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Inside Mazda

Redefining a Legend: How Mazda Designed the Fourth-Generation MX-5 Miata – Part 3

Every car comes from somewhere. This is the third part of four covering how the design of the fourth-generation Mazda MX-5 Miata came to be.

Part III: Headlights Front and Center

So, the body of the all-new MX-5 had been chosen, but there was still some room to make the front of it stand on its own.

Going back to the earliest MX-5s, designers looked at why there were pop-up headlights: To keep the front end low, which made it look especially sleek in its diminutive stature. After time, as exposed headlights replaced the 1990-1997 pop-up units and evolved to meet safety and lighting legislation around the world, the MX-5’s front end became bulky.

Again, it was time to go back to the beginning.

Of course, pop-up headlights were no longer en vogue, and there was no chance they’d be coming back. But there needed to be some sort of tie to the rest of the Mazda family—simple and clean like the first-gen’s running lamps or almond-shaped like those of the rest of the Mazda family.

In the end, the team used cues adapted from the European proposals, giving the MX-5 an expressive face that complemented both objectives.

As the design and engineering teams worked with one another, they became aware of new technologies that allowed them to do more with less. In the early 1990s, three professors—two Japanese and the other a Japanese-born U.S. citizen—Isamu Akasaki, Hiroshi Amano and Shuji Nakamura—invented the blue LED bulb, which was far larger than existing LED lights and could be used for commercial lighting. Their invention would lead to a 2014 Nobel Prize in Science for its efficiency and progress and would pave the way for modern automotive and commercial lighting.

Before it won the commendation, the Japanese Mazda team would see the new lighting for its automotive capabilities—brighter the xenon HID headlights but far more compact and cooler-operating. It would also allow the MX-5 to have a lower hood line.

The problem was that the headlight technology was more expensive than traditional halogen headlights, and to make it standard would add cost. Yet, given the mission of the new MX-5, it was the right thing to do.

ND Mazda MX-5 Miata Design Concept079

LED headlights also lent itself to another opportunity: Providing the MX-5 with a “face.” With the small housing, the MX-5’s designers added a pupil to the headlight surrounds, giving the effect of the MX-5 smiling when viewed from some angles. Designers likened this to Buddha’s statue—always staring at onlookers from any angle.

With the last major design element of the fourth-generation MX-5 decided, it underwent a few subtle tweaks at the end of 2013 in preparation for production and its world debut.