Talk about stealing the limelight: so much has the focus been on the new Toyota GT86 and Subaru BRZ twins that just about everyone has forgotten about one key alternative, the Mazda MX-5.
Now Mazda UK are hoping to put at stop to all that, with this MX-5 GT concept.
A production car would be preferable, surely…
Well, hopefully that’s where all this is leading. If there’s a favourable reaction to the MX-5 GT, we may well see a limited run of cars coming on stream in the near future. And if it does, sources suggest it would retail for around £30k.
What are the MX-5 GT’s special ingredients?
It all starts with a trip to Jota Sport, the British-based racing squad that’s previously entered the MX-5 in various endurance races and has therefore got plenty of experience when it comes to turning these cars into something a bit more special.
The basics are pretty familiar, with the GT plumping for the MX-5’s more powerful 2.0-litre 16-valver – base cars use a 1.8 – which sends power to the rear wheels alone. But power is lifted from the standard car’s rather puny 158bhp/138lb ft to a much meatier ‘over 200bhp’, according to Mazda, and a ‘production target’ of 144lb ft. What do those Subota twins put out? 197bhp and 151lb ft.
40bhp is a big gain for a naturally aspirated road car, but Jota says it was easy, simply because the engine is incredibly robust and significantly de-tuned by the factory. As such, the extra oomph is unleashed by installing new camshafts – ‘more like a top-end GTI spec than the regular MX-5’ – a new inlet manifold and exhaust system, plus some careful remapping of the engine.
What are the MX-5 GT’s chassis and transmission mods?
The GT sticks with standard brakes, and comes with the limited-slip differential that’s optional on other MX-5s. Meanwhile, the standard shocks and springs are replaced with uprated items, Bilsteins in the case of the car we’re driving. It’s 35mm lower than the standard car. There are also new tyres: slightly wider Federal RSRs.
What’s it like to drive?
Our first taste of the MX-5 GT was on track at Donington. The first thing you notice, unfortunately, is a very sticky throttle pedal, but push through its initial reluctance and there’s a much deeper, much fuller kind of resonance from the induction side of the engine, which makes it sound faster anyway – it sounds a lot like a Caterham, in fact. But you also feel the extra speed. The regular car has a big appetite for revs, but the GT feels even zingier, and certainly faster too. This all works hand-in-hand with the chassis improvements: the wider front tyres give you more front end bite, and the firmer chassis means you can chuck it into the corner without feeling seasick (as you do in the standard car). The result is higher entry speeds and, if you’re late enough on the brakes, a lovely tendency to four-wheel drift through the corner – it’s certainly one of the friendliest rear-wheel drive cars we’ve driven.
And how about on the road?
It’s very good. There’s still a bit of body roll, but the firmer suspension and extra power means you can really get the back end of the car working – not lairy powerslides so much as feeling it lightly tweak you into the corner – and it’s great fun. The short, punchy, slick gearchange is a delight – as it always is – and the steering isn’t as good as a GT86’s – it’s a little too keen to self-centre for me – but the firmer chassis strikes a great balance between remaining perfectly acceptable for road use, while being noticeably better tied down.
How likely is Mazda to produce the GT, how much would it cost and how many would they make?
Mazda is keeping its cards close to its chest, saying that it won’t make a decision on the MX-5 GT until it’s assessed the press reaction. However, it would cost around £30k. The GT is based on the MX-5 folding hardtop, so that’s a premium of about £7k, and about £5k more than the Toyota GT86. If it does all come together, it will be produced on a built-to-order basis.
The MX-5 GT is a lot of fun, and a great riposte to the Subaru/Toyota BRZ/GT86 twins. The engine mods give it plenty of poke and help it to sound great – certainly far better than those other Japanese rivals – and the chassis is far more confidence-inspiring than the standard car. Niggles include the price, the sticky throttle and the slightly artificial steering, but this is a very well wrought transformation and one that significantly improves the MX-5 without any deal-breaking drawbacks.