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2016 Mazda MX-5 Long term review p5

By By Louis Cordony | Photos Nathan Jacobs, 30 Apr 2017 Reviews

2016 Mazda MX 5 vs Fiat Abarth 124 Spider

Meeting the Mazda MX-5's turbocharged Italian cousin: Fiat Abarth's 124 Spider

Grunt, how do you find more of the stuff?

That’s a question that surely keeps (some) Mazda MX-5 owners up at night. And one generated by my involvement in a recent comparison that included our MX-5 and Fiat Abarth’s 124 Spider.

Mazda’s given us a leg-up by lending us the 2.0-litre version of the MX-5. Its 118kW and 200Nm isn’t insignificant. It’s perfect around town, helping the MX-5 fill vacant traffic gaps and tear away from lumbering SUV blindspots. Meanwhile, the linear torque curve permits second- and even third-gear getaways if you’re a mechanical sadist.

Beyond such civilian traits the engine delivers a thrilling and eager spin to its 6800rpm rev limit. Feeling potent enough to dispatch front-drive hot hatches and keep yesteryear’s V8 heroes very honest indeed.

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But where do you go when the acceleration fades into familiar territory? I haven’t tired of it five months in – 118kW feels reliably energetic in a car weighing 1033kg – but it’s a question that for many owners, eventually will be asked.

Open your mind so much that your brains fall out and American mob Flyin’ Miata is quite happy to sell you a kit that lets you bolt an LS3 V8 into your MX-5. You’ll cop a 172kg penalty and mess with the weight distribution, but you can imagine what 391kW does to the performance... And while the kit includes effectively a replacement powertrain (not just engine but T56 six-speed manual, custom driveshaft and Camaro rear diff) it’s not cheap – US$50K (AU$65K). And it’s BYO MX-5.

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Power-hungry readers not in a lunatic asylum might be tempted by a turbo kit from local mob Tunehouse. The Sydney-based engineering firm claims to have seen 138rwkW from its $7999 set-up. That’s about 185kW from the engine using a not-very-scientific conversion formula.

This brings me back to the Abarth 124 Spider. If you’re really into the MX-5’s roadster chassis but want to fiddle with its engine, this might be the ticket. Out of the box it’s already packing an extra 7kW and 50Nm.

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We found out the Abarth’s 1.4-litre T-Jet inline four, pinched from the 595, couldn’t shoot the Spider down the strip faster than the stock MX-5. It was flexible, pulling the Fiat from 80 to 120km/h in the space of 4.4secs, versus the naturally aspirated Mazda’s 4.9sec. However, the 27kg heavier roadster proved 0.1sec slower to 100km/h and to 400m registering 6.9sec and 15.0sec respectively.

There’s also a decent amount of lag up until 3500rpm and you constantly run into the heavily undersquare 1.4-litre’s rev ceiling. But Tunehouse says a simple flash on the 124 will unlock another 20kW. And we see that high-mount turbocharger being awfully easy to replace. All the while being much easier to explain to the authorities. You get a mean noise thrown in, too. Which is nice.

You could try your best on the Mazda’s stock atmo 2.0-litre, but its finely-tuned state requires more for less. To liberate 20kW from the 124 with a tune you’ll need a new exhaust, too, Tunehouse says.

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While many, if not most 2.0 MX-5 owners will be perfectly happy with their car’s sprightly 118kW, for readers who enjoy traction issues and for that reason had avoided the MX-5, Abarth may have opened the door to them by way of the 124 Spider’s ease of tuning. That is, until Mazda Australia has a crack at a new-age SP, of course. Which they should, as the MX-5 chassis we reckon could take it. And what a thing it would be.


LIKED: The MX-5’s off-the-line pace
DISLIKED: The 124 has a more evocative exhaust note
FAVOURITE MOMENT: Showing up its turbo cousin on the strip

Fuel this month: 8.46L/100km | Average: 8.57L/100km | Distance this month: 131km | Total: 5832km

Read more about our Mazda MX-5 long-term review