Mazda MX5 BBR GTI Turbo first drive review

Mazda MX5 BBR GTI Turbo first drive review

BBR’s 20-year-old tearaway turns 21st-century hooligan. It needs finishing – but turbo MX-5 is a hilarious handful all the same

What is it?

Ever since its services were enlisted for a rare-groove turbo conversion 23 years ago, the firm formerly known as Brodie-Brittain Racing has been inextricably linked with the Mazda MX-5.

‘BBR GTI’ is a very different outfit now to the one that used to run Ford Sierra RS500s in the BTCC, mind you – but its link with Mazda’s evergreen two-seater survives. And it’s just spawned the company’s first turbo conversion of the MX-5 in its current form. This one, unlike the original, has nothing to do with Mazda UK. But if anything, that fact seems to have freed up BBR’s hands to turn up the volume as high as it likes on this car. Which, it turns out, is quite high.

Packaging is BBR GTI boss Neil McKay’s challenge with the MX-5. There just isn’t much space to spare under that stubby bonnet. But having already made a supercharger fit, he struck upon the idea of a bent manifold, and consequently produced prototype number one for the new BBR MX-5 Turbo: a car with a Garrett turbo running just under 9.0psi of boost, and producing a decidedly cheeky 285bhp.

That’s from an engine built entirely within the standard confines of the engine bay as well, so no nasty, irreversible structural alterations required, and no changes to the driveline save a reinforced clutch.

As soon as he’d reflashed the ECU, McKay gave the car to us for an early taster. We can therefore confirm how thoroughly indecent that much power feels in this diminutive Mazda. We didn’t have chance to strap on the timing gear, but it feels like it’d crack 60mph in about 5.0sec and 100mph in about the 12.0sec mark. Quick enough to embarrass a Nissan 370Z and most first-order hot hatches, then. Ever wondered what a seriously fast MX-5 would feel like? Wonder no longer.

What is it like?

The engine comes on boost at 3500rpm, with a turbine fizz and a giggle-inducing hit of torque that you’d certainly want advance warning of before discovering on a slippery bend. With that zone of low-rpm laziness, the car feels quite old-school; a bit like a junior Ferrari F40.

But throttle response beyond 3500rpm is good, and flexibility very impressive. Keep your foot in all the way to 7000rpm if you like; there’s no let up in ferocity or unacceptable harshness at high revs.

Meantime, BBR’s enlarged exhaust plays its part in a loud, hard-sounding vocal repertoire about which there is absolutely nothing ‘small fry’. This car will even spit flames on full-throttle upshifts.

The car’s running chassis is a work-in-progress. Our test car had some spring, damper and brake modifications, plus a set of lightweight rims running Yokohama Advan Neova track tyres. The latter are unlikely to be part of BBR’s package upgrade on the car – which is good. They provide more lateral grip and steering response than the suspension can really cope with in its current form, truth be told.

But that’ll change. And on slightly less hardcore rubber, and with further upgraded brakes and some properly tuned dampers, this car could have the chassis to match that hilarious powertrain. All of the basic agility of the standard MX5 is present and correct, and augmented by a newfound and very naughty sense of adjustability of cornering attitude and a very full-on turn of speed.

The standard stability control system makes a respectable fist of reigning that engine in if you leave it on. Switch it out and the car picks up slip angle quickly, but tamely enough to exploit wherever and whenever you choose.

Should I buy one?

If you prefer your affordable sports cars with menu-priced servicing and low-rate finance and an unlimited mileage warranty, it clearly isn’t for you. But those who don’t mind sacrificing a bit on ease-of-ownership will come by a generous helping of off-the-wall fun with this car – and at a very reasonable price. That’s to be confirmed – but it’ll probably start with a ‘2’.

With the current MX-5 not much longer for this world, it’s also a helping to be grabbed sooner rather than later.

BBR GTI MX5 Turbo

Price circa £30k; 0-62mph circa-5.0sec; Top speed tbc; Economy circa 25mpg; CO2 na; Kerbweight circa 1275kg Engine 4 cyls, 1999cc, turbocharged petrol; Power 285bhp at 7000rpm; Torque 249lb ft at 5000rpm; Gearbox 6-speed manual