Mazda MX-5/Alfa Spider (2015) first spy shots of the joint roadster project

Published: 19 September 2013

You’re looking at what’s likely to be the driving enthusiast’s highlight of 2015: the first of two new rear-drive, two-seater sports cars wearing iconic badges: Mazda MX-5, and Alfa Romeo Spider. Mazda and Alfa are joining forces to create a shared-platform sports car, but each model will wear bespoke styling and be powered by different in-house engines.

Pretty sure I’m actually looking at an old MX-5 that’s crashed…

This current-gen MX-5 test mule is far from pretty, but ignore the masking-tape eye shadow around its RX-8 headlights and missing side skirts: this test hack is concealing the really important bit: powertrains. This car was spied tooling around Auburn Hills, Michigan – the home of Chrysler’s world headquarters.

What was a Mazda doing testing in Chrysler’s back yard?

Don’t be fooled by the Mazda suit – this is a joint project. Alfa Romeo is part of the Chrysler family – Chrysler is in charge of Alfa’s Fiat Group overlords. So, it’s likely that under the red herring Mazda body, this car is running the Alfa Romeo 4C supercar’s powertrain, rotated through 180 degrees to power the new Alfa Spider.

Back with a bang then, the new Alfa Spider?

With a turbocharged 1.7-litre four-pot developing 237bhp, we should say so. That VW Golf GTI-besting output is sent to the rear wheels via the 4C’s dual-clutch ‘TCT’ paddleshift gearbox. Thanks to Mazda’s ‘SkyActiv’ chassis, the car’s kerbweight should be reassuringly low – though not as featherweight as the carbonfibre 4C.

What’s the story with the Mazda MX-5?

Mazda engineers are targeting a substantial weight saving for the new MX-5, thanks to the SkyActiv philosophy. The current 6 saloon and new 3 hatchback have managed to shave around 100kg from the kerbweights of their predecessors, but that’ll be a taller order for the MX-5, which comes in at around 1150kg in its current guise.

It’ll offer a manual gearbox only in the UK – Mazda admits the short-lived auto didn’t fit with the car’s enthusiast-pleasing ethos in the UK market, which sucks up 50% of European MX-5 sales – and 10% of the worldwide total. An automatic is still on the cards for the American market, though. As per the current MX-5, folding hard-top and conventional canvas-roofed roadster bodystyles will be available, with the entry-level model purported to cost less than £20,000.

What about a hot Mazda MX-5 MPS to scare Z4s and Boxsters?

Don’t hold your breath. With Hiroshima’s resources concentrated on trimming grams and reducing CO2 via the SkyActiv policy, Mazda’s shying away from high-powered sporty models for the time being – though insiders admit they’d love to see a return for the performance-orientated MPS range. Right now, it’s a no-go, and it’s the fault of the SkyActiv engines themselves. Thanks to their ultra-high compression ratios – and the resultant lack of easily tuneable turbochargers – Mazda hasn’t got a suitable brawny engine available to power hot 2s, 3s, 6s and MX-5s. Its Alfa Spider sister, on the other hand, with 237bhp on hand from its blown 4C engine, could be the Italian-styled enemy within for the new MX-5. We’ll find out in 2015.

By Ollie Kew

Former road tester and staff writer of this parish