Road Tests

First Drive: Flyin’ Miata MX-5 RF Turbo

This isn't just a tuned hardtop ND Miata, its a better one

Alone in a good sports car, endless miles and unmarked hours ahead, the bonds of daily life start falling away. As you dance from canyon apexes to city on-ramps to the arrow of a modern interstate, the freedom of speed and the clarity of a mind not focused but emptied make you yearn for it never to end.

Flyin’ Miata’s latest MX-5 masterpiece, the RF Turbo—or Rufus, as the prototype I recently spent several hundred miles in is known around the Flyin’ Miata shop—is a rare thing in the world of aftermarket tuned cars: It’s not different, it’s just better. That’s a strange thing to say and merits some explanation, so allow me to endeavor.

A rather limited set of extra parts takes Mazda’s hot MX-5 RF hardtop to the max, starting with a turbocharger kit from BBR (available in both CARB and federal specs) that adds roughly 70 hp and 70 lb-ft of torque to the Miata’s stock rating of 155 hp and 148 lb-ft. (Official dyno figures for the kit are forthcoming.) Next on the upgrade list is Flyin’ Miata’s Stage 2 suspension kit, which includes Koni dampers, updated springs, rear bump stops, and front and rear anti-roll bars.

The company’s “Little Big Brake” kit, 17-by-8-inch 949 Racing 6UL wheels, rear diffuser, and its new Hush-O-Matic exhaust system round out the package. The Hush-O-Matic allows you to task the wiper controls to open a valve in the exhaust path for freer flow and louder sound, though even at full blast it won’t bother the neighbors—much. Total price is $11,000 plus installation if you don’t want to get your hands dirty.

The result is a car that accelerates quicker, corners harder and more precisely, and stops more reliably than any factory-issue fourth-generation Miata, all while preserving the car’s innate balance, tossable demeanor, and linear power delivery. Despite its much larger performance envelope, the same love letter to pure, simple joy remains.

Miata Madness Leading a pack of hundreds of Miatas around Laguna Seca in a Flyin’ Miata RF Turbo is about as Mazda as you can get.

I picked up the car in Lancaster, California, not far from Willow Springs Raceway, but my destination was about five hours north by northwest: the annual Miatas at Mazda Raceway event held at historic Laguna Seca. The route was a good one, with secondary roads taking me through Tehachapi, Bakersfield, Buttonwillow, Coalinga, and King City before finally arriving in Monterey. The 314-mile path ballooned past 400 as I retraced the best stretches, unable to get enough of Rufus’ exuberance.

Only one minor incident marred the car’s otherwise flawless performance, but it can be marked down to a prototype-specific issue and an artifact of its transport. When I picked it up, the boost controller used for tuning was still set for the high altitude of Flyin’ Miata’s home base in Grand Junction, Colorado. Going full throttle with too much boost meant Rufus’s 2.0-liter heart simply couldn’t supply enough fuel, causing a severe stumble—an issue FM is working on in an effort to further unlock the turbo ND’s power potential. A quick twist of the boost controller knob under the hood, and I was back in business.

Despite Ireson’s height, the ND Miata’s stock cabin proved roomy.

Four hundred miles strung over a full day of driving can be hard on the body in any vehicle, especially in a small sports car, and all the more so for my long-legged, 6-foot-2-inch frame. But despite the long hours and rougher secondary highways I traveled, the RF Turbo’s suspension soaked up the bumps and dips so well I never once suffered the jarring feeling that often accompanies an overtuned sport suspension. This is clearly a car that’s meant to be driven every day, not some trailer-queen track toy.

Aside from the carbon-fiber heat shield and the turbo peeking out, the engine bay looks very close to stock —at first glance.

By the time we made it to the hills east of Monterey and the sinuous asphalt draped across them, I was working out what I’d need to sell to cough up the $11,000 kit price—plus the cost of a new RF to hang it all on. Getting out of the car only made matters worse, the RF’s natural curves and angles sinking naturally into the more aggressive stance highlighted by the Soul Red paint job and gold wheels. Lust inducing.

Inevitably, my extended day at the wheel of the Flyin’ Miata RF Turbo had to end. Fortunately, it ended at Mazda Raceway Laguna Seca, where hundreds of Miatas of every generation and level of modification had convened for a long weekend of track-centric fun. There, I swapped Rufus for a chance to take a handful of laps in a more track-focused version of the turbo car—a soft-top MX-5 known affectionately as Andy.

Andy had another $8,000 worth of parts bolted on in addition to most of the $11,000 worth also affixed to Rufus. The updates over and above the Rufus spec are focused on reliability and robustness for track duty and include: oil, transmission, and differential coolers; a Global MX-5 Cup-spec transmission with beefier third and fourth gears and new case studs; Verus Engineering brake ducts; a Hard Dog rollbar; and Flyin’ Miata’s Wilwood Stage 2 Big Brake Kit and Fox Stage 2 suspension kit (improved spring rates, Fox Racing shocks, and FM-specific sway bars).

On track, Andy felt almost exactly like Rufus did on the street, despite having the advantage of Fox Racing dampers. Although the tiniest bit tail-happy at times, Andy was mostly docile, eager to turn in, breathtaking on the brakes, and smooth when delivering power. Despite the fantastic balance of the track-spec car, my time at Laguna only made me appreciate the all-around prowess of Andy’s less focused but more versatile brother Rufus all the more.

Left carless at the end of a weekend of mainlining Flyin’ Miata goodness, I took the passenger seat of the camera vehicle for the ride home—and spent the next six hours trying to figure out where I could park another car in my already too-crowded driveway.

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Buying Guide
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2005 Mazda Miata MX-5

2005 Mazda Miata MX-5

MSRP $22,098 Base Convertible

EPA MPG:

20 City / 26 Hwy

Horse Power:

142 @ 7000

Torque:

125 @ 5000