Mazda Ibuki Concept to Point the Way for Next Miata
— Reported by Kevin Schweitzer, cars.com;
photographed by Mandana Namvar, cars.com;
Mazda North America President Jim O'Sullivan and the Mazda Ibuki concept
CHICAGO — The Ibuki that Mazda showed Thursday at the Chicago Auto Show is a concept in the truest sense of the word, resembling the next-generation Miata MX-5 in theory more than practice.
Though Mazda executives acknowledged that the link between the Ibuki and Miata was the reason to choose Chicago for the concept’s North American introduction, the original having been introduced here in 1989, they just as quickly disavowed that the car will become a production vehicle.
“[The] Ibuki is not the next-generation Miata,” said Robert Davis, Mazda North American senior vice president of marketing and product development. “It is a styling and engineering exercise that directionally is giving us some cues for the next generation.”
The engineering changes are perhaps the most significant. Mazda moved the entire drivetrain back 16 inches and down 1.5 inches, to move the center of gravity lower and closer to the center of the car, following the lead of the company’s RX-8 sports car.
The effect is to improve balance, which in turn improves handling. Davis said Mazda is seeking a 50/50 weight distribution — meaning there is as much weight in the front, which is typically heavier because of the engine and transmission, as the back — for the next-generation Miata, and in fact engineers were able to fit all the mechanical components between the wheels. The car has very short overhangs and is a full foot shorter than the current Miata, at 143.3 inches, though interior space is roughly the same.
Davis said the proportions do not reflect what’s coming for the Miata, though the shift of the center of gravity will happen and engineers are trying to increase interior space to make the car “a little bit more usable for us guys who are over 6 feet tall.”
Stylistically, Mazda said it intends to return the Miata to the look of the original, released as a 1990 model. The Ibuki reflects this intent with a snub nose, horizontal headlights and no sculpted lines.
It also contains some new features, such as seats built directly into the shell of the car and pop-up roll protection located behind the elongated side windows. Inside, the car, which made its world debut at the Tokyo Motor Show in October, is right-hand drive.
The Ibuki is powered by a 1.6-liter four-cylinder engine, estimated at 180 horsepower and teamed with a six-speed-manual transmission. Though the Ibuki has no top, Davis said the next production Miata, like the current one, will have a manual soft-top and an optional removable hardtop.
Davis did not give a timetable for the next-generation Miata, and he shrugged off suggestions that changes were necessitated by the upcoming 2006 Pontiac Solstice, which is clearly aimed at the Miata in principle and price point (around $20,000 or so).
Because the original Miata was introduced in Chicago, the company typically shows a special edition or some other Miata-related product at the show. Mazda North America President Jim O’Sullivan said the company intended to keep that tradition even while unveiling its high-performance Mazdaspeed Miata at the Los Angeles Auto Show in January.
“Chicago traditionally has been a little bit of a Miata show for Mazda,” O’Sullivan said. “That’s why we saved the best for Chicago.”
The Ibuki is powered by a 1.6-liter four-cylinder engine, estimated at 180 hp and teamed with a six-speed-manual transmission.
The Ibuki has very short overhangs and is a full foot shorter than the current Miata.
The Ibuki emulates the original Miata by featuring a snub nose, horizontal headlights and no sculpted lines.
Mazda moved the Ibuki’s entire drivetrain rearward and down to move the center of gravity lower and closer to the center of the car.
The seats are built directly into the shell of the car and pop-up roll protection is located behind the elongated side windows.