Miata Mod Squad: Boosted Miatas Compared

Story by Tim Suddard • Photography by Travis Ingram

The Miata could use more power. It’s something that’s been said since the dawn of time–or at least since the car’s release some 30 years ago.

We said it, too, in fact, in one of this magazine’s earliest new-car reviews. “The Miata’s powerplant was the most often criticized feature,” we reported after putting the original car through its paces. “Most of the drivers simply felt it needed to be more powerful.” That was the sole flat note in the otherwise harmonic Miata package.

Of course, the aftermarket quickly offered the car a boost. Late in 1989, we featured a Miata performance buyer guide: wheels, shocks and the like. Right there in the middle of the spread was a glimpse of things to come: the mention of a forthcoming bolt-on turbocharger kit from Corky Bell’s Cartech. The kit promised higher top speeds and zero-to-60 times in the low-7-second range.

Fast-forward to today, through four generations of Miatas, and you’ll notice a constant: an aftermarket ready and willing to supply more power. One of those companies is Flyin’ Miata, a firm birthed in 1983 by Bill and Teri Cardell as a service center for Porsches, Audis and Volkswagens.

One day in 1989, one of our Porsche customers came by and threw us the keys to his brand-new Miata,” the company’s website explains, “and we fell in love. Within a couple of months we had turbocharged our own Miata and a new business was born.”

Today, that same business offers power upgrades for all variations of the Miata, MX-5 and Fiat Spider, with the menu including turbo, supercharger and V8 options. So, we wondered, how do the different generations of the Miata respond to a little forced feeding? Only one way to find out, so we rounded up a modified example of each generation. Our base of operations would be Grand Junction, Colorado, home of Flyin’ Miata as well as Grand Junction Motor Speedway, our test course for the day.

 

1995 Mazda Miata

None

NA chassis code • approx. 180 wheel horsepower

 

MAJOR MODS

engine: Flyin’ Miata Stage 1 turbo system (CARB-legal) w/stock ECU and injectors, Flyin’ Miata 3-in. turbo exhaust, Flyin’ Miata crossflow radiator w/Stage 2 Airflow kit

suspension: Flyin’ Miata Butterfly Brace, Flyin’ Miata Stage 2 kit (Koni shocks, Flyin’ Miata springs and anti-roll bars), Flyin’ Miata adjustable end links

brakes: Flyin’ Miata Little Big Brake Kit

wheel: 15×8-in. 6UL

tire: 225/45R15 Hankook Ventus R-S4

interior: Hard Dog Sport roll bar

ON THE STREET

+ Flyin’ Miata Stage 1 turbo kit offered all the power you could ever use in a street Miata.

+ Power delivery felt very progressive–no hiccups anywhere in the rev range.

+ The pop-off valve was a hoot, too.

+ Crisp handling with no harsh ride.

+ Brakes felt linear and massively effective.

+ Practical interior: The Hard Dog roll bar didn’t interfere with the operation of the top, and seat travel seemed adequate for a taller driver.

ON THE TRACK

+ Completely predictable.

+ Easy to drive fast right away.

× Tires were slow to warm up on our cold test day–temps were in the high 40s–and the Miata initially understeered.

+ When understeering, however, the car was still easily controllable.

+ Limited-slip differential allowed us to place the car at will, even on cold tires.

+ Understeer relaxed once repeated laps had warmed up the tires.

+ Big-brake kit delivered just the right amount of pedal effort, even with some heat in the system.

+ Zero brake fade, no matter how hard we pushed the car.

FINAL THOUGHTS

The NA is still an amazing car and is not really overshadowed by any of its successors. Sure, the NC and ND are more modern, and yeah, the NC especially feels more comfortable, but there is no shame in loving your NA.

