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Mazda MX-5 Superlight Bows at 2009 Frankfurt Auto Show (IAA)

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SEE ALSO: 2009 Frankfurt Motor Show - Press Pass Coverage

By Henny Hemmes
Senior European Editor
Amsterdam Bureau
The Auto Channel

No car lover misses the fact that the Mazda MX-5 is the world’s best sold roadster. After 20 years of global success the MX-5 is still very popular. But Mazda wants the MX-5’s name to remain in the spot lights and not being at the IAA in Frankfurt, is missing a lot of publicity. So, why not come up with an amazing concept?

And here it is, the MX-5 Superlight show car, that was developed at the Mazda R+D Center in Oberursel, Germany. Although the car is fully driveable, there are no plans to build this in the near future Project Lead Designer Hasip Girgin says: “The design team’s challenge was to make an evolution of the MX-5, take it to a higher and more extreme level.”

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The MX-5 Superlight is a pure show car with lightweight technology for improving driving dynamics, fuel economy and CO2-emissions. With a length of 158.3 in. a width of 67.7 in. and a height of 43.4 in, it weighs a mere 2,194 lb.

The show car was not only developed and built in Germany, also the design comes from Mazda Motor Europe’s Design Center. Chief Designer Peter Britwhistle has dreamed of building an MX-5 with such a radical form for a long time: “Now that weight reduction has become a dominant factor in automotive development, the time is ripe for it. We show how lightweight a car can be today.”

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The show car has no windshield, that should bond the driver and ‘co-pilot’ to the roadster and its driving dynamics. They can feel the wind, smell nature and listen to the special engine sound of the roadster, like in a formula race car. And of course, without a retractable top and the frame, nor wipers and a wiper motor, side windows etc. this also generates weight reduction. The concept has special very sporty looking roll-over bars. Except for their basic safety function, they prevent wind turbulence around the heads of the passengers, who should, by law, were helmets when driving.

By removing equipment not vital to driving, and by replacing vital things with components that support the unique concept of the vehicle, designers sharpened the character of the MX-5 Superlight version.

Exterior Design

A single, filigree aluminium, wide-angle mirror gives a good view of the road behind. It’s placed inside an extension of the bonnet. Front and rear lights are the same as those of the production model with additional LED lamps at the front, and brake lights at the back of each roll-over bar, which contribute to the roadster’s sporty look. The lack of a windshield required an extension of the original aluminium bonnet into the cabin. The attached sheet here is made of lightweight carbon fibre and provides a hood for the dashboard frame.

This also changed the proportions of the body’s design, making the front of the car longer and the passengers seem like they are sitting further back towards the rear-drive axle, all of which is enhanced by the massive roll-over bars and their aerodynamic cladding. The MX-5 Superlight version translates the dramatic proportions of historical race cars into a very modern form.

Interior Design

The purity in design of the exterior also characterizes the interior design, which does not have aesthetics as ultimate goal, but was conceived to contribute to reducing vehicle weight. Driver and passenger of the MX-5 Superlight version are greeted by racing bucket seats made of ultra-lightweight carbon fibre. They are slide adjustable and upholstered with the same saddle coloured leather as the armrests, the steering wheel, and the lightweight aluminium shift lever and hand brake. Colour-coordinated four-point seatbelts hold the driver and passenger firmly in their seats.

The bonnet extension into the passenger cell provides a canopy for the dashboard, which makes the dashboard look smaller than the production MX-5. Made of lightweight plastic reinforced with fibreglass, it contains the same instruments as the production MX-5. These are held in place by a dashboard frame made of lightweight carbon fibre. Like a purebred race car, the MX-5 Superlight version has an ignition button in the centre of the dashboard, along with two emergency kill buttons for immediate fuel and electricity cut-off.

Supplying air and climate control to the open passenger compartment is only possible in limited form, so the show car has no air conditioning and no fans. Air-flow is increased when the roadster accelerates, and only small air vents are needed. The interior is made without any trim. Sound insulation mats and rugs do not meet the requirements of a purist roadster like this and are not used at all.

Also made of ultra-lightweight carbon fibre is the centre console, that seems to be floating, and the triangular reinforcements in the trimless doors. Driver and passenger can rest their arms here while driving and listen to their iPod.

Driving Dynamics

Under the bonnet is the MZR 1.8-litre four-cylinder engine paired to the production roadster’s five-speed manual transmission. It develops 93 kW/126 hp of maximum power at 6,500 rpm. For an appealing engine sound, there’s a Mazdaspeed cold-air intake made of polished and powder-coated aluminium and a Mazdaspeed exhaust system, both of them specific to the MX-5 Superlight version. These systems deliver more intake air-flow, and less exhaust-gas back pressure.

The engine sound is designed to suggest an engine with much higher displacement than the concept actually has. During charge cycles, a high-resonance bubbling sound in the muffler delivers the exciting sporty sound you expect from a very powerful engine.

The show car is designed to provide improved driving dynamics as well, and uses a four-piston, fixed calliper brake system with perforated discs that, because of their size required an increase in track of nearly 2 inches. A specially tuned chassis with a Bilstein coil-over suspension and Eibach stabilisers give the body of the MX-5 Superlight version a ground clearance that is 1.18” lower than the production MX-5. Its sporty hydraulic power-assisted rack and pinion steering system is the same as that of the regular roadster. Its linear steering, coupled to a precise-shifting five-speed manual transmission with short shift travel, have contributed to the character of the world’s most successful roadster for years.

Also from the production model are the roadster’s 205/45 R17 original-equipment tyres and alloy wheels from the 2.0-litre version, which are some of the lightest on the market today at less than 17.6 lb.

Specifications – Mazda MX-5 Superlight version

Body Type 		Roadster
Seating capacity 		2
External Dimensions		
Overall length 	mm	4,020
Overall width 	mm	1,720
Overall height (unloaded) 	mm	1,110
Wheelbase 	mm	2,330
Track (front/rear) 	mm	1,540/1,545
Ground clearance 	mm	106
Engine 		MZR 1.8-litre petrol
Max. power 	kW/ PS	93/126 at 6,500 rpm
Max. torque 	Nm	167 at 4,500 rpm

Specifications – Mazda MX-5 Superlight version

Transmission 		5-speed manual
Front/rear suspension 		Double wishbone/Multi-link
Damper (front/rear) 		Bilstein® monotube
Tyre size 		205/45 R17
Brake type (front/rear) 		Ventilated discs/Solid discs
Brake diameter (front/rear) 	mm	300/280
Acceleration 0-100 km/h *	s	8,9
Fuel consumption (combined)* 	l/100 km	6,3
CO2 emissions (combined) * 	g/km	150
Min. kerb weight (without driver) 	kg	995

SEE ALSO: 2009 Frankfurt Motor Show - Press Pass Coverage