Up­grade to 248bhp gives 2-litre ver­sion of like­able lit­tle road­ster a wel­come – and well judged – shot in the arm

Evo - - CONTENTS REGULARS - Antony In­gram (@evoantony)

TTWO-HUN­DRED AND FIFTY horse­power isn’t a lot in the mod­ern au­to­sphere, but it feels like plenty when di­rected through the rear tyres of a car as sim­ple and slen­der as a Mazda MX-5. Par­tic­u­larly as Northamp­ton­shire seems to be au­di­tion­ing for the first leg of the Volvo Ocean Race and farm ve­hi­cles have left a thin sheen of var­i­ous brown sub­stances on the county’s B-roads.

The MX-5 in ques­tion is Brack­ley­based BBR Gti’s first tur­bocharged take on the fourth-gen­er­a­tion model, fol­low­ing nat­u­rally as­pi­rated pack­ages for the 1.5- and 2-litre cars. The con­ver­sion is based on the larg­erengined MX-5 and cen­tres around a twin-scroll hy­brid turbo, a be­spoke ex­haust man­i­fold and a stain­lesssteel down­pipe. Gases are cooled by a front-mounted alu­minium in­ter­cooler, while other mod­i­fi­ca­tions in­clude stain­less-steel oil and wa­ter lines, cus­tom sil­i­cone turbo pipes, a K&N high-flow in­duc­tion kit and Starchip Ecutek soft­ware.

BBR de­scribes it as a ‘Stage 1 Turbo’ pack­age, and the re­sult is 248bhp at 7150rpm and 236lb ft from 3250rpm – in­creases of 90bhp and 89lb ft over Mazda’s claims for the stan­dard car. BBR also quotes a 0-60mph time of 5.0sec (against 7.3sec to 62mph for the un­mod­i­fied car) and a 155mph lim­ited top speed (up from 133mph).

As we’ve come to ex­pect from BBR, ev­ery­thing looks like it was as­sem­bled in the fac­tory at Hiroshima, with only a cus­tom car­bon­fi­bre tur­bocharger heat shield hint­ing that some­thing might be out of the or­di­nary un­der the bon­net. Ex­ter­nally BBR’S demon­stra­tor also wears a Mazda body-styling kit, Bbr-branded stripes and OZ Ul­tra­leg­gera al­loy wheels with Yoko­hama tyres, which col­lec­tively ex­ude a level of me­nace not present in a show­room-fresh MX-5.

You’ll pay more for touches like these, but ev­ery­thing re­quired to lift the MX-5 to the ad­ver­tised out­put will set you back £5274 if you in­tend to fit it your­self, or £5994 if you want BBR to do it for you.

Clev­erly, the car doesn’t feel trans­formed when you first thumb the starter but­ton and fire up the boosted Sky­ac­tiv four-pot. Only the bassy note of this car’s BBR Su­per­sport ex­haust gives the game away, but the idle set­tles down to nor­mal lev­els and prod­ding the stan­dard clutch feels no dif­fer­ent from do­ing so in any other MX-5.

If you’re not fa­mil­iar with the reg­u­lar car, you prob­a­bly won’t no­tice the first sub­tle dif­fer­ence, ei­ther. With in­take and ex­haust gases now tak­ing a slightly longer, more con­vo­luted path, throt­tle re­sponse isn’t quite as sharp as usual, so ex­ploratory blips of the pedal take a lit­tle longer to elicit move­ments on the rev-counter.

Un­til you pass 3000rpm, that is. That’s the point at which BBR’S car di­verges from the reg­u­lar MX-5, gath­er­ing pace with in­creas­ing in­ten­sity and com­mo­tion to­wards the red line. The engine now offers its best be­tween 3000 and 6000rpm, with the same lin­ear­ity and drive­abil­ity of the stan­dard car gar­nished with an au­di­ble whoosh and con­sid­er­ably greater for­ward mo­men­tum.

Com­bined with a firmer sus­pen­sion setup, that new­found out­put re­quires cir­cum­spec­tion on wet, greasy roads. Mazda’s stan­dard trac­tion con­trol just about copes in a straight line, but around cor­ners you’ll spend plenty of time cor­rect­ing amus­ing but rapid spikes of over­steer even be­fore the sta­bil­ity con­trol in­ter­venes. You can turn it off, of course, but you’d best bring your car­con­trol A-game if you do so.

That’s not to be­smirch BBR’S con­ver­sion, be­cause it’s very well judged in­deed. It’s a per­fect op­tion for a used Mk4 MX-5, though even added to a brand new one (priced from £21,595, mean­ing a to­tal of £27,589) it looks pretty rea­son­able given you’ll have enough power to close the per­for­mance gap to al­most any mod­ern hot hatch, but in a smaller, lighter, more at­trac­tive, more in­volv­ing and more en­ter­tain­ingly rear-driven pack­age.

Pho­tog­ra­phy by Dean Smith

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