 

2003 Mazda Miata

None

NB chassis code • approx. 240 wheel horsepower

 

MAJOR MODS

engine: Flyin’ Miata FM II turbo system w/Hydra ECU and flex fuel capability, 800cc injectors, Flyin’ Miata upgraded PCV valve, Flyin’ Miata Big Fuel kit (E85-compatible), Flyin’ Miata crossflow radiator w/Stage 2 Airflow kit, Flyin’ Miata 2.25-in. exhaust and mid-pipe

suspension: Flyin’ Miata Stage 2 V-Maxx XXtreme Sport (adjustable coil-overs, Flyin’ Miata anti-roll bars), Flyin’ Miata adjustable end links, Flyin’ Miata frame rails, Energy Suspension polyurethane suspension bushings, de-powered steering rack

brakes: Flyin’ Miata 4-wheel Stage 2 Big Brake Kit, Flyin’ Miata adjustable proportioning kit

transmission: Flyin’ Miata rebuildable driveshaft

wheel: 1 5×7-in. TRMotorsports C3M

tire: 1 95/55R15 Goodyear Eagle Sport A/S

interior: Cipher steering wheel, NRG seats, Hard Dog Sport Fat Boy roll bar

ON THE STREET

+ Looked promising on paper.

− Let down by its tires. (We asked that all the cars run street-legal rubber, but this was the only one that arrived on standard-issue passenger car tires.)

× NRG seats were uncomfortable for street use.

× Combination of deleted power steering and retained power rack made it a bear to point, especially in tight turns.

× Had some tuning issues.

× Set up for maximum power, not maximum drivability.

ON THE TRACK

+ Clearly the fastest car of the bunch in a straight line.

− Pushed badly (again, we’re going to blame the tires for much of that).

× Steering setup wasn’t happy on the tight kart course.

× Power delivery didn’t feel linear.

× NRG seats weren’t supportive enough for track use.

× Harsh suspension.

FINAL THOUGHTS

This Miata illustrated the difficulty of building a dual-purpose car. Step off the tightrope, and you could end up with a car that isn’t really suited to either venue.

 

2015 Mazda MX-5 Club Power Retractable Hard Top

None

NC chassis code • approx. 220 wheel horsepower

 

MAJOR MODS

engine: Flyin’ Miata supercharger (CARB-legal), Flyin’ Miata supercharger-specific exhaust

suspension: Flyin’ Miata Stage 2 kit (Tokico HTS shocks, Flyin’ Miata springs and anti-roll bars)

tire: 215/45R17 BFGoodrich g-Force Sport Comp 2

ON THE STREET

× Biggest, heaviest MX-5 model offered to date.

+ Most spacious interior.

+ Larger brakes.

+ Beefier suspension components.

+ Most powerful engine ever fitted to the standard MX-5.

− Polarizing styling.

+ Looks definitely improve once the car is lowered and fitted with meatier tires.

+ Feels more modern compared to previous Miatas–because it is.

× With modernity comes all the driver aids.

+ Driver aids can be turned off.

ON THE TRACK

+ A pleasant surprise.

+ Smooth and fast-no lag, no wait.

+ Comfortable and composed.

+ Belied its size and acquitted itself most adequately against its lighter brethren.

FINAL THOUGHTS

Miata zealots have given the NC a thrashing since its release, but this test car really got us rethinking this particular chassis. Despite its gives and takes, the NC may be the sweetheart of this group.

 

2017 Mazda MX-5 RF GT

None

ND chassis code • approx. 205 wheel horsepower

 

MAJOR MODS

engine: BBR Stage 1 turbo kit (CARB-legal), Flyin’ Miata mid-pipe and Hush-O-Matic exhaust

suspension: Flyin’ Miata Stage 2 suspension (Koni Sport shocks, Flyin’ Miata springs and anti-roll bars)

brakes: Flyin’ Miata 4-wheel Little Big Brake Kit

wheel: 17×8-in. 6UL

tire: 235/40R17 Yokohama S.drive

ON THE STREET

+ Still perfectly captured the essence of the original Miata and, thus, the British sports car it was modeled after.

+ A truly modern car despite its throwback nature.

+ Ride is truly comfortable thanks to the Koni-based Flyin’ Miata Stage 2 suspension.

+ Gave us little to complain about, even after countless miles behind the wheel.

× A little more cramped than the original car.

× On the roadster models, the top flutters at highway speeds.

+ Flyin’ Miata supercharger seamlessly remedied the car’s age-old power deficit.

ON THE TRACK

+ Easy to drive.

+ Fast as hell.

+ A lot of fun.

+ Flyin’ Miata suspension was amazingly effective at the test track.

FINAL THOUGHTS

Even with a turbocharger, the ND costs less than any new BMW or Porsche. The Miata really does deliver the best bang for the buck.

