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Thursday 23rd August 2012


DRIVEN: MAZDA MX-5 GT CONCEPT

Over a million sold and finally we get an MX-5 with some proper zoom-zoom


It comes to something when in the presentation for a new car the PR boss shrugs and concludes “basically, you need to rev the bollocks off it.”

Orange wrap certainly not shy
Orange wrap certainly not shy
The thrill of driving should come from having to work for it a bit, it being surprising in the wake of the GT86/BRZ debate quite how many folk seem unwilling to look past relatively modest stats and concentrate on, as Mr Harris so elegantly put it, enjoying performance "because of its nature and not just its quantity." If you don’t get out of bed for less than 500hp and a sub four-second 0-62 then, like the Toyobaru, this MX-5, 200hp and screaming throttle bodied induction howl or not, probably isn’t for you.

If, however, you’re prepared to put the effort in and have been holding out, like many, for Mazda to finally get its arse into gear and deliver on the promise in the basic MX-5 package then it could be time to rejoice.  Frankly after over two decades, a million-plus sales and – until recently – almost single-handedly carrying the torch for affordable RWD it’s a wonder it’s taken this long for the MX-5 to really show some attitude. And while plenty in the aftermarket will throw superchargers, turbos or good old-fashioned engine tuning at your MX-5, Mazda itself has been curiously lacking the willing to unlock the potential we all know is there, probably because it hasn’t had to.

Is it flat through here? Um, apparently not...
Is it flat through here? Um, apparently not...
You took your time…
Thankfully Mazda UK has got its act together and, with the Jota team that prepares its GT and production race cars, created an MX-5 that nobody need make any excuses for, known as the GT Concept for now.

First things first – this isn’t a new, officially endorsed hot MX-5. Not yet. We’re still – STILL! - at the toe in the water stage as Mazda UK explores the possibilities for cashing in on the success of that GT4 car and demonstrating the MX-5 is more than just a cute little roadster.

But as the green, yellow, RED! shift lights cycle through and that low-rev monotone steadily builds and builds through an assertive, induction-led bark and finally a properly fierce and race-bred howl you just think how can they deny us this!

What, you'd prefer a turbo instead?
What, you'd prefer a turbo instead?
Perhaps the most startling thing, engine work aside, is how little they’ve actually had to do to make this car come alive. Sure, Jota has grafted on a carbon splitter and diffuser, inspired by the GT car, and there’s a rorty centre-exit exhaust system (ditto). But in terms of chassis there’s little more than Eibach springs to Jota’s preferred stiffness, some minor and undisclosed damping tweaks (standard dampers, not the Sport’s Bilsteins) and … that’s it!

You’ll like me when I’m angry
It runs about 35mm lower than standard and, having tried 18-inch wheels and found the car tramlined too much, is back on the standard 17s. Lower it may be but it’s still beautifully compliant and very happy as a road set-up and lacks none of the standard car’s fluency over bumpy, twisty B-roads. It may lose the production race car’s fancy Sachs dampers but it shares that car’s lively, predictable feel and doesn’t tie it down too hard and lose the feedback and adjustability that makes the MX-5 so much fun. It just has a bit more poise and grip, a bit less pitch and roll and the capacity to handle that extra power.

Current set-up is definitely road supple
Current set-up is definitely road supple
Currently pegged at around 200hp, Richard from engine builder Omex says there is the potential for more out of the set-up, based around Jenvey throttle bodies and his own tuning, but they’re still playing about with torque curves and maps. He also corrects the common misconception (guilty as charged!) that the Mazda engine and Ford Duratec are one and the same. They share a block and basic design and were developed together but, he asserts, the Mazda version uses much higher quality internal components and the head is different and has inherently better flow. The way his eyes light up at the talk of 7,800rpm redlines and making sure you use them shows where his loyalties are in terms of the final brew but the production version, if it happens, will be driveable and slightly less rampant in terms of noise.

Fun on the track too and plenty exploitable
Fun on the track too and plenty exploitable
Potential. Realised.
It doesn’t dance around on its tyres quite as much as a BRZ/GT86 but it’s got bucketloads of flow and in no time at all you’re happy to lean on it pretty damned hard, flicking that stubby little gear lever this way and that to keep those shift lights ablaze and giggling like an idiot at the noise.

True, it does encourage you to drive like a bit of an tool. But it’s just so much fun and the base package so well sorted that you can’t help yourself and there’s just enough power to enhance the car without overwhelming the finer detail and turning it into a one-dimensional point and squirt device.

Cosmetic upgrades influenced by GT racer
Cosmetic upgrades influenced by GT racer
So what’d it cost? Well, Mazda is talking of a final price in the £30K ballpark. Which is a lot for an MX-5 and a fair step up from the £23K you’d pay for the 2.0 Roadster Coupe Sport Tech on which it’s based. A Boxster is now, effectively, a £40K car but that’d get you in a basic Z4 or SLK with a turbo and aforementioned diesel-like power delivery. In spirit it’s more a rival for the Elise though, entry to the Lotus coming a couple of grand less for the base 1.6.

A lot of money for an MX-5, true. But a whole lot of fun too.


MAZDA MX-5 GT Concept
Engine:
1,999cc 4-cyl
Transmission: 6-speed manual, rear-wheel drive
Power (hp): ‘over’ 200@6,000rpm (standard: 160@7,000)
Torque (lb ft):143@4,800rpm (standard: 139@5,000)
0-62mph:  TBC (standard: 7.9 sec)
Top speed: TBC (standard: 136mph)
Weight:1,173kg
MPG: TBC (standard: 36.2 combined)
CO2: TBC (standard: 181g/km)
Price: c. £30,000

Note: final output and performance figures to be confirmed, comparison figures for standard car for a 2.0 Roadster Coupe Sport Tech

Author: Dan Trent