powertrains, but a new coupe version is also expected to join the range.

The MX-5’s chief developer, Takao Kijima, has stated that the new model will be smaller and at least 10% lighter than the current car.

The goal for Mazda will be to make the car’s styling and proportions closer to that of the original 1989 model. However, interior space and safety features will advance over the current car due to improved engineering. Both a folding hard-top roof and a conventional fabric soft-top are expected, as well as a possible coupe.

It appears the MX-5 Superlight concept (pictured) from the recent 2009 Frankfurt Auto Show wasn’t just hot air but could be a preview of what a future version of the popular roadster would look like.

In terms of powertrains, an inside source recently revealed that it would come with a range of light and compact 1.4 and 1.6-litre engines with direct-injection and turbocharging technologies. The source also revealed that the car would probably make use of an electronic power steering system to help conserve more fuel.

Other new features could include a dual-clutch transmission as well as a revised suspension set-up. To save additional weight, Mazda may adopt new steel construction methods that enable less metal to be used in its cars’ bodies.

The new MX-5 will most likely be ready for the 2011 Tokyo Motor Show.

Toyota Prius wins Japan Car of the Year award

October 27th, 2009 by Darren Cottingham

Toyota Prius 2010 fq

For the last 30 years, a car of the year competition is held in Japan it’s an award given to newly released or redesigned vehicles released from November 1st of the previous year to October 1st of the current year.

It’s simple, more than 60 jurors composed of Japanese journalists receive an allocation of votes, and the car with the most votes comes away with the crown.

This year the Toyota Prius narrowly edged out the Honda Insight for top honours, continuing the recent trend of environmentally-friendly winners. Other notable winners included the new Volkswagen Golf, which was named the Import Car of the Year, the Mitsubishi i-MiEV, which was declared to have the Most Advanced Technology. The Nissan Fairlady Z won the category of Most Fun, and finally the Subaru Legacy took the award for Best Value.

To celebrate the 30th anniversary of the award, the Tokyo Motor Show also organised a display of past winners, starting with the Mazda Familia 3-door Hatch Back in 1980-1981 and finishing with last year’s winner, the Toyota IQ.

Mazda at work on RX-7 replacement

October 21st, 2009 by Darren Cottingham

There’s been a lot of speculation about a Mazda RX-7 revival recently but it still seemed like the next-generation, rotary coupe was never going to happen. Now, Mazda’s new design chief, Ikua Maeda, has given us all a new injection of hope when he said in a recent interview that initial sketches have been completed and he’s campaigning Mazda to bring the new sports car to market.

The reborn RX-7 will likely be powered by Mazda’s next generation Renesis 16X rotary engine, most recently used in the Mazda Taiki concept (pictured), it’s 1.6-liters in size and makes use of a longer stroke, direct injection and aluminum side housings. Power output hasn’t been disclosed, but it’s safe to assume the new engine will dish out around 250 to 300 horsepower and some decent torque, while boosting fuel economy and keeping emissions low for the future.

Maeda said the new RX-7 will move further upmarket than its predecessors, with a focus on higher interior quality. The new RX-7 will probably be priced with this in mind.  Whatever the case we hope a hardcore, track-focused version is on the cards too. If things go to plan the new RX-7 could be in concept form as early as next year.