How the Miata Is Surprisingly Green

The idea of green cars brings to mind plugs, hybrid power plants, odd aerodynamics, and boring performance. The 2016 Mazda MX-5 Miata became a surprising part of the environmentally friendly car discussion — almost by accident. When Mazda set out to improve its tremendously popular two-seat sports convertible, how did it end up with a green car?

Trimming the Fat

Image via Flickr by Michael R Perry
Image via Flickr by Michael R Perry

Mazda designers used every means necessary to cut weight from the new Miata. The body, except for the doors, is now all aluminum. The frame features increased use of high-strength steel. The seats are 35 percent thinner than before and lost 17 pounds each. The braking system lost 14 pounds. The suspension and transmission are 26 and 16 pounds lighter, respectively. Bit by bit, engineers nipped and tucked wherever they could, resulting in a loss of over 150 pounds and a total curb weight of just over 2,300 pounds.

The lighter car is quicker and more nimble than before. The Miata has always been fun to drive, but the fuel economy is a big improvement. The 2015 model achieved 21 miles per gallon in the city and 28 mpg on the highway. The latest version has jumped to 27 mpg in the city and 36 mpg on the highway for the six-speed automatic. The six-speed manual gets slightly less economy on the highway, but it's totally worth it for the fun factor alone.

Going SKYACTIV

Mazda has a new universal design theory it calls SKYACTIV Technology: Every aspect of every vehicle is designed with maximum efficiency in mind. What's more, weight reduction is only one facet of this technology. Under the hood, Mazda is squeezing all the power it can out of its engines. The 14:1 compression ratio is unmatched throughout the industry, achieving increases of at least 15 percent in both fuel economy and torque.

The increase in compression leads to an increase in engine heat, which is managed by a long 4-2-1 exhaust system, cavity pistons, and multihole injectors. Exhaust gases are forced back into the combustion chamber, but not before they have had a chance to cool.

Both chassis and body have been redesigned to increase rigidity and decrease weight, resulting in lighter and stiffer platforms that improve efficiency and handling without compromising safety. Their goal was to reach "jinba ittai" — the perfect unity of horse and rider aspired to in Japanese mounted archery.

Sustaining the Zoom

In 2007, Mazda announced a comprehensive plan to make "cars that always excite, look inviting to drive, are fun to drive, and make you want to drive them again" while maintaining "an exciting, sustainable future for cars, people and the Earth."

SKYACTIV is just one way that Mazda aims to achieve this. Thanks to brake regeneration technology, idle-stop, electric vehicles, hybrid drives, fuel cells and cleaner production methods, Mazda aspires to reduce waste and CO2 emissions while never straying from its core image.

Mazda and its 2016 Miata might not be the first names people are used to thinking of when considering green cars, but they are a powerful part of a cleaner future.

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