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Review

First Drive: Mazda MX-5 GT concept car review

17/09/12

INSTANTLY dismiss anyone who doesn't have time for the Mazda MX-5. Your typical pub bore might fire a few accusations at the little two-seater drop top, but I'll bet a sizeable wedge that they're all complete bunkum. Its appearance suggests it is a bit of a plaything, designed for those who want the wind in their hair and nothing else, but beneath the skin there is a genuine sports car for those who care to look.

The only tiny niggle you could possibly level at the MX-5 is that it is not quick enough, even though that is not true: the MX-5 2.0i Sport is more than quick enough, but sports car drivers always always want more power and the 158bhp from the four-cylinder unit is where it ends.

Until now. Maybe it's down to the number of serious enquiries, or perhaps the on-track success of the MX-5 GT4 racer, but either way Mazda UK have been paying attention and have come up with their own take on the ultimate MX-5. But this is so much more than a set of wheels and a fancy paint job.

Perhaps most importantly, the people charged with honing and creating this ultimate MX-5 is Jota Sport. These guys and girls usually run race teams - Aston Martins as well as MX-5s - and have been doing so for several years. Most importantly they've been behind the GT4 racer since the start and in no small part have contributed to its development and success.

The changes are significant too. The headline grabber is the power output, now raised to a very healthy 200bhp although this may change if production is agreed. A combination of an altered intake and exhaust system plus some software tweaks has unleashed more of the engine's obvious potential. Elsewhere on the mechanical front the dampers have been slightly tweaked while the springs have been replaced with Eibach items specified by Jota to suit their demands. Combine that with the newly-specified wheels and tyres and you can see the potential.

This concept version isn't exactly hard to miss either. Finished in an eye-poking orange and black colour scheme the MX-5 GT concept certainly has a bit more presence, and if anything the change in colour helps to make the most of the shape. There's some genuine aerodynamics on the car too, with a lip spoiler at the rear and a splitter at the front both fashioned from carbonfibre - just like the race car. There's more carbonfibre on the inside too, just to remind you as well as a numbered plaque to prove the car's authenticity.

There's a fair amount of anticipation then as you fire it up and it is comprehensively delivered when the engine catches. Jota admit that on this particular version the induction system has been removed, giving the GT concept an absurdly vocal rasp that would never make production - even though it is fantastic fun.

As you pull away everything seems very familiar bar the much louder engine note, and any thoughts that Jota has turned it into some track-biased one trick pony are quickly dispelled. It still rides very well, with a sport firmness but nothing more, allowing it to follow bumps in the road but not be dictated by them. That helps to maintain your progress at speed too, regardless of the road surface.

At first you might wonder where all that extra power is, for although the MX-5 lugs happily from low revs the GT concept feels no quicker if you do so. No, this is a proper naturally-aspirated performance engine that needs revs to work. You need to get acquainted with the numbers five, six and seven if you haven't already, and when you do so it responds with glee and all 200 horsepower is there to be used. Don't forget this extra performance still comes with the typical MX-5 qualities - the snappy gearshift, the strong brakes (enhanced for the GT concept) and the excellent steering.

It is this extra power that really starts to work the highly-capable chassis hard, and with the balance of power and grip now even more closely matched there is a wonderful sweet spot that is even bigger than before where you dance between grip and slip. This is what a sports car is all about, and as finely balanced as the standard MX-5 is this concept feels even better.

This is the only snag: it is still just a concept, unless of course you get down to your Mazda dealer now and start badgering them to make it a reality. I would, if only because this is the MX-5 to silence any remaining doubters.

FACTS AT A GLANCE Mazda MX-5 GT concept, £30,000 (est) Engine: 2.0-litre petrol unit producing 200bhp and 150lb.ft of torque (tbc) Transmission: Six-speed manual gearbox driving the rear wheels Performance: Top speed 140mph, 0-62mph in 6.5 seconds (est) Economy: 32mpg combined (est) Emissions: 200g/km (est)

  • Enginespetrol
  • Power4 (higher than average performance)
  • 0-60 mph
  • Economy2 (worse than average fuel economy)
  • CO2g/km
  • Insurance groups2 (higher than average costs)
  • Airbags
  • Seats2

Motors.co.uk value verdict:    stars

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