Chris Wright and Anthony Lewis in Paris

Mazda is returning to its sporty roots with the introduction of the RX8 sports car next year while the Mazda6-based MPS concept car unveiled at the Paris Motor Show could also go into production.

Research and Development chief Joseph Bakaj said a new version of the enduring MX-5 two+seater is also under way.

Although Mazda is now developing cars jointly with parent company Ford, Mr Bakaj said the Mazda DNA would be very clear in all its versions.

"They are very different cars to drive. We might jointly develop the vehicles and their component parts, but we build in enough flexibility to fine tune the chassis and engines to suit our own tastes"

The RX8 is now in its final development stage and will be a real showcase for the brand.

"It is a unique car," said Bakaj. It is a true four seater but it is no sports saloon, it is a no-compromise sports car., No one has done that successfully before.

"As such it has no real competition although you might look towards the high performance versions of the BMW 3-series or Alfa Romeo - but it really does not fit into any category."

There were a number of problems to overcome to produce a four-door sports car. "We had to keep it light, with a low centre of gravity while retaining good body stiffness."

By moving the engine back towards the cabin and the fuel tank forward, weight has been centralized reducing yaw intertia. Mazda's rotary engine can also be mounted lower than a conventional motor so improving the car's centre of gravity.

"Body rigidity is also stiffer than the old RX-7 sports car," added Bakaj. "Even though that only had two doors, while weight is also lower than the old model thanks to using aluminium suspension parts and through designing weight out using computer aided engineering."

Mazda plans to sell 3,500 RX-8s in the UK next year with even more in a full year on sale in 2004.

There is no time scale yet for the updated MX-5 but Bakaj said Mazda would stick to the original concept of a simple, lightweight and affordable two-seater.

"The MX-5 has been one of Mazda's real success stories. It still looks great and has an extraordinary reputation for reliability - customers keep wanting to come back."

Bakaj said that the new MCX-5 would not share its underpinnings with any Ford models. "It will keep its unique platform," he added.

Published : 27/09/02 Author : Melanie Carter

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