Driven: BBR Mazda MX-5 ND 2.0 Super 190

Test location: A3400, Banbury, UK GPS: 51.98445. -1.32316 Photography: Aston Parrott

BBR Mazda MX -5 2.0 Super 190

More power and the taut chassis we wanted from the start transform the MX-5

IT’S FAIR TO SAY THE Mk4 MX-5 was one of our disappointments of 2015. That’s riot because it was a bad car. far from it, but simply because compared with what the fanatical weight-loss regime and back-to-basics mindset promised, the final execution didn’t quite live up to our expectations.

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Enter familiar MX-5 exponents BBR, who have made the little roadster – in all its generations -their speciality over recent years. BBR are quick to market with this Super 190′ conversion, which isn’t surprising as the firm started development work on the new Skyactiv engine in advance by acquiring a 2-litre Mazda 3.

At present there are two levels of modification. The first consists of a remap under the familiar StarChip brand and liberates an additional 20bhp from the feisty little 1 5-litre engine and 17bhp on the 2-litre model. These remaps are called ‘Super 160’ and ‘Super 175+’ respectively, and cost £594, including a rolling-road session. Then there is the more brawny 2-litre-based Super 190, sampled here.

The Super 190 naturally includes the StarChip remap but also seeks to improve the breathing of the Skyactiv motor. Although BBR has no criticism of the standard airbox, their testing suggests the feed to it suffers from pronounced heat-soak – thereby raising the air inlet temperature – and have designed a new pipe that repositions the feed point. To exhale the gases more efficiently, there’s a new 2.5in manifold, a stainless steel centre-section with a sports catalyst and a new rear silencer-box with a 2.75in exit. Curiously, BBR discovered that changing the exhaust on the 1.5-litre car made little or no difference, but that there were very worthwhile gains to be had on the bigger engine.

Exactly how worthwhile, I’m about to discover. In my head are the numbers, naturally: an extra 30bhp, developed at 6700rpm (up from 6000rpm), takes the total to 188bhp, and there’s 171Ib ft of torque (up from 1471b ft) at a tractable-sounding 3550rpm. Realising, perhaps, that such power gains on a naturally aspirated motor are often at the expense of driveability, BBR are quick to point out that the new torque peak is 1050rpm lower than before.

In essence, the Super 190 is everything you’d hope for from regular 2.0i Sport. Where the standard engine has an inoffensive but workmanlike tone, the 190 is so much sweeter and rasping without being domineering. It pulls harder through the mid-range, which makes the car feel much more potent, but the biggest difference is the way it revs so much more freely, which in turn encourages enthusiastic use of every last engine revolution.

What then, of the Mk4’s bizarre body roll? Like us, BBR are not fans of the excessively soft springing, and have combined the Sport’s Bilstein dampers with new progressive-rate springs that also lower the car by 30mm. This car also has lightweight OZ wheels with a wider offset, and a 215-section tyre (up from 205) combined with BBR’s fast-road geometry setup. The car is transformed, able now to scribe a laser-like trajectory through corners without the histrionics of before. It’s a car that relishes being driven hard but that’s not compromised for everyday use (even if, occasionally, over really poor it does feel a tad unyielding). The steering is an improvement, too, with a more positive sense that the tyres are biting into the road-surface, but this is still a car that you feel moving around through your backside, not your hands. That’s not a criticism of BBR’s work, though, rather a fundamental flaw with the electrically assisted rack.

At £2394 for the Super 190 kit. £594 for the suspension, plus wheel and tyre costs, the price seems reasonable for snapping the Mk4’s characteristics taut in such a convincing manner. We await BBR’s more potent Mk4 MX-5 offerings with renewed excitement. Adam Towler (@Adam Towler)

+ Energetic performance, vastly better body control – Steering could communicate more
evo rating *****