First Drive: Mazda MX-5 Super20
Sane little Mazda has quietly been producing one of the best sports cars of all time -- the Miata -- for more than two decades. Other than one bone-headed move to rename it (when some nitwit marketing exec decided to kill "Miata" in favor of "MX-5") and one half-hearted attempt to make it fast (the turbocharged Mazdaspeed MX-5 Miata), there has been no insanity. No Miata GT3. No Miata GT-RS. No Miata Superleggera. No Miata R.
The R-Spec from twenty years ago doesn't count. I'm talking full-on crazy. I want a Mazda Miata GT3 RSR. And it seems Mazda has already built one, and it's called the MX-5 Super20. It's perfect but for one big, glaring problem: they won't let me buy it.
Stupid, stupid, and more stupid. Why? Because it takes about 5.3 seconds behind the wheel to realize that this car simply must be built.
5.3 seconds is the amount of time that it takes for the MX-5 Super20 to accelerate from 0 to 60 mph. It's true, that's not very fast compared to really crazy cars like the Porsche 911 Turbo and the Lamborghini Gallardo Performante, but the Super20 is more nuts than either of them, because it's a half-baked tuner special that underscores what's wrong with modern cars. The Super20 isn't perfect, but that's exactly what makes it great. It's loud and rough around the edges. Mid-corner bumps cause its enormous tires to rub against its flared fenders, for example. The radio sometimes doesn't work. I don't care.
Basically, the Super20 is a Miata with a bunch of aftermarket go-fast goods. First and foremost, there's a Cosworth supercharger on the engine. What's the output? Mazda hasn't tested it and doesn't care. It's got a Racing Beat header and exhaust, big front and rear anti-roll bars, Mazdaspeed coil-over suspension, and some big wheels.
What it doesn't have is rationality. No committee within Mazda insisted that it had to be quieter or more fuel-efficient, or killed the project altogether because it doesn't meet Mazda's ride-quality standards or some other metric. This car is compromised, and that's what makes it great. For example, most cars that can accelerate to 60 mph in five seconds have long gears in their transmission, because loads of power means you can make the ratios numerically lower. Traction becomes less of an issue, and by redlining second gear at, say, 70 mph, you eliminate a shift on the 0-60 run and gain a couple of tenths. Or, worse, a carmaker will select a first gear that's long enough to get to 60 mph without a single shift, forcing us car magazines to do redline clutch dumps and get to 60 without a single shift. Such gearing also gets the carmaker a better EPA city rating. Yawn. Boring. This is why the old Dodge Viper was no more fun to drive than a school bus.
The Super20 is geared like a stock, slow Miata, which means you need two shifts to get to 60 mph. You're constantly involved. You're shifting like a maniac even when you're just keeping up with traffic. It's awesome. It gets even better when you're driving like a maniac. In fact, doing a 0-60 run is the busiest 5.3 seconds you can have behind the wheel of a modern car. Allow me to explain:
How to perform a 0-60 launch in a Mazda MX-5 Super20:
Step One: Find a flat section of road more than a mile away from the closest breathing mammal. This Miata's exhaust is so loud it's potentially lethal. Then disable the traction control.
Step Two: Bring the 2.0-liter to 3000 rpm and note how quickly it revs up. No big flywheels here, and certainly no turbo lag. Nice.
Step Three: Engage first gear and dump the clutch. Cringe slightly as the R-compound Toyo Proxes RA-1 tires chatter, but revel in the ferocious acceleration despite the resultant violent wheel hop.
Step Four: Slam directly into the rev limiter because you weren't paying attention, and the Super20 makes its way through first gear in just 1.92 seconds, according to our VBOX. Abort and return to Step Two, and next time skip over this step -- but remember, it only takes 1.92 seconds from launch to redline!
Step Five: Shift as fast as you can into second gear. Thanks to the Miata's precise, short-throw shifter, you'll be back on the power in just 0.12 second.
Step Six: Ride the wave of supercharged torque through second gear -- you'll start at five grand after the shift, and then you must be prepared to shift again at 7200 rpm. If you hit the limiter again, that's because second gear is over and done with in only 1.99 seconds. Go back and do it again.
Step Seven: The Miata still has one of the best shifters in the business -- second to third is only another 0.12 second.
Step Eight: You're done. Well, not right away, but you're flying through the mile-a-minute marker a mere 1.19 seconds after you shifted into third gear.
Total time? 5.34 seconds. Yes, there are faster cars. A Bugatti Veyron Super Sport can do the same thing in only half the time. In that car, you press the gas pedal down and the driving experience ends there. That's not quite as involving.
Involvement is the whole point of a sports car. Mazda's aftermarket experiment keeps all of the involvement of a regular Miata, but cranks up the fun quotient by a factor of YEEEAAAHHH! Not one of the hundreds of cars I've driven in the last year was as fun as the Super20.
It's amazingly fun. It's crazy fun. It's a perfect antidote to today's politically correct, engineered-to-perfection rolling snoozemobiles. So much so that Mazda, the company that says Zoom Zoom on its minivan ads, is stupid for not building it.