Litchfield Mazda MX-5

Makeover for unloved Mazda sorts handling and takes power to 240bhp

Evo rating
  • Honour is restored
  • There’s a price to pay

This is not a newly minted MX-5, but in some ways it represents a bigger step forward than the car you’ve just been reading about, and it’s certainly a more enticing prospect if you like your roadsters a bit feisty.

The development timescales must have been similar, too. Iain Litchfield and his crew began working on their MX-5 two years ago, focusing on two key areas: engine and suspension. The aim is more speed, rather obviously, but also to restore the sense of purity conspicuously absent from the third-generation MX-5 prior to its recent facelift.

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Litchfield’s MX-5, fresh from the Autosport show when we drove it, still isn’t completely finalised, but the basics are all in place – including a supercharger and adjustable suspension. The upgrades will be marketed separately; the AST 12-way suspension mods will cost £1495, while there are two power possibilities, priced at £4895 and £5995 respectively (all prices include VAT).

In both instances the engine is the standard 2-litre Ford Duratec unit and is mated to a supercharger developed by Cosworth USA. You can either have that as-it-comes with a generic ECU or throw Litchfield the extra £1100 to get a bespoke engine management map, a performance intake filter, a Milltek exhaust and proper right-hand-drive hoses (Litchfield is renowned for his attention to detail and it stretches to a desire to reduce under-bonnet messiness, making things look as professional and original as possible). It’s the fully kitted out option we’re driving here, of course. Yes, it is a lot of money, but then, as we shall see, this MX-5 is a whole lotta car, able to significantly enhance, if not completely restore, the least-loved MX-5’s reputation.

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Litchfield isn’t certain of exact power outputs yet, but he expects to quote a ‘conservative’ 240bhp. Hang on – that’s the same as a Honda S2000, only 5bhp down on the new Porsche Boxster, and in a car that weighs about 1100kg. Hell’s teeth…

This being a pukka Cosworth installation, there’s nothing remotely hellish about the power delivery. In fact it’s spookily linear, the faint whine from the compressor melding nicely with the added attitude of the Milltek exhaust to provide a suitably tuneful backdrop to the MX-5’s new-found urgency. And urgent it most certainly is, in a low-mass, high-torque way, punching forward with real vigour from soon after 2000rpm. Reckon on 0-60mph taking around 5.5sec – providing it’s dry and with good rear tyres. The ones on this car are not in tip-top condition and the Bedford Autodrome is wet, so with no DSC the MX-5 is riotously tail-happy, the small dimensions and extra thrust encouraging you to play, the chassis now giving you the necessary information to gather everything back up cleanly.

So far, so good, but it was the on-road behaviour of the MX-5 that previously had us so puzzled; particularly the high centre of gravity and passive rear steer. All the result, Iain reckons, of too much slack in the suspension parameters.

The AST components drop the MX-5 a whopping 40mm closer to the tarmac (you notice the extra drop when you climb in). Right from the off it feels more positive in the way it moves over the tarmac, not fully fluid nor as intuitive and informative as an Elise, but heading that way. The rear end, previously so disconnected, is now with you every step of the way; you’re more in tune with what the car – and specifically that mobile back axle – is up to, and better able to predict and enjoy its responses.

There’s also a lovely neutrality at turn-in as all four tyres work together. The throttle lets you play accurately with balance and line through corners and then the torque hits home to whisk you down the next straight. And you’re smiling. Welcome back, MX-5.

Specifications

Engine   In-line 4-cyl, 1999cc, supercharger
Max power   240bhp @ n/a rpm (est)
Max torque   n/a
Top speed   140mph (est)
0-60mph   5.5sec (claimed)
Price    See text
On sale   Now (www.litchfieldimports.co.uk)
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