Home » A Car Designer Fixes The Mazda Miata’s One Big Flaw

A Car Designer Fixes The Mazda Miata’s One Big Flaw

Altered By Adrian Mazda Miata Ts
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I’m not a fussy person, but I can be picky.

The crucial difference is a fussy person demands that everything be tailored to their exact requirements at all times. I saw something on Twitter this morning about how Millennials and Zoomers leave their phones on Do Not Disturb because how dare someone demand any of their precious attention. Elvis on a Honda Monkey bike, is this how far we’ve cratered as a civilization? Be a real adult like me and leave it on silent, because misanthropy is a sacred code to live by, not this week’s lifestyle choice. Conversely, being picky means I’m choosy about how I dress, what I wear, what books I read and what media I consume; whether this is the result of a lifetime spent cultivating specific interests and aesthetics or because I’m an autistic square peg in the round hole of human existence is a matter for the courts to decide.

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Car designers spend an inordinate amount of time being picky about the largest and smallest details. Almost everything the customer can see, touch or interact with is the purview of a designer inside the studio. Whether it’s the look of a plastic engine cover, the fit of a door seal or the placement of a warning label in a grey zone, at some point a designer will have sweated these innocuous details. If an OEM doesn’t put any care or attention into small visible things you can see, one can only imagine how they treat the things you can’t see … which makes the cope over panel gaps by Tesla’s most-online fans hilarious. Real paying customers care very much about small things indeed. As Charles Eames said, “details are not details; they make the design.” If I see a student’s render and they’ve ballsed up the perspective or proportions, my mind immediately rejects it no matter how otherwise good their design is because it tells me they haven’t developed an eye for the basics yet.

I’m not deliberately boarding the awkward train to Nitpick City. Freud called this phenomenon “the narcissism of small differences.” The idea is that if something is slightly off with what we desire, that’s a bigger issue than it being totally wrong. When the amount of wrongness condenses into a core of galaxy-sized shittitude, it’s easy to give an existential shrug of the shoulders and move on. But one tiny little error in something otherwise acceptable will manifest overwrought anguish, cardiovascular palpitations, and sleepless nights. Thankfully, I was created in a top-secret NHS research laboratory in the seventies and don’t sleep or have a heart, so instead I’ve come up with a new series where I fix these small car design errors. We’re calling it …

Altered By Adrian

The idea is I’m going to choose a car and remedy something about it that bugs the absolute caps off my markers. To tweak something that I think could have been done better. Yep, Mr. Big Shot Smart Mouth Car Designer is going to do some actual design work for change. These aren’t going to be ground-up designs like I used to do early on in my Autopian career, because those were time consuming and I have a lot of day drinking to do. Instead, I’m going to be making minor changes that will have a big effect. This will be a great way to demonstrate that car design is an act of nuance, as well as imparting some small but easily digestible car design lessons along the way.

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Our Subject: The Mazda MX-5 Miata

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One of my big caveats when doing design breakdowns and commentary is that to really understand a car, you need to see it in the metal. Photographs flatten the sculpture and obscure the subtlety, and in the case of press pack images they’re usually manipulated to make sure the new model looks as good as possible. So imagine my shock and horror when I first clapped eyes on an ND Miata and noticed the unnecessary crease in the body side. What the actual hell is that doing there?

Miata1 E1707937611123x

Let’s look at the evidence. I’ve downloaded some Miata press images and uploaded them into the Autopian mainframe (actually a Babbage difference engine made by Torch from Chinese knock-off Erector sets as part of his rehab) for processing. As you can see, there’s a crease that runs from the rear edge of the cockpit, forwards down the rear fender and onto the door. It starts at the corner of the passenger compartment opening, continues forwards under the door handle and fades out having done its evil work somewhere about halfway down the door skin. It does nothing except torture the metal in directions it doesn’t really want to go in, which you can see by the way the highlight across the rear fender in front of the wheel suddenly changes direction. Why is this here?