 

LOOKING BACK

None

The Miata is arguably the most fun car in the world. Add forced induction, and that argument becomes an indisputable fact.

All of the cars we tested, even the rather rough-and-tumble NB, exhibited essentially flawless drivability. None of them felt like they were equipped with aftermarket components. The experience was factory throughout.

Yet each one had its own charms. The NA still delivers a truly delightful driving experience. For about $12,000 to $15,000 all in, you could have a perfect NA with all of the chassis and go-fast parts you need.

The ND, once modified, starts to pick on cars from a higher weight class. We didn’t expect much less, to be honest. It’s a great chassis that, as always, could use a little more power. If you have the scratch to handle the car payment and the mods, this is the one.

The NB that we tested had the most modifications. It was definitely the fastest, but it was also the rowdiest of the bunch. Its other shortcoming: It didn’t have the charm of the NA or the comfort and sophistication of the later cars.

The much-maligned NC was the hit of the day for us. It offers so much more comfort and sophistication than the earlier cars but without any cost premium. When you factor performance and usability against price, this generation of Miata quickly becomes a very strong contender.

How about this for a final verdict: If you’re looking to keep things pure, you can’t beat the NA. But if you can go a little more contemporary and price is a consideration, the NC quickly becomes the one to get.

 

SOURCES

Flyin’ Miata 
flyinmiata.com 
(970) 464-5600

Grand Junction Motor Speedway 
grandjunctionmotorspeedway.com 
(970) 256-0107

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Comments
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Fueled by Caffeine
Fueled by Caffeine MegaDork
5/23/19 4:04 p.m.

Just in time for me to get the town bike.

gardnpc
gardnpc New Reader
5/23/19 4:15 p.m.

This test just confirms what I think about my 95M.  Pure, analog driving fun that is bank vault reliable.  I have yet to boost it, but sometime soon, I hope.  

MGLexx
MGLexx New Reader
5/23/19 4:41 p.m.

The Mazdaspeed Miata, a factory Turbo car should have been included. With a thousand different parts than a non Turbo NB they are amazing substantial cars.

levireyes
levireyes New Reader
5/23/19 5:07 p.m.

Unsure which one is better in the long run, Turbo or Supercharger for the 2016+ ND?  

 

 

 

mazdeuce - Seth
mazdeuce - Seth Mod Squad
5/23/19 5:15 p.m.

I own 25% of those cars. laugh

 

Keith Tanner
Keith Tanner MegaDork
5/23/19 5:51 p.m.
levireyes said:

Unsure which one is better in the long run, Turbo or Supercharger for the 2016+ ND?  

Turbo in both the short and the long term. 

jonk67
jonk67 New Reader
5/23/19 6:10 p.m.

Too bad the NB example with the most HP wasn't better sorted and on much better tires. Curious to see where they would have ranked it if it were equal build quality of the others.

If you do a similar test again I might be interested in driving my NB2 w/FFS MP62 coldside up to CO.

bmw88rider
bmw88rider SuperDork
5/23/19 6:31 p.m.

I agree whole heartedly to this assessment. My NA is pretty close to the NA here only with a bit more boost. It's really easy to love and a lot of fun. The NC is very under-rated. I would build one of those again at some point. 

Rodan
Rodan HalfDork
5/23/19 6:32 p.m.
jonk67 said:

Too bad the NB example with the most HP wasn't better sorted and on much better tires. Curious to see where they would have ranked it if it were equal build quality of the others.

195 all seasons definitely aren't up to track driving on a turbo Miata...  

I would be very interested in hearing the lap times for all the cars, if they were timed.

mazdeuce - Seth
mazdeuce - Seth Mod Squad
5/23/19 6:34 p.m.
bmw88rider said:

I agree whole heartedly to this assessment. My NA is pretty close to the NA here only with a bit more boost. It's really easy to love and a lot of fun. The NC is very under-rated. I would build one of those again at some point. 

Every time I'm in a NC I feel like it's a cousin to the other three. The NA, NB and ND are clearly siblings. That's not to say it's better or worse, just not quite the same DNA. 

Keith Tanner
Keith Tanner MegaDork
5/23/19 6:46 p.m.

