There’s not much I can tell you about the Mazda MX5 Miata that you don’t already know. It’s the genuine, fun-loving car that everyone loves. Well… Most people.
The main problem with the roadster is that so many people talk so highly of it, that it’s becoming a bit overhyped. When I drove one for Launch Control a year or so back, I loved the thing, but I loved the thing at its current price of £4000. Think about it this way for a minute. When it was sold in 2002, it cost £16,605 new, which in today’s money after inflation, is nearly £25,000. That kind of money can get you a new 2 litre mini, a Subaru BRZ, or a low mileage e90 M3, which are all arguably better than the Mx5. So this asks the question - Was the MX5 not enough car for it’s original price tag? I say no. It wasn’t.
What should the Mx5 have been from the factory then? I envisage a car made by a fictional, high performance department of Mazda, like what AMG is to Mercedes, or Abarth to Fiat. They’d transform the stock car into that of a nearly thoroughbred sports machine, intended for occasional track use, but still comfortable on the road. They’d focus on the strengths of the MX5 like its agility, high revving engine with its progressive power band, and its fun and obedient nature, and improve them without necessarily changing the character of the car’s behaviour. If I was in charge (horrible idea but let’s roll with it), these are the changes I’d make.
Tyres are indisputably the most important part of the system. They provide the only contact with the tarmac, and therefore effect just about everything. Take an MX5 to the track and you’ll realise that the whole car is centred around the idea of preservation of momentum. More powerful cars may be able to out-run you in the straights, but its ability to brake later, corner harder, and exit corners with higher speeds prove it to be the snappy terrier at the ankles of the bigger dogs. To make the most of this characteristic, some high performance tyres are a must. Throw a set of Michelin Pilot Super Sports on there and it’ll be moving around on the track like a boxing lightweight in the ring.
255mm on the front and 251mm on the rear is all you’ve got to work with in the brake department on the Mk2. The earlier models have even smaller brakes(!) but are easily upgradeable and can be done even on a budget. Special editions come with bigger brakes and rotors, measuring 270mm on the front and 276 on the rear. EBC sell rotors and pads in this size with the rotors drilled and slotted to allow for even brake pad wear and efficient heat, gas, and contaminant expulsion, but be aware, if changing the size of your brake rotors you will need to fit the matching brake callipers and brackets. Calliper wise you can upgrade to the big brake callipers from the special editions/1.8 models which are one piston, or go all out and buy the high performance calliper kit from V-Max which come with four 35mm pistons for unrivalled stopping performance. I’d also advise, if you have the budget, to buy some stainless steel brake lines. Not necessarily for the feel of the brakes, but for the added reliability and safety that accompanies them.
Fall forward, spring back
Even the special edition with the Bilstein shocks, there is still a lot of body roll. The car is timid, don’t get me wrong, but it could be a lot nippier and composed on its springs. This, however, is easily remedied with the extensive range of aftermarket suspension available for all models of MX5. The Gaz Classic Coilover kit for the Mk2 is almost infinitely adjustable with its damping, rebound, and ride height adjustments. They also come in at a reasonable price of around £580 including VAT from ‘MX5parts.co.uk’. These are suited for both the road and track, and due to their highly customisable settings, they can be adjusted to your own preference at any time. Remember, after upgrading your suspension, always get a full alignment to make sure you get the most out of your new hardware.
With the suspension taken care of, the car will feel more balanced and predictable. The car’s ride height is so high from the factory due to an American law about bumper height or something equally as stupid, I’m not sure, but with the upgraded suspension it can finally be lowered to a reasonable level.
Exhaust all opportunities
The MX5 isn’t exactly what you would call sonorous. The exhaust sounds lumpy and asthmatic, but at the same time, some aftermarket exhaust systems sound like they’re trying too hard, and can create a noise like a rusty brass instrument – too edgy and thin. The best I’ve heard is Cobalt, which provides a not too synthetic, but still beefy, reverberation. Match this with a high flow manifold and you can free up a lot of the exhaust pressure, while at the same time actually sounding like a sports car. It might also be worth getting an ECU tune after this so the most can be made of the unrestricted flow of gasses.
I’m a big fan of a ducktail spoiler. It’s not overly flashy and outlandish, but still gives a sense that the car is something a little bit special. Whether it effects the aerodynamics of the car or not, I think it looks great, and would definitely be towards the top of my shopping list. The Mazdaspeed bodywork additions make the car look more aggressive and streamlined with a front and rear lip, and some tasteful side skirts. Arches can sometimes look a bit OTT, but if a wider track is what you’re looking for, they can look nice if blended into the bodywork with some filler. Apart from that I wouldn’t change anything else, bar maybe the wheels, but please don’t go larger than 15 or 16” though. The days of Need for Speed Underground have long gone!
So what we’ve accomplished is an MX5 on steroids. It can do everything the former version could do - but better. It has the noise, it has the stance, it has the looks, and above all, it has the performance. You may be asking however, ‘Alex, you haven’t covered straight-line speed?’ And this is true. Many people introduce forced induction or individual throttle bodies. These are more than reasonable ways of producing more power, but they are either extremely expensive, or change the character of the car, and that is something I set out not to do. There are other changes that could be made like chassis strengthening and bracing which I would definitely look into, but the main issues are covered.
How I wish Mazda would release a car like this. The new mk4, or ND as it is being referred to as, may be close to the original car, with the idea being a lightweight, fun, sports car, but how much fun would an all-out track variant be? Here’s a simple answer for you. Lots of fun.