At first glance, Brian Austin’s Miata looks like just another late NB model. But if you look a little closer, there are signs that this car is different from the eleventy zillion other Miatas on the road – the Mazdaspeed badge on the trunk lid, for instance. The name “Miata” doesn’t actually appear anywhere on this car. Like Seven of Nine, it goes by its alphanumeric designation MX-5 – a precursor to the name disappearing completely with the NC. Barely visible through the front bumper opening is a small intercooler about the size of a license plate. This is the only real clue that the car packs a little extra punch.
Mazdaspeed worked their magic on a few Miatas in 2004. Of the 4000 bound for North America, 1500 were Titanium Grey Metallic, like Brian’s, and 1500 were Velocity Red Mica, all bound for the States. Our Canadian neighbo(u)rs got the remaining 1000, only available in Velocity Red Mica.
Even Titanium Grey Metallic cars got this snazzy powdercoated valve cover, but despite red being the second fastest color, that isn’t why this car is quick. It’s because of the small turbo, cranking out 8.5psi to boost power from the standard 146hp to 180. That doesn’t seem like a significant increase, and is still less than my BRZ, but in a 2300lb. car it makes a significant difference. The suspension has also been retuned for better performance, but most owners, including Brian, have set aside the stock 17″ Racing Hart wheels, which are lightweight but have a reputation for being rather susceptible to damage.
The interior is standard NB Miata, but also upgraded by Mazdaspeed. The red stitched leather seats are unique to this model, as are the white face gauges, the Bose stereo, and the silver trimmed center console. The silky 6-speed shifter that came in other Miatas appears here as well. More on that later.
I’ve owned three NA Miatas, and driven many NBs, so I felt right at home in the Mazdaspeed MX-5. The steering, clutch, and shifter all feel exactly like I expected. Setting off at sedate speeds around town, this felt like an upscale Miata, but not very different than the ones I’ve driven before. Pick up the pace a little bit, and the differences soon become apparent. The suspension is stiffer, thanks to Mazdaspeed’s tweaks to the springs and sway bars. But it’s not too stiff, either, and keeps the typical Miata sensation that you could easily chuck it through a corner. It’s still softer than my BRZ, and I consider that a good thing for comfort on the roads I typically drive.
But the biggest difference, of course, is the power. My first experience in a turbo Miata was a fun run at an autocross, after driving my stock class NA all day. This one had a fairly large turbo that made lots of power, but had a lot of lag, too. Within the confines of an autocross course, I could never get my timing right to take advantage of that extra power. The boost came on just in time to send me into the next turn too fast. My times were actually slower in the turbo car than my own.
That’s not the case with the Mazdaspeed. When you put your foot down, the difference is noticeable, but subtle, like the suspension improvements. This is no fire breathing monster that’s going to smoke a Corvette Z06 in the 1/4 mile. But it’s a very nice increase in power over the standard models, and usable in everyday driving. You can hear the whoosh of the boost if you listen closely, but it’s not very loud, and there’s no blow-off valve “psssh” when you let your foot off the gas. Like everything else about this car, it still feels and drives like a standard Miata, but with everything dialed up just a notch. It’s still fun, in the typically Miata way, but a little bit more than usual. It’s the Miata that goes to 11.
But only 11. Not to 12, 13, or 42. It’s a small turbo, providing small but adequate boost to a small and light car. It’s nothing like the turbo Miata I drove at that autocross, or a Spec Miata, or a V8 conversion. It keeps its distinctive “Miataness,” if that’s a word (and if it isn’t, it is now.) No doubt the relatively mild tune was partly because this car was sold with a factory warranty, and reliability was an important factor.
The only downside to this car I found was the gearing. The transmission is great, and Miatas are among the best shifting cars I’ve ever driven. But the gear ratios are the same as the standard car. This is fine for 146hp, but becomes a problem when acceleration is much quicker under boost. Just when you’re starting to have a good time in one gear, it’s already time to upshift. The boost comes back on quickly, then surges to redline again all too soon. A higher final drive ratio would fix this, and improve highway fuel economy by reducing RPMs in 6th gear.
If 4000 cars seems like a very low number, fear not – 4000 more were planned for 2005. Unfortunately, the factory burned down after only 1428 cars were completed, and that was the end of the Mazdaspeed MX-5. That makes this a rather rare car, especially in original condition as Brian has kept his. As the great car reviewer Ferris Bueller once said, “It is so choice. If you have the means, I highly recommend picking one up.”