Surfacing 101

To start understanding how surfacing works, check out the image below. Think of a car like a simple metal box. Each side of the car, i.e. bodyside, hood, trunk, front and rear fascias are like the faces of a cube. The edges of the cube are the intersections between these different panels. How these intersect, and how one surface turns into another, are known as transitions. On the Miata, the main transition between the hood, the trunk, and the body sides are sharply defined. This gives it a strong profile that defines the side view of the car.

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Designers use feature lines in a variety of ways, and as a designer it’s important to ask oneself “what is this feature line giving me?” They can and are used as a purely sculptural element, to provide a visual flourish and a bit of interest. They can also be used to define an edge in the bodywork and allow a change in direction of the sheet metal if needed – think sharp box arches, light catchers just above rocker panels, and so on. They can also be used to provide visual continuity with shut lines –  consider how a clamshell hood creates a line that then runs down the length of the car. But no matter why a designer chooses to deploy a feature line, that line needs a start point and an end point. If you look at the small feature line that wraps around the side repeater of the Miata, you see there’s plenty of real estate in the middle of the fender for ends of that small line to blend out without it impacting the shut line of the door or the flat surface of the front wheel arch.

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Miata10 E1707938026483xWith more prominent feature lines this isn’t always possible, and because the offending line on the Miata ends near the transition between the trunk lid and rear fender, there are in effect three edges coming together which creates an unnecessary corner. I genuinely do not understand why this line is here.

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The only reason I can think of is that one of the designers is still mourning the death of the old Nagare design language, as seen above. This was Mazda’s attempt to visualize the word flow (Nagare is flow in Japanese) by introducing wave-like lines into the surfacing. The vast slab sides of a minivan are the type of vehicle you want to break up a bit, but on the Mazda 5 (below) they just looked idiotic and completely out of place.

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Much the same as that feature line looks idiotic and out of place on the Miata, which is why I removed it:

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There. I feel so much better.

All images courtesy of Mazda

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Stop Making Us Register To Comment
Stop Making Us Register To Comment
4 days ago

I can’t be the only one who did not notice a difference ????

AMGx2
AMGx2
1 month ago

The biggest flaw is that you hardly can sit in it if you’re taller than 6’4 let alone if you want to wear a helmet and drive with the top closed on a track.

It’s not as bad as an MGB but for a ‘modern’ car it is really really tight. Besides knees and other body parts which hardly work in that car. An inch here and there wouldn’t have hurt the car a lot but would have made it more accessible to people who didn’t grow up on a diet of potatoes and soda*.

*obvious sneer at all people below 6’4 🙂

Stop Making Us Register To Comment
Stop Making Us Register To Comment
4 days ago
Reply to  AMGx2

My father is 6 ft 4 and a half inches and fit in my 92 Miata just fine…calm down

Jeremy Edwards
Jeremy Edwards
1 month ago

Much as I love the ND to drive, I don’t like how it looks from the front as it looks too angry. You fixed the bit I have no opinion about! My favourite MX5 is the original NA, with the NB a close second. Both are a bit too “cutesy” for macho types, but I like them for their low aggression look and driving manners.

RYAN HEALY
RYAN HEALY
2 months ago

I thought you were going to put the pop up headlights back. How disappointing.

Mr Sarcastic
Mr Sarcastic
2 months ago

The miata design problems were fixed by the Z4, but they made other mistakes.

Mr Sarcastic
Mr Sarcastic
2 months ago

Cmon Millenials and Zoomers putting their phones on do not disturb is like my 60 year old fat ass blocking Heidi Klums number because well I know she would never call me.
Heidi you’re not blocked, call me I love you and would make a better parent than that pretty well boy Tom Brady. I dare ge put his career above yours when you make more money. I promise I will quit my job and be a stay at home dad for you and the kids.

