I’m in no way surprised that the first new-gen Mazda Roadster I got to drive was already tuned. It’s what this car has always stood for: a superb package that’s just begging to be modified – and Mazda know it. That’s why with the new model, the automaker has done absolutely nothing to spoil the underlining fun factor that has made the Roadster/Miata/MX-5 a popular choice for enthusiasts around the world, for more than 25 years. Mazda has sold over a million of them through the accessible sportscar’s four generations, and now that the ND has arrived, I’m pretty sure the model’s popularity is only going to grow.
That’s something I realised after only a few minutes looking at HKS’s newest demo machine. As per every one of the Japanese tuner’s R&D cars, HKS chose to go with the black color option, and that’s probably a good thing as I never realised just how mean the new Roadster design actually is until seeing it in the dark hue.
The ND has lost the cute and smiley face that originated from the first model Roadster and replaced it with a front fascia that gives the car a whole new demeanour.
The rounded-off design flows beautifully, and overall the car is marginally smaller – and more importantly, lighter than its predecessor.
The peering shark-like headlights are one of the most defining design aspects of the ND, and they probably look more menacing on a black car due to their inner reflector being that color too. I also really like the LED portion that illuminates with the first turn of the light stalk.
HKS has some interesting plans for this car – especially when it comes to the performance – but in the few short weeks that it’s had it, the engineers have so far only made a couple of upgrades. The first is a set of adjustable Hipermax MAXIV SP dampers, designed for serious track work. They’ve made the car reassuringly stiff, unlike the usual wallowing ride that every stock standard Mazda seems to have – RX-7 and RX-8 included.
On top of firming up the handling and dropping the ride height dramatically, HKS has also fitted a set of lightweight Yokohama Advan Racing RSII wheels shod in Advan Neova AD08R rubber.
The rear end is one of my favourite angles to view the ND from – it’s really clean and uncluttered, and the Jaguar F-Type-esque taillights make it instantly recognisable. HKS is, of course, working on a selection of exhaust systems, and that’s a good thing as the stock sound coming from the longitudinally-mounted four-banger is uninspiring to say the least.
But as I found while pushing it through some challenging mountain roads, this car is all about the handling and the feel. There’s a beautiful neutrality to the way the chassis responds to your steering inputs, and thanks to the upgrades that HKS has made, it’s pin-sharp accurate and predictive. The grip with the Neova tyres is sensational, so the car exhibited no sign of under or oversteer. In fact, I can’t even recall if I used the brakes through these corners!
Top marks for Mazda then. It’s not only stayed true to a very successful recipe – it’s improved on it. I honestly don’t think the ‘hairdresser’s car’ moniker can be applied here anymore…Stepping Up The Game
For the amount of money that the new Roadster retails for in Japan (the equivalent of US$20,000), I’m surprised that Mazda was able to finish the interior in the way it has. From afar it looks like it should belong in a car costing at least double what the ND does.
Take a closer look and there’s really nothing that disappoints.The instrumentation is simple and clear to read with all the information you would ever need from the factory car displayed through the left side digital meter.
The transmission tunnel sits high and allows for a comfortable reach to the 6-speed manual transmission’s shifter.
There’s a fixed BMW-like LCD monitor for the navigation and infotainment, which can be controlled either via the rotary dial on tunnel console or by simply touching the screen.
The seats are comfortable and the plastics – despite being a touch of the hard and potentially easy to scratch variety – don’t seem at all out of place in the cabin of an affordable drop-top. The manual canvas roof is both easily folded away and opened up.
The S package Roadster, which you see here, hits the scales at 990kg – almost 100kg less than the previous generation car. In fact, it almost weighs the same as the original NA Roadster, and when you think about all the extra technology, safety and emissions gear a new vehicle in 2015 needs to have, it’s an awesome feat. The ND’s light weight can mostly be put down to an increased use of aluminium and being careful with other aspects, and there are still savings to be made if you did things like swap out the stock seats for a pair of lightweight carbon buckets.Craving Power
Now comes the uninspiring part. Yep, you’ve guessed it – the engine. Sure, it’s more fuel efficient, produces lower emissions and has a broader spread of torque than what we’ve seen in previous Roadster engines – it has to live up to Mazda’s Skyactiv badge of course – but damn it’s gutless!
In Japan, the Roadster is only offered with this 1.5L engine which outputs 131PS at 7,000rpm and 150Nm at 4,800rpm – hardly inspiring figures for a sportscar. In the real world, the turbo 660cc Honda S660 I recently drove (and which you will read about soon) felt quicker.
But this is where companies like HKS are going to help. Irrespective of whether Mazda Japan will eventually offer the Roadster with the 150PS 2.0-liter engine that’s destined for the US and European market cars, HKS is working on boosting power with, well… boost. You can expect a supercharger or a turbocharger kit for the ND pretty soon – something to at least give this little Mazda the sort of performance its chassis deserves.
Personally, I would pull the shiny four-cylinder out altogether and replace it with a fresh 13B rotary from Pan Speed or RE Amemiya. Imagine the sensational car you would create!
I could keep whinging about the lack of power, but when you think about it, it’s always been that way with the Roadster. I don’t think you could say it’s dampened the appeal either.
The impressive thing is that Mazda has been able to take the original idea for a fun and affordable driver’s car and make it work in this day and age.
And fans of unspoiled and direct driving feel will be jumping on these cars – that I guarantee. If the sheer number of ND Roadsters I’ve been seeing on the streets of Tokyo are anything to go by, it’s already happening in Japan.
Whether it’s going to be a stripped-out track car or just a nice and sorted daily driven street car, Mazda’s new Roadster offers an awesome base to build upon.
This is definitely something I plan to revisit, and probably in the not too distant future. As aside from what HKS will be able to achieve with some nifty engine tuning, a ton of other companies are already playing around with the ND.
Yep, just like the ZN6, this is one chassis that’s going to be evolving rather quickly. Bring on Tokyo Auto Salon 2016!
Dino Dalle Carbonare