HOW WOULD WE CHANGE THE MAZDA MX-5 IF WE WERE GIVEN FREE REIN? SURPRISINGLY, WILD TURBO CONVERSIONS AND LAIRY BODYKITS AREN’T AT THE TOP OF OUR LIST.
Nope, instead we take a more restrained approach, enhancing the things we already love about Mazda’s pocket-sized drop-top without spoiling the rest of the package. Handling mods? Yes. A subtle bodykit? Why not.
Luckily for us, Mazda has done exactly that with the MX-5 Club. Unluckily, we can’t buy it in Australia.
Vehicle Style: Sports convertible
Price: US$32,000 (not available in Australia)
Engine/trans: 115kW/200Nm 2.0 petrol 4cyl | 6sp manual
You don’t have to look far to find a shower of praise for the all-new fourth-generation Mazda MX-5, after all, the verdict is practically unanimous – it’s one of the most finely-balanced sports cars on the marketright now.
But how do you improve on something that’s already deemed near-perfect? How would you go about making the MX-5 into a sharper instrument?
Mazda says it has the recipe, but right now it’s only serving it up to its American customers.
The MX-5 Club spec is only for US consumption, but its ingredients-list includes some tasty features like Bilstein dampers, Brembo brakes and BBS wheels (the latter two as a US$3400 option package).
It’s an MX-5 with a little extra spice, but how palatable is it?
Interior differences between the MX-5 Club and the Australian MX-5 2.0 litre, besides the steering wheel being on the wrong side of the car, are minor.
Spec-wise, it’s somewhere between the Australian-delivered MX-5 Roadster and the high-grade Roadster GT.
The MX-5 Club gets the cloth seats and manual air-conditioning of the MX-5 Roadster, but also boasts the colour-coded door caps of the Roadster GT.
Sat-nav and keyless entry are a cost option for the Club, but unavailable on the Aussie MX-5 Roadster – only the GT gets it as standard.
The Club also gets the leather-upholstered dash and door trims of the Roadster GT, along with its nine-speaker Bose sound system.
But that aside, it’s not all that different – the Club’s cabin furnishings aren’t exactly unique.
There isn’t even a smattering of special-edition badges to hint at the fancy go-fast bits that lie beneath. Some may like that kind of thing, others may be left wanting a little more.
But while a set of deeply-bolstered Recaros would be nice (like those available on UK-delivered MX-5s), the standard seats already hug the body tightly enough and put you low in the chassis.
We’d love a reach-adjustable steering column though.
ON THE ROAD
- Engine: 115kW/200Nm 2.0 litre petrol inline four
- Transmission: 6-speed manual, rear-wheel drive
- Suspension: Double-wishbone front, multi-link rear
- Brake type: Ventilated/solid discs, 4-piston Brembo calipers front, single-piston sliding calipers rear.
- Steering type: Electric power steering, 9.38m turning circle
While the interior is a bit same-same, the MX-5 Club’s underpinnings are anything but.
In its raw form the Club gains Bilstein shock absorbers and a limited-slip differential (the latter is standard on all manual-equipped Australian MX-5s), plus some cosmetic add-ons for the front bumper, rear bumper and sideskirts.
Tick the box for the Brembo package, and not only do a pair of bright red four-piston Brembo calipers replace the sliding calipers behind the front wheels, but you also gain a quartet of lightweight 17-inch BBS forged alloy wheels.
The engine is the same 2.0 litre in-line four used by the rest of the range, producing 115kW and 200Nm in American trim. You can have the Club with an automatic but you lose the sports suspension and limited-slip diff – so don’t even think about it, pal.
Mazda’s objective with the Club was to add some tautness to the way it goes and stops, to make a car that’s well suited to club-level motorsport like track days and gymkhanas (hence the name). Mission accomplished? You bet.
While the standard suspension features soft spring rates and plenty of body pitch and roll, the Club’s unique spring and damper settings transform the MX-5.
It feels even more agile than the standard car (though in the absence of actual data we admit that may be purely psychological), with a willingness to change direction that’s pretty hard to equal at its price point.
And it maintains a tenacious grip on the road via its Bridgestone Potenzas.
That increase in grip nobbles your ability to explore the limits of its handling on public roads, but who cares? You can pedal this car faster than a standard MX-5, and that’s what the Club is all about.
On the winding canyon roads above Malibu that we selected for this test, the MX-5 Club felt entirely at home.
The suspension, though firmer than the norm, soaked up the lumps and bumps common throughout California, without any compromise to the roadholding.
And there’s little evidence of bumpsteer, understeer or any of those other annoying characteristics that spoil a good drive. We always knew the ND MX-5’s chassis was world-class, but the Club spec takes it up a notch.
The brakes are worth the extra spend too. Those Brembos bite the ventilated front rotors with race-car vigour, transforming forward inertia into heat, and standing the light little Mazda on its nose.
The pedal action is firm and consistent, and we get the feeling they’re well up to the task of sustained hard laps on a circuit.
In America, your only choice of powertrain is the 2.0 litre, and while we adore the base 1.5’s ability to rev beyond 7000rpm, the 2.0 litre’s bountiful torque confers a more useful edge in tractability.
It also means you don’t need to work that six-speed manual quite so hard, though with a tight, precise action it’s not exactly a chore to do so. Rev-matching your own downshifts with a deft heel-toe action is particularly satisfying in this car.
Do we wish for more? Well, a throatier exhaust system would be nice, and we wouldn’t mind if the redline was bumped up a couple of hundred RPM to 7000rpm.
But even without those things, the MX-5 Club is a delectable machine.
For something you can buy off the showroom floor, it’s pretty close to being the perfect entry-level sports car. If only the Americans didn’t have a monopoly on it.
TMR VERDICT | OVERALL
You can’t buy the MX-5 in this configuration in Australia? No – well, not right now anyway.
And that’s a bit of a shame, because it turns the heat up on the regular 2.0-litre MX-5’s performance just enough to make it track-ready, without spoiling that finely-balanced chassis.
It’s not unbearably stiff, the uprated wheel package isn’t shod in unbearable semi-slicks and those brakes don’t feel like an aftermarket add-on either.
It’s a very cohesive package that enhances the MX-5’s already considerable charm.
Does it tickle your fancy? Let Mazda Australia know – if enough people put their hands up, they might just relent and send those Club-spec treats our way.