All-Wheel Drive Miata: Could Mazda Make a Case For It?

Illustration for article titled All-Wheel Drive Miata: Could Mazda Make a Case For It?
Photo: Stef Schrader
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The Mazda Miata has been rear-wheel drive for its entire 30-year existence, as most people believe a proper sports car should be. But the new Mazda 3 will have all-wheel-drive for the first time. This got me wondering if an all-wheel-drive Miata isn’t the worst idea after all—and if Mazda could even pull it off.

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I can hear what you’re saying now: that’s a terrible idea because it would probably add weight, and screw up the driving dynamics. And why would you fix something that isn’t broken to begin with?

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But I’ve always taken these arguments with a grain of salt, since modern all-wheel-drive systems are much more sophisticated than their name suggests they are. That’s because in most modern all-wheel-drive systems all the wheels aren’t powered at the same rate all the time, mostly for fuel efficiency’s sake. Instead, computers determine how much power should be sent to each wheel, based on the inputs the computer is getting from the wheel. (Plus, it’d probably sell; people are increasingly splurging for AWD across all models.)

And Mazda has a new system called G-Vectoring Control Plus that takes this idea a step forward, incorporating braking movements in addition to wheel-by-wheel power changes to add traction in slippery conditions. This system is on the CX-5, and Mazda says it’ll eventually roll out to all of its cars, including Miata.

Which means the Miata would have another aid to help the driver. Which means that in a few years’ time you’re going punch only a few million buttons to get back to the “pure” driving experience, for those who even remember what that was to begin with.

Illustration for article titled All-Wheel Drive Miata: Could Mazda Make a Case For It?
Photo: Mazda
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So why not just go all-in and make an all-wheel-drive Miata, anyway? My proposal: Make the RF version the AWD variant, since the RF version is the expensive, heavier option already, with the soft-top staying rear-wheel-drive, now and forever. The enthusiasts all buy the soft-top anyway, and the RF I’ve always taken to be intended for people who might actually want AWD.

And you could, in theory, tell this system to be rear-wheel-drive biased, and probably also train it to only kick in when the car senses slippery conditions like snow and ice. Think, too, about what everyone else is doing, and about the fact that Mazda has recently taken steps to become a more “premium” brand, because you know what else has had all-wheel-drive for a while now? The Porsche 911.

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One more thing: If there’s any company that I’d “trust” to make an AWD Miata correctly, it’s Mazda, who has been among the biggest skeptics of autonomous driving, and doesn’t really have the resources for it anyway, so the company has almost every incentive to get driving dynamics right.

And an AWD Miata is not an idea Mazda dismissed to me out of hand, with a spokesman telling me, “Mazda hasn’t announced plans for an AWD Miata, however we’d love to hear what people think about the prospect.”

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So yes, do let Mazda know you feel in the comments.

News Editor at Jalopnik. 2008 Honda Fit Sport.

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DISCUSSION

randman2011
DSM_OR_DIE::Drives_A_Miata

I don’t see any value whatsoever in this proposal. How many people are DDing their Miata in areas that get snow? I did for two years and never once wished for AWD or more grip in general. I got a decent set of winter tires and had an absolute blast in the worst weather that we had had in years.

Separately, I had a Focus RS. It was supposed to be the end-all-be-all of torque vectoring and “RWD feel.” And you know what? It sucked. I was so far upside down on that car that I paid $6k out of pocket to dump it and resume DDing my RWD Miata. If that’s the best that GKN can offer, I have zero confidence in an AWD Miata being even the slightest bit enjoyable.

Normally we can follow the mentality that we aren’t forced to buy a car with this option, but designing the subframe and front knuckles and, more critically, the control software is an expensive task for an already cash strapped small manufacturer. They're going to have to amortize that cost somehow, and if that means making the Miata more expensive to make it worse, that's a hard pass for me.