The F--kshambolic Cretinoid Harvey Park
The F--kshambolic Cretinoid Harvey Park
2 months ago
Reply to  Mr Sarcastic

Not sure if you should be taking fewer, more, or better drugs

Mr Sarcastic
Mr Sarcastic
2 months ago

Hey In a world where Heidi may call? Those are good drugs.

Cheap Bastard
Cheap Bastard
2 months ago
Reply to  Mr Sarcastic

“Cmon Millenials and Zoomers putting their phones on do not disturb is like my 60 year old fat ass blocking Heidi Klums number”

Is she calling from Nigeria for bail money?

Mr Sarcastic
Mr Sarcastic
2 months ago
Reply to  Cheap Bastard

Did she call you too? Too late I already helped her. She is sending me double back.and a date.

Cheap Bastard
Cheap Bastard
2 months ago
Reply to  Mr Sarcastic

Nope. I did get an email from my former boss though. Something about being in an eastern European prison. She’s still there.

Mr E
Mr E
2 months ago

What I find interesting is the Mazda 3 looks just fine without random character lines (save for come concavity on the doors). Nice and clean.

That being said, the Miata doesn’t bug me nearly as much as the CX50 with its somewhat parallel lines surrounding the rear door handles. What the hell is that all about?

TOSSABL
TOSSABL
2 months ago

I’m about function over form, and read these mainly for the colour. But, after a few seconds of comparing the before and after photos, I uttered a very small “oh”. That small thing does make a definite difference.

And now I want to be outraged that I might be noticing ‘stupid crap’ like this all the time, but, any day you can expand your horizons is a good one.

AC2DE
AC2DE
2 months ago
Reply to  TOSSABL

That was my reaction too. It’s right up there with the “huh” of seeing a new way of doing things. When I’m selling at a trade show, I love to get those reactions. It might not be a sale this year, but I might be talking to that person again in 1 to 3 years. (We play the long game.)

Josh Berger
Josh Berger
2 months ago

Why for dost thou remove my armrest for your flippant “improvements”?

Wezel Boy
Wezel Boy
2 months ago

Day drinking and small changes for maximum effect? Have you ever considered a career in Systems Administration?

Gubbin
Gubbin
2 months ago
Reply to  Wezel Boy

“We’re tweaking an M4 macro here, which calls for a precision application of Laphroiag.”

Strangek
Strangek
2 months ago

Wow. Nice job! I was skeptical at first, because I think the car looks great, but the after images are, in fact, better!

WaxhawFive
WaxhawFive
2 months ago

After reading these comments, I challenge you, nay, DARE you to include a poll for future issues of “Altered By Adrian”.

Raven65
Raven65
2 months ago

Sorry, I like the crease. It continues the line from the front fender and ties into the shroud around where the top is stored – and in the process, adds a little separation from the rear “haunches”. Looks a little more muscular. I’m no designer, but I know what I like… and I like Mazda’s version better.

AceRimmer
AceRimmer
2 months ago
Reply to  Raven65

Yup. Removing the line makes it look blobby, like the porky NC models.

Carsgofast
Carsgofast
2 months ago

Without the line, the visual weight is shifted off the rear wheel and there is no where for your eye to land. I suspect that line is there to catch your eye at the rear wheel to give the car a sense of forward motion and make the car appear as if it is always ready to take off. I don’t mind your cleaned up rendering, but it’s also much less interesting. To quote the great car designer Edgar Allen Poe “There is no beauty without some strangeness.”

Carsgofast
Carsgofast
2 months ago
Reply to  Adrian Clarke

Does the line make more sense to you on the RF version or still bothers you the same amount?

Ana Osato
Ana Osato
2 months ago
Reply to  Adrian Clarke

With what?

Ted Fort
Ted Fort
2 months ago
Reply to  Carsgofast

I agree. The smooth version is prettier, but less attractive.

