Back in 2015, the ND Miata placed third in our Best Driver’s Car competition, somewhat unexpectedly beating out much more powerful and expensive competitors such as the Mercedes-AMG C63 S and the Bentley Continental GT3-R. “Driving the MX-5 top down on a winding road is an unalloyed joy,” Angus MacKenzie said at the time. “This is how driving a sports car used to be.” And although we’re sure Mazda would have preferred a first-place finish, it sounds like MacKenzie’s reaction is exactly what the Japanese automaker was going for when it designed the new Miata.
Recently, Mazda posted a four-part look behind the scenes of the ND’s design process, and it’s absolutely fascinating. The way Mazda tells it, back in 2011, the team set out to design a car that was much closer to the first-gen NA Miata in size and weight than the NC. It had to be “both classic and thoroughly modern at the same time,” attracting new buyers while not alienating longtime fans.
In June of that year, the team submitted four quarter-scale models that they thought represented the direction the ND’s design should take. Two were eliminated, leaving one model from Japan and one from the States. While both teams worked to find a way to merge the designs, two other teams worked to style the cabin. It wasn’t until October 2012 that Mazda finally decided on a design that it felt merged Japanese principles with American and European flair.
But with the basic look of the body taken care of, there was still a lot of work to be done on the front end, particularly with the headlights. The team thought the NC’s front end was too bulky and wanted to find a way to go back to the sleek look of the NA. Unfortunately for them, pop-up headlights weren’t really an option. Instead, the designers decided to use LED headlights that cost more than conventional ones but were also more compact, allowing for a lower hood line.
In September 2014, Mazda finally took the wraps off the highly anticipated fourth-generation MX-5. The challenge was that it “had to be lighter, smaller, more efficient and with a design that shared little between it and other Mazda vehicles. But more than any of that, it was a car that mandated each region and each discipline to work with one another in harmony.”
And you know what? It worked. As we said in at the end of our long-term test, “No gimmicks. No gadgets. No glitz. This is as pure and honest a sports car as you can buy from a mainstream automaker.”
See the entire design process in the massive gallery below.