Northamptonshire-based tuning company BBR has taken a 2.0-litre fourth-generation Mazda MX-5 and kitted it out with everything it offers to make the ultimate demonstrator. The big news is the £1,995 ‘Super 190’ upgrade pack, comprising the firm’s cold air intake system, a sports exhaust with twin tailpipes and an ECU remap.
What are its rivals?
You can spend as little as £22,000 on a brand new 2.0-litre MX-5 with the BBR Super 190 pack, meaning there’s very little out there that can compete. The Caterham Seven starts at a fraction under £19,000 for its 160 – but that’s a much more focussed car, and not one you’d want to take for a weekend away, never mind use every day. Starting at £41,749, Porsche’s new four-cylinder Boxster seems more than a tad expensive compared to a tuned MX-5.
Which engine does it use?
Although the firm does offer tuning for the smaller 1.5-litre engine, it concentrates on the 2.0-litre (after all, if power’s what you’re after, why would you opt for the 1.5 in the first place?). Power is boosted to 193hp, up 33hp from the standard model.
What’s it like to drive?
No one has a bad word to say about the regular MX-5, but this tweaked version really is staggeringly good. With a 30mm drop in ride height, the stiffened springs make for an even sharper drive than the standard car – no longer do you have that hint of roll that has featured in every MX-5 since the original 1989 model.
But, pleasingly, it doesn’t make for an uncomfortable ride either. It’s firm, but the damping does a superb job of smoothing out bumpy road surfaces. It’s ideal for UK B-roads and, although we haven’t tried the Super 190 on track, we reckon it’d tighten things up very nicely for track days.
BBR doesn’t provide a 0-62mph time but, naturally, it does feel quicker than the regular model (we expect it’s less than 7.0 seconds). Chase the redline and it just gives and gives, where the regular model tails off at 6,000rpm. And all the time, the raspy exhaust provides a much more satisfying note than the standard model. It’s a tad on the loud side – not ideal if you want to pass by unnoticed – but not tiresome.
Fuel economy and running costs
The standard 2.0-litre MX-5 returns a combined fuel consumption figure of 40.9mpg, and BBR claims the Super 190 upgrades actually makes it slightly more efficient. If you’re getting more than 40mpg from it, you’re driving it wrong, in our opinion – but it should still be cheaper to run than something like a Porsche Boxster. While the upgrades do void Mazda’s official warranty, the company offers its own for £150 a year, while specialist insurers shouldn’t be too concerned by the upgrades.
Is it practical?
Not really. One of our biggest criticisms of the standard fourth-generation MX-5 is its lack of practicality. Sure, you wouldn’t buy one of these if you wanted to carry four passengers and a weekly shop, but a glove box and a few extra cubby holes around the cabin would make things a bit more pleasant on longer journeys. As much as we like what BBR’s done, fitting extra cup holders isn’t quite the firm’s bag – so the MX-5 remains as impractical as ever.
What about safety?
The regular MX-5 fell short of the full five-star Euro NCAP rating, losing points for its lack of technology such as autonomous braking. Again, BBR isn’t in the game of making cars safer, but then it hasn’t exactly removed safety, either. The airbags are still there… the increase in power just means you could potentially hit a tree with more force. Still, it’d be marginally more comfortable getting it wrong in this than something like a Caterham.
Which version should I go for?
We’d be tempted to go for the full BBR setup, as tested here. At the very least, £1,995 for the Super 190 pack fully fitted, offering greater performance through its cold air intake system, sports exhaust and engine remap, strikes us as a couple of grand no fourth-generation MX-5 owner would regret spending.
The extra £495 for BBR’s high performance springs (fitted with full alignment) also seems to be excellent value to make things a smidgen sharper, reducing roll without making things uncomfortable. And it would only take rounding one B-road bend to find a tractor in the road to make £195 on upgraded brakes seem well worth spending.
Should I buy one?
Buy a top-of-the-range MX-5, take it to BBR and give them a blank cheque, and you’d still struggle to spend more than £30,000. For that money there is nothing else you can buy new, this side of a Caterham, that would be as fun to drive. And, unlike a Caterham, a BBR-tuned MX-5 is still useable every day and for long journeys. We had more fun on rural Northamptonshire B-roads in this than we’ve had in sports cars costing twice as much.
BBR started by offering a turbo conversion kit for the first-generation MX-5. Approximately 850 Mk1 BBR MX-5 turbos were made, boasting around 154hp and a 0-62mph time of 6.8 seconds. The kit was so good, Mazda endorsed it through its own three-year warranty.