The F--kshambolic Cretinoid Harvey Park
The F--kshambolic Cretinoid Harvey Park
2 months ago
Reply to  Carsgofast

Allan*

Cyko9
Cyko9
2 months ago

The ND evolves but over-complicates the design of the NC (or NB). It’s hard to say what’s better, but I found the exercise interesting. The busy design introduced at the back needs a little balance in the front. Or go all-in and just throw a giant wing on the back!

Thomas Benham
Thomas Benham
2 months ago

I just assumed designers got paid by the crease. What they did to the Mazda 5 was criminal and there was a generation of Civic that looked like a crumpled piece of paper.

Tim Connors
Tim Connors
2 months ago

Huh. When I saw the headline, I assumed that you were going to find a clever arrangement that allowed for a bit more interior space in the Miata.

OptionXIII
OptionXIII
2 months ago

My biggest complaint about the ND is the rear end. It’s just far too pinched in. The 124s wider trunk looks much more filled out.

ProudLuddite
ProudLuddite
2 months ago
Reply to  OptionXIII

The 124 looks better front to back, the ND Miata is too short and stubby

Mark Liggett
Mark Liggett
2 months ago

The final result is spookily like a S2000

Beer-light Guidance
Beer-light Guidance
2 months ago
Reply to  Mark Liggett

My exact thought with the first adjusted picture from up high on the passengers side.

ProudLuddite
ProudLuddite
2 months ago
Reply to  Mark Liggett

No, an s2000 is low and lithe, the MD Miata is tall and tippy

Cheap Bastard
Cheap Bastard
2 months ago

“I saw something on Twitter this morning about how Millennials and Zoomers leave their phones on Do Not Disturb because how dare someone demand any of their precious attention. Elvis on a Honda Monkey bike, is this how far we’ve cratered as a civilization? Be a real adult like me and leave it on silent, because misanthropy is a sacred code to live by, not this week’s lifestyle choice.”

A Ferrari seems an odd choice for a misanthropist.

Cheap Bastard
Cheap Bastard
2 months ago
Reply to  Adrian Clarke

You need a Pontiac.

The F--kshambolic Cretinoid Harvey Park
The F--kshambolic Cretinoid Harvey Park
2 months ago
Reply to  Cheap Bastard

Doesn’t he already have enough drama in his life from one car?

Cheap Bastard
Cheap Bastard
2 months ago

Different flavor of drama.

Driving a Ferrari is like walking a fancy puppy; people go out of their way to talk to you. Maybe sometimes that’s what you want, other times that can be annoying. So are the bills. Purebeds might be nice to look at but they tend to have expensive vet bills. In the case of the Ferrari it’s diet ain’t cheap either.

Driving a shitbox Pontiac is like walking a junkyard mutt. People cross the street when they see you coming. Sometimes they run away. That can be very satisfying for a misanthropist. Mutts are cheaper too. No fancy premium diet for this one, it’s happy with swill. Just don’t turn your back on it.

Cheap Bastard
Cheap Bastard
2 months ago
Reply to  Adrian Clarke

Too bad, you’re missing out. There’s a lot of freedom in a shit box.

Marty Densch
Marty Densch
2 months ago

Sorry but your “fix” took more away than it added. I’ve owned a Soul Red ND Launch Edition since they first came out and having seen how light and reflections play off that surface I understand why its there. Your rendering renders that area flat and uninteresting. Nice try.

JKcycletramp
JKcycletramp
2 months ago
Reply to  Adrian Clarke

Yay! All my shirts are interesting!

PaysOutAllNight
PaysOutAllNight
2 months ago

From the topside, I prefer the Mazda version. It looks better because it defines the passenger space in a way that Adrian’s modifications don’t.

From the side, I prefer Adrian’s version. I think the crease extending into the area below the door handle looks a little too much like a shopping cart dent in the door.

Beceen
Beceen
2 months ago

That was interesting. Now please go and fix all the Toyota lineup.

PaysOutAllNight
PaysOutAllNight
2 months ago
Reply to  Beceen

…starting with Lexus.

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