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New MX-5 looks to repeat success

Can Mazda make it three in a row? The original Mazda MX-5, launched in 1988, revived the small, affordable sports car segment that British brands like MG and Triumph made their own in the 1960s.

The success of the original MX-5 prompted similar small sports cars from BMW, Mercedes and Honda, among others, but Mazda's evolution of the concept in 1998 ensured the MX-5 remains the world's best selling roadster. That car, codenamed J58T, is due to be replaced next year by an all-new model that Mazda hopes will maintain the MX-5 success story well into the next decade.

While the current MX-5 is fundamentally an extensive facelift of the original 1988 car, the prototype shown here, codenamed J04, features an all-new platform that shares some componentry – but not any sheet metal pressings – with the Mazda RX-8.

The MX-5 will retain its compact rear drive, two-seat roadster configuration, but will grow slightly in every dimension, including wheelbase, to give increased interior room and a larger boot. Base engine will remain a 1.8-litre four with variable valve timing, but whispers out of Hiroshima hint at the possibility of a high performance version with a lightweight, larger capacity V6 engine, or even a rotary powerplant.

The engines will be set right back in the chassis to give the car more even front to rear weight distribution for optimum handling. Expect bigger brakes and more safety equipment as standard, including electronic stability control and more airbags.

Ignore the RX-8 front end crudely attached to this prototype – the new MX-5 will get its own unique sheet metal. Although the Ibuki concept car unveiled at the 2003 Tokyo Show was touted by Mazda as a possible precursor to the new MX-5's design, it's believed the production version will look completely different.

Base engine will be an upgrade to the current 1.8-litre four, but a lightweight V6 or rotary engine is rumoured to be on the cards

New MX-5 will share some Mazda RX-8 components, but platform sheet metal will be both unique and specific

Longer wheebase and increased width means more interior room and stowage. Boot will be bigger, too

Still a two-seat roadster, but the new MX-5 will grow in every dimension. The RX-8 front is disguise, not production

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