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.
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.
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.
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.
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