Turbocharging an MX-5 engine is one of the more controversial topics in modern motoring. The purists frequently butt heads with those in search of a power hike to the point where people fall into two camps: those who think you can’t, and those who think you can turbocharge an MX-5.
For better or for worse, we are going to wade into the debate.
The MX-5 community, and even Mazda themselves have a history of putting a turbo on the MX-5’s inline four-cylinder engine to create usable power for not a lot of money. The rev-happy naturally aspirated engine has a linear power curve, which some believe lacks torque. Despite this, the n/a engine is one of the defining characteristics of the 5. And we love the car for it.
‘Jinba Ittai’, or ‘horse and rider as one body’ in Queens English, is the credo behind everything the MX-5 is. Simply put, the driver must be at one with the car to have any kind of meaningful experience, but where does a turbocharger fit in to this?
The thoroughbred and essentialist nature of the MX-5 is encapsulated by a naturally aspirated four-cylinder at the front, manual gearbox in the middle, and two driven wheels at the back. It’s a simple recipe that shouldn’t be trifled with, and to many the only way to truly experience Jinba Ittai is by being at one with the car the factory intended you to be in harmony with. The purist angle certainly makes a lot of sense as a linear and predictable power band from an engine taking in air the way it was meant to, with no help, is the most harmonious way to power an MX-5..
How can you be at one with something if you’re not completely happy with it and are wanting to up the power?
The point is exactly that – you can’t be at one with something you’re not happy with. So if a turbocharger will help recentre your chai tea and bring harmony to both you and your horse, you should be welcome to do so. It is after all the horse and the rider who need to get along, not the purists and the rider.
The thought of a turbo in a light car traditionally conjures up big boost imagery of F40s being sucked down the road, which invariably become at one with the nearest hedge, but it needn’t be that way. The market is awash with great turbo MX-5 kits, Mazda has even done it themselves with the Le Mans and the Mazdaspeed NB. Only now the kits are properly reversible, so no need to worry!
We took the new BBR ND 1.5 stage 1 Turbo car for a drive on a wet day earlier this year and it was an absolute riot. The rev-happy 1.5L engine was complemented by the large, low boost twin-scroll turbo that increases both power and torque from the mid-range all the way to the top of the rev range.
If modern turbocharged systems can suit the MX-5’s power delivery without the lag you would associate then it’s a win-win, right? There are plenty of club members in our forum interested in the advantages of turbocharging so the public opinion is certainly shifting. Will we ever see another turbocharged factory MX-5? Here’s hoping as it sure would be a fun car to drive!
Is a turbo the right way to keep the horse and rider in perfect harmony? It’s certainly not one for the purists, and they will likely never be turned. A turbocharged MX-5 is a bloody fun drive, but if you’re not into it that’s ok, because the old faithful n/a one is bloody good too. The MX-5 driving experience has always been a symbiotic relationship so it’s down to what you want to drive, and you alone.
Peace and love, man.
If you want to join the year’s largest collection of turbo and non-turbo MX-5s at Goodwood Motor Circuit visit our Spring Rally website by clicking HERE.