The 2016 Mazda Miata is well on its way, and we've already seen the running gear of the next generation. But having some chassis bits and some suspension on a display stand is one thing, and testing the car under real-world conditions is another. Oh, and this mule's got a turbo.
We received these pictures from a source at a port on the West Coast, and it's definitely one of the most interesting test vehicles we've seen in a while. And while we delve into what makes this test vehicle tick, we should keep in mind that it may not be a Miata mule at all, but rather, the Fiat/Alfa Romeo sibling that's planned. We don't know the name of that one for sure yet, though, so for brevity I'll just refer to this one as a Miata.
It was probably sent over from Japan for some stateside testing, and the next time you see it, it may be covered in some obfuscating body-cladding, so that may explain why they didn't even bother when it came to the styling department.
So while it is ugly, as cars go, it's almost definitely not indicative in any way of the next-gen Miata's styling, but it may tell us more about the specifications and engineering.
You can see more pictures down below, but for now, let's look at this first shot, from the weird goggles it's got duct-taped to its face to the strangeness that is the VIN.
Here's the first shot in full:
I'm not going to nitpick more about the duct tape, because hey, it's a testing mule, it's not supposed to look pretty. But now let's zoom in and ENHANCE (except there is no ENHANCE, because nothing works that way in real life, so really, we're just zooming in) to see if we can decipher any clues about the next-generation of the Answer, as in, always Miata. Here's the headlight:
Normally, headlights on a mule tend not to tell you a lot about the upcoming car. They're often covered up and serve as functional illuminations only, rather than as a design element. But if you look along the bottom edge of the headlight here, you'll see something quite intriguing. The pattern on that dark gray piece doesn't look so much like regular plastic, and it's most certainly not metal.
Rather, it looks suspiciously like the weave of carbon fiber.
We know the next Miata is supposed to lose over 200 pounds, and that's a pretty big figure from such a small car. A Mercedes G-Class, the MX-5 is not. So a good way to go on a big diet, if you're a car, is to replace lots of bits with high-strength, low-weight carbon fiber.
Mazdas are generally not known for their use of the stuff, which can be expensive and harder to work than, say, steel. But the 2016 Mazda Miata is being developed in conjunction with Fiat-Chrysler. And though it's a little up in the air right now whether the Italian Miata-twin will be badged as an Abarth or as an Alfa Romeo, the former has experience with the material, as we saw in the absolutely nuts Fiat 500 695 Biposto, and the latter has tons of experience with the stuff, especially in the form of the Alfa Romeo 4C.
Obviously the headlights on this mule don't exactly fit, so they might not ever make it into the production car, and the bit that looks a lot like carbon might not ever see the light of day. But it's definitely unusual.
But, speaking of Fiat-Chrysler, check out the badge with the VIN:
In case it wasn't glaringly obvious, and it can be a little hard to read, I circled it with a big fat red circle. And in case you're totally illiterate, which is miraculous, seeing as how you're reading these words right now, or you are vision impaired, in which case your computer is reading these words for you, and you can't see that taped-on piece of paper too well anyways, in which case sadface ( :-( ), it does not say "Mazda."
It says "Chrysler," as in, "Fiat-Chrysler." So put all your doubts about this being a Miata mule aside. This is definitely not the next Mazda 2.
Now onto the engine.
We'd previously heard that the next-gen Miata, known by the internal code ND, would probably be getting some form of Mazda's current Skyactiv engine, and that was about it, but there was a chance that the Alfa Romeo/Fiat version would have a 1.4-liter turbo engine. Turbos are fairly rare in Miatas, and the only thing that would make this mule's engine truly special would be if it had some forced induction.
But that would be totally silly, it's not like we've spotted some unicorn, hiding out in a port-side parking lot, turbo and all, because that would really be pretty wi–––
OH MY GOD IT'S A TURBO. Or rather, it looks astoundingly a lot like a turbo, in this case made by the Good Folks At Honeywell (™).
Again, just because it's in a body that resembles a Miata, does not a Miata mule make. This could just be a Fiat/Alfa Romeo version of the car, which is rumored to be getting that turbocharged engine, while the Mazda gets none.
Orrrrrrrrrrrr the next Miata might be available in a turbocharged, high-output, extra-wasabi version. Sure, that's completely baseless speculation on my part, fueled by nothing but dreams and a single photo of a single test car, but if I don't speculate, who will? Besides everybody else?
As for the interior, it's pretty standard fare, as interiors go. I mean, it looks like an interior.
Nothing crazy in here, though our source says that big red button taped to the dash might be a start-stop button, but I like to think it's for space thrusters, or an ejector seat. So while we're basically speculating, let's just go ahead and call it now that the next generation of the Mazda Miata will come with space thrusters, and an ejector seat, as standard. Or maybe they're an option that comes in the turbo package. Either one.
As for the back, it's got nothing too crazy out there, as well.
Except for those funky, pea-shooter-esque exhausts. Though I doubt they'll make it to production, it's one of the few design elements that I hope sticks it through to the final product.
That and the taped-on goggle headlamps.
Think you can spot a few more extra features that I might've missed? Think I'm totally wrong? But definitely not about the space thrusters and ejector seat?
Let us know in the comments below!