Mazdaspeed option powers up sporty Miata

September 24, 2004|by MALCOLM GUNN/Wheelbase Communications

After nearly 15 years, our love affair with one of the most successful sporty cars ever built gets a new lease on life.

Under the Mazdaspeed brand (the company's racing division), the Miata has evolved from a relatively low-key, top-down, two-seat funmobile into a formidable driving machine that delivers more smiles per gallon of gas.

With the same basic principles that made the '03 Mazdaspeed Protge such a fun ride, it's now the Miata's turn to receive a little aftermarket magic: more power; better handling; and a more aggressive look.


The new Mazdaspeed Miata caters to the growing "tuner" crowd, a group of rev-happy enthusiasts that just can't seem to leave well enough alone. These owners typically add bigger wheels, power enhancers and dress-up pieces to personalize their machines and make them perform better.


The benefits of having the factory take care of the engineering and assembly should be obvious. There's no parts guess-work, there's full warranty and you can spread out the cost of the factory add-ons over your finance period. There are no surprises, no down time and you're not paying for equipment (exhaust, wheels, etc.) that you're just going to replace anyway.

Of course, even a base Miata with its 142-horsepower 1.8-liter engine is a fine choice for a little sporting fun. Without any modification at all it's an attractive two-seat roadster that's famous for its precise handling, balance and durability. It's a blast to drive, right off the showroom floor . . . if only there were a little more power.

When we first caught wind of the Mazdaspeed plan, we had hoped the RX-8's 230-plus horsepower rev-happy rotary engine would make an appearance between the Miata's front fenders. That would have, for sure, kept a BMW Z4 or Mercedes SLK out of your rear-view mirror.

Mazda instead elected to add a turbocharger to the 1.8 that provides about seven pounds of "boost." With the help of an intercooler, which lowers the air-inlet temperature, the turbo makes the double-overhead-cam piston-driven four-cylinder feel like a bigger engine . . . 36 horsepower bigger (for a total of 178), to be exact. Torque is up by a healthy 41 lb.-ft.

The 1.8's mechanicals were considerably beefed up to reliably handle the added power, including internal reinforcement and special pistons. The cooling system was similarly modified with a larger-capacity radiator.

Other drivetrain modifications include a special short-throw shifter for the six-speed manual transmission, a limited-slip differential and freer-flowing exhaust system.

To sharpen the ride and handling, gas-filled Bilstein shocks are included, along with thicker anti-sway bars and a shock-tower brace that stiffens the front end. Along with this new equipment, the Mazdaspeed's ride height has been slightly lowered with shorter and stiffer coil springs.

Four-wheel disc brakes with anti-lock provide the Mazdaspeed's stopping power.

Distinctively trimmed two-tone black and red cloth bucket seats are standard (leather is optional) as are the alloy foot pedals, stainless-steel sill plates and a six-speaker Bose audio system.

There are also enough outside clues to let the rest of the world know that this is no garden-variety Miata. Most obvious are the Racing Hart brand 17-inch wheels, front and rear spoilers, ground-effects package and special smoke-finish headlamps.

Bolting on a formidable list of specialized parts and accessories gives the Mazdaspeed Miata more charisma and helps it to keep up with the times. The Mazdaspeed package really is the right fit for this little car. It's so obvious, in fact, that it makes you wonder why it didn't happen years ago.

For 2004, the love affair continues.

© 2004, Wheelbase Communications

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