WHEN ‘RS’ EQUALS ‘RIGID ‘N’ STIFF’
THOSE TWO LETTERS, RS. You’re in for a stripped-out MX-5 that’s lighter and racier, right? If that’s what you were hoping for, you’re in for disappointment. That’s until you start driving the Mazda MX-5 GT RS, at which point you will quickly realise what the RS is all about. It’s stiffer, sure, but there are a handful of key additions to this car that place it at the top of the ladder of soft-top MX-5s.
In a very similar vein to the MX-5 RF GT Limited Edition of 2018 (minus the Targa-style roof), the GT RS variant brings more focused elements to the Roadster. Brembo brakes with four-piston calipers up front, a set of stiffer Bilstein dampers, both found behind forged 17-inch BBS wheels, plus an alloy strut brace between the front suspension towers to improve body rigidity and steering feel.
This comes as the MX-5 range is very lightly updated for 2021, with new paint colours and wireless
Apple CarPlay. The MX-5’s appeal is as a simplified sports car for those who want something that fits the traditional sense of the genre. So does the RS overstep the boundaries of delicacy and fluency? Fortunately, the answer is (mostly) no.
While the lesser MX-5 GT still delivers comparatively generous levels of bodyroll through corners to keep a willing driver busy, the GT RS is appreciably more tied down. Of course, the driver is still the main ingredient, but the car’s increased cornering competence is quickly clear. The MX-5 GT RS is a more serious machine for a more track-focused driver who values sharper cornering lines and lap times. While there’s still ample playfulness, the stiffer suspension is regularly front of mind. You won’t find yourself needing to adjust the speed or steering as much mid-corner as in the sub-RS GT, and a cheeky little bit of oversteer is an option both under braking or with an early application of the right pedal.
While the Bilsteins improve cornering ability, they also make the Roadster a little less comfortable on most roads, an issue most significant if potential owners have regular ‘weekend away’ intentions. For general duties, like trips to Coles for 130 litres of milk to fill the boot, the RS is still pleasant.
The GT RS’s 2.0-litre atmo four remains unchanged (still 135kW and 205Nm), but that’s no bad thing. It delivers, at the risk of dragging out the old maxim, linear power in a responsive, predicable and eager fashion that allows a keen driver to make the most of every kilowatt available, with the reward of a parping but relatively subtle engine note that eggs you on to the top of the tachometer as volume increases.
The main hurdle Mazda might have to overcome in convincing buyers of the benefits of the RS is its price.
The non-RS MX-5 GT wears a $44,020 price tag and provides a notdissimilar driving experience day to day. The GT RS’s sticker bumps that by $3000 to $47,020, but once you tick some options and take into account onroad costs, the sub-$50K dream goes out the window.
Mazda quotes $51,707 as a recommended delivered price (using Melbourne as an example), but options such as premium paint (Soul Red, Machine Grey or Polymetal Grey, all $495), scuff plates ($380), MX-5 floor mats ($185), an alarm system ($920) and front parking sensors
($741) mean you’re looking at closer to $55,000 to live the open-air RS dream.
But it’s not like you could buy a standard GT and upgrade it to RS specifications without spending more than that, so ultimately the GT RS is decent value if a trackday MX-5 is your preference. If not, save the dosh and slip into the softer, cheaper GT.