When Tim set this up, we thought we were doing a road test and not a track test. The owner of the NB gave me the choice of his road tires or track tires, and since his car is a year round daily driver the "road tires" really weren't much more than black and round all-seasons. Tim threw a bit of a curveball there by deciding to emphasise the track, and unfortunately it didn't do the NB any favors. It is interesting that Tim didn't consider the Yokohama S.drives - a 300TW best seller on Tire Rack - as "standard issue passenger car tires".

There were no lap times set or recorded. We've had every one of these cars on the track in the past, but this wasn't a performance test and the cars were very much not set up for maximum track speed. It was a driving impressions test. On the right tires, the NB and ND tested here would have a pretty good fight. 

Rodan
Rodan HalfDork
5/23/19 6:46 p.m.

Having owned NA, NB and NC, I really liked our NC.  It was the most usable as a 'real car' with the PRHT, and though it was bigger and heavier, the chassis is really good.  Aftermarket suspension and good rubber really woke it up.

Rodan
Rodan HalfDork
5/23/19 6:52 p.m.

In reply to Keith Tanner :

I was mostly interested in the lap times from curiosity, having a bunch of data from GJMS on various tires in our NC and NA.

S.Drives are, IMHO, a pretty good street tire on a Miata, and capable of good grip, at least until they overheat.  They also tolerate rain and cold pretty well.  Not gonna hang with a 200TW tire, though.

 

Keith Tanner
Keith Tanner MegaDork
5/23/19 7:01 p.m.

Well, there's a reason we put them on all the FM cars as street tires! I consider them to be normal passenger car tires, but they are a step above minivan spec which is basically what the NB was wearing.

The ND would be good for around a 1:04 on RE71s, if memory serves. Looks like the NB is a 1:06 range car on the track rubber, which is, umm, I'm not sure. I suspect that with equivalent drivers it would claw back a second or two. The NA would be in the 1:06 range in that case I'll bet. I don't know if we ever timed that NC but it's a pretty typical spec.

KyAllroad (Jeremy)
KyAllroad (Jeremy) UltimaDork
5/23/19 7:10 p.m.

After owning several Miatai in various forms I’ve settled on an STR NC as the sweet spot between cost/performance/comfort/livability.  

I could spend more and go faster but this is a damned quick car and sooo much better day-to-day than the NA/NB platform.

bmw88rider
bmw88rider SuperDork
5/23/19 8:42 p.m.

In reply to mazdeuce - Seth :

Seth, I agree. I got a drive in a NB L33 miata and it felt so much different than Betty. They are a different DNA for sure.

te72
te72 Reader
5/23/19 11:51 p.m.

I wouldn't mind one of each. I've toyed with the idea of buying a handful of NA/NB, keeping them all similar spec, and inviting friends over a couple times a month to go for a spirited drive. Doubt I'd ever have enough funds to keep such a fleet together (nor the room, really), but it's a fun idea.

ShinnyGroove
ShinnyGroove New Reader
5/24/19 7:49 a.m.

Except for looks and a little bit of weight, the NA and NB are very similar in stock form.  Heck, at this point half the parts on my NA are from the NB.  With cars so heavily modified, it really is up to the person doing the modifications to determine the character of the car.  The subjective impressions of these cars has way more to do with the tires they were on and modifications that were done than with the inherent nature of an NA, NB, etc.  One could easily build an NB that handled exactly the same as the NA in this test.  The NC might be the exception, if only because it’s not being trashed compared to the NA/NB like is so often done.

jwagner
jwagner New Reader
5/24/19 10:29 a.m.

Interesting article, and an outlier with respect to the NC.  My $.02 since I've had the three first generations:  NC doesn't get the respect it should.  It's a much better road car - my NA starts to feel like a go kart on the freeway when I'm next to semis in traffic.  And while I keep seeing the NC referred to as Big and Heavy, it's really not all that different from the first two generations, at least a compared to a Real Car.

The early NC suspension was fine for grocery getting, but sucked on the track or cone dodging.  Fortunately that's relatively easy to fix and Mazda recognized that.  The MS-R package was a hoot to drive on the track and was the hot ticket in C stock in it's time.  Balanced and neutral, it damned near drove itself and kept me out of trouble.  Adding some power through simple bolt-ons and a tune resulted in a car that gave S2000s fits, and could pick off an occasional C5 with a non-expert driver.  I still miss mine and would probably be looking for another if I hadn't just put about $2K into the NA motor.  (and the NC was still faster...)

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