|Photos by Ulysses Ang|
Still, it’s rare for a car to get the balance right. Often times, there’s one aspect that drowns all the others: it can be a great drive, but ugly; it can be beautiful, but a dog to drive. It rarely comes together as a cohesive whole—a perfectly balanced harmony of being just right. But this is something Mazda has been espousing for the past 25 years with the Jinba-Ittai or “horse and rider as one” philosophy. With the MX-5 or Miata, they’ve successfully transformed a car and turned it into an extension of the human body. Today, however, Jinba-Ittai isn’t just limited to sports cars any more. The sensation can now be felt in a wide array of cars. Mazda knows the 2016 MX-5 has to take things to the next level.
Thus, Kan is born.
Kan, a Japanese word closely translated as ‘sensation’ calls for an even higher level of connection. It’s a further evolution of Jinba-Ittai if you will; only the experience is all about making the mechanical, organic. It’s no longer about outright power or lateral acceleration; it’s about the way feels—like it’s a living, breathing entity. Physically, it’s more than just in the way a car responds. Now, it’s all about the linearity by which it behaves, corresponding directly to the driver’s thoughts. It’s all about being fun and fun in the simplest sense—the same fun a child would have towards driving—this is what Kan is all about.
The bigger challenge is how to incorporate it to the concept of sustainability. Sure, Skyactiv is a means to improve fuel efficiency without any detriment to driving enjoyment, but is this enough for a sports car that’s meant to stand above in terms of being fun? The solution lies in giving less in order to be more: the gram strategy. Returning to the MX-5’s ethos as the purest form of the lightweight sports car, every millimeter, every gram that could be shaved off was shaved off. The engine, for example, produces a more linear torque curve without a variable intake system in exchange for 300 grams. The same goes for the exhaust system, which reduces overall weight by three grams. The war against weight spread to removing the springs in the seat cushions and even to where the different bolts are placed.
This all sounds too good to be true and maybe it is but that’s exactly why Mazda brought four MX-5s to the Batangas Racing Circuit less than twenty four hours after its launch. As it arrived into the pit lane after doing warm-up laps, no words can describe when you set eyes on it. You simply know everything is right. The lines, the proportions—they look precisely as you’d expect them, a fitting tribute to the roadster’s 25-year history. And yet, it looks modern, edgy, and fresh. Settling into the driver’s seat and popping the top down, you get an unobstructed, commanding view of the road. You sit low, but manage to see the hood and corners; every bit you’d expect in a lightweight, top-down sports car.
Donning helmets, it’s time to see what Kan is all about. The engine turns up with a ‘click, click, click’ sound before coming to life—a sound synonymous to a heartbeat according to Mazda, before it settles to an even idle. Now, driving with the top-down on the open road is a multisensory experience on its own, but driving it on the track just heightens everything even more. It’s like being on an acid trip. The best, and only way, to describe the MX-5 is that it’s linear. Everything from the throttle to the steering to the brakes, all give the perfect balance. There’s an instantaneous connection the moment the steering wheel is held, the pedals are pressed, the gearlever shifted. It tracks straight, feels lithe, and provides more than enough forward thrust to push you against your seat. It feels well and beyond its quoted acceleration times, going instead, for a feeling of speed.
As you enter into a corner, it allows you to do whatever you want it to do. It makes one, even with little track experience, feel everything. It becomes a vessel of exploration, allowing you to press into each corner more and more, giving you the opportunity to find your limits in a safe and controlled manner. There’s tremendous confidence in its steering. There’s no need to saw your hands on the smaller three-spoke tiller and a light tap of the brakes actually allows it to clip the apex or two or three. After a full lap, you realize: this car isn’t hard on its brakes at all. It relies on the utter predictability of its steering, mechanical balance, and engine braking to get the job done. Smooth and graceful inputs on the wheel results in a well-coordinated dance on the race track. And even if you have two left feet, it still allows you to tango before the stability control kicks in and the car wags her pointer figure at you. A missed corner entry is easily corrected as long as you don’t panic. Even for a novice, this car isn’t messy to drive at all; it’s an absolute mechanical beauty.
The MX-5 is lovely in the way it stirs the soul and awakens the universal joy in driving to just about anyone. It feels like a living being in the way it immediately, and instinctively captures your reactions. It’s a car that operates at the gut-feel level. This is pure, unadulterated exhilaration free from the constraints of objective numbers. How it behaves and performs on the open road is a story best told another day, but on the track, it makes you feel alive.