BBR Super 220 review - modded Mazda MX-5 hits with a light touch
Known more for its sledgehammer turbocharged MX-5 conversions, BBR’s Super 220 takes a more delicate approach
It takes me, ooh, a good half mile or so in BBR’s latest evolution of the Mazda MX-5 before a wide grin spreads across my face, and less than a day before I’m mentally scheming as to how I might put a Super 220 of my own in the garage.
BBR is best known for endowing Mazda’s diminutive roadster with muscular forced-induction motors, the appeal of which recently spread overseas as Colorado-based specialist Flyin’ Miata began to offer BBR kits alongside its V8 conversions.
But naturally aspirated tuning is even more intriguing, because that’s how Mazda chose to power the MX-5 out of the box. In a car all about simplicity, high revs and light weight, the idea of enhancing those characteristics, to the tune of more than 100bhp per litre, is enticing indeed.
Engine, transmission and 0-60 time
BBR’s Neil McKay tells me Mazda’s 2019 updates made the job of extracting more power the easiest it’s been with the Mk4 MX-5, the lightweight internals and better head design helping to reduce rotating mass and improve breathing.
For the Super 220, Mazda’s own work is complemented by the fitment of high-performance camshafts, valve springs and retainers, a BBR-developed four-into-one stainless steel exhaust manifold, a cold air intake system with a K&N filter, and a StarChip ECU remap.
The result on BBR’s dyno is 221bhp at 7800rpm, 26bhp more than the already-healthy figure it recorded for an unmodified car and 40bhp more than Mazda’s claimed 181bhp. BBR claims good power all the way from 4750rpm, while there’s more than 160lb ft of torque on offer all the way from 3500 to 7500rpm, with a peak of 166lb ft at 4350rpm.
No performance figures are quoted, but you can expect improvements upon the standard 6.5sec 0-60mph time and 136mph top speed. Fully fitted and dyno tested, the kit comes in at £3474 including VAT.
BBR’s demo car gets a ‘Grand Tourer’ rear exhaust silencer, at £474, as well as uprated suspension, brakes, wheels and tyres. The suspension comprises BBR springs matched to the standard Bilstein dampers (£594 fitted) and a set of chunky red Eibach anti-roll bars (£558 fitted). For £918 you can get the Wilwood four-piston front brake upgrade (with stainless steel brake lines, BP20 pads and high-temperature 5.1 brake fluid), while the OZ Ultraleggera alloy wheels and 215/45 R17 Goodyear Eagle F1 tyres are £1498.80.
What’s it like to drive?
It’s an improvement upon the standard car in virtually every way. MX-5s have never been about straight-line performance, but with 221bhp BBR’s car, like all its conversions, is quicker without being unusably fast.
In some ways, it’s difficult to feel the extra performance, because the chassis, suspension and tyre changes give the car so much more composure, but with fellow staffer Jordan Katsianis’s long-term MX-5 along for comparison, the Super 220 inches ahead out of every corner and along every straight.
The biggest benefits are qualitative rather than quantitative. Throttle response feels keener everywhere, and while the new exhaust should keep most trackday noise meters happy, it’s far more vocal than the muted rasp of the standard system. No MX-5 short of the Global Cup racer spins to the red line with such ease, either – the only fours more enthusiastic have red crackle-finish cam covers stamped with the acronym ‘VTEC’.
Before even the engine makes its mark though, I notice something else: the ride quality. The optional components certainly tighten up the chassis, but also help it breathe with the surface better than any other MX-5 I’ve driven. A welcome side effect of this pliancy is a significant reduction in cabin shimmy, and together with the Wilwood brakes (which have great feel and plenty of power) it changes the way you attack a country road.
Large craters are still best avoided, but the car now handles ripples and ruts with far less commotion than before, while reduced roll and improved body control make the chassis more predictable as the road twists and undulates, if less playful thanks to the grippier tyres.
Only the steering – one of the few aspects BBR hasn’t touched – lets the side down. It’s always felt a little out of tune with the rest of the chassis, but whereas once that was down to it responding a little too quickly for the see-saw springs, it’s now just a little too breezy just off centre for truly confidence-inspiring turn-in, and lacks feedback during quick moments of corrective lock. MX-5s have always responded well to geometry tweaks, so perhaps sweeter steering is just a twist of an eccentric bolt away.
Price and rivals
The modifications to BBR’s demo car add over £7500 to the price of a 2-litre MX-5, which currently starts at £22,795 for the 2-litre SE-L Nav convertible, and £24,595 for a 2-litre SE-L Nav RF. That’s no small sum, and puts the Super 220 into the same price bracket as some quite tasty machinery on both the new and used markets.
Thirty grand or so is the ballpark for 300-horse hot hatchbacks such as the Civic Type R, and it’s prime territory for used sports cars too, with everything from 981 Porsche Caymans to iconic modern classics such as the BMW Z3 M Coupe.
Still, BBR continues to offer tuning packages for pre-2019 MX-5s if you don’t want to hang around a couple of years for suitable cars to filter onto the used market, and if you are prepared to wait, it’s difficult to think of many equivalents that will provide as much fun day-to-day.