The last Gran Turismo game I played was the Gran Turismo 4 on the PlayStation 2. I’m not sure how many of you remember that, it was quite old. I had played all GT games prior to GT4 and in all of them I’d always have a Mazda Roadster, or MX-5 as its known outside Japan, early on in the game for the beginner races. As I progressed through the game the MX-5 would get upgrades to stay competitive.
Since its debut in 1989, four generations of the world’s favourite two-seater sports car have found homes on enthusiasts’ driveways the world over. Hell, it’s even been crowned the ‘Sports Car of the Year 2017’ in New Zealand. Whether your first introduction to the MX-5 was through a video game or in reality, the MX-5 has been the definitive convertible sports car of recent times.
That brings me on to the NR-A. Mazda have been doing this motorsports version of the MX-5 since the second-generation ‘NB’. I didn’t know much about these cars until I was returning the MX-5 RF I had been driving and the staff at Mazda said I should try this version with a “roll cage, bucket seats, and lowered suspension”. How could I refuse an offer like that?
The MX-5 range is pretty straightforward. There are two ‘body styles’ available, a soft top Roadster and a folding hard top version, the RF. Two engine choices are available, depending on the market, a 1.5-litre four-cylinder with 96kW/150NM and a 2.0-litre four-cylinder with 118kW. 6-speed manual or auto are your transmission choices.
Trim level wise, there’s the GSX and Limited in New Zealand. Though the NR-A is the most bog-standard MX-5 you can get, it fits in between the GSX and Limited in terms of price.
It has a roll cage! A full on proper roll cage, and stickers. Lots of stickers. I have never been given a press car that looked like it was ready to go to a track day. The lowered ride height and cambered rear wheels completed the purposeful and playful look of the NR-A. It certainly turned a few heads and after a while of driving with the roof down, I could immediately sense everyone thinking I was a bit of a berk.
There were a few admiring and curious looks, some people smiling and giving me the thumbs up. It certainly looks racier than the standard MX-5. But take the stickers off, drive with the roof up to hide the roll cage and no one would really guess it was a NR-A. But if you did that how will everyone else know you go to track days?
Perhaps the most daunting thing about this car, for me anyway, was when I first opened the driver’s door. The full roll cage and FIA-approved Bride bucket seats didn’t look look very accommodating. I’m far from being the most limber or fit person in the world so getting in for the first time was a bit awkward. I made noises I had never made before trying to contortion my way into the cabin. At least I made the lady at Mazda laugh.
Once you’ve gotten yourself in, the bucket seats are a game changer. They were snug, comfortable, and I never want to go back to poverty seats again. The six-point Takata harnesses were a nice touch too. I only used them a couple of times to try them out but gave up as it too much faffing around. Luckily a normal seatbelt is provided.
Refreshingly there’s very little else included. On the right side of the steering wheel, where there would usually be a whole host of buttons, there’s only one for the traction control. Which is all you need really. There’s no infotainment system, no touchscreen, and there isn’t even bluetooth connectivity. You get a radio, USB/Aux, and air con which you control by turning a dial. That’s it. You can’t even use the sun visors because the roll cage stop them from coming down. Mazda should’ve just scrapped for more weight saving. This car is all about driving and forget about anything else.
Like in Gran Turismo the first thing you’d do would be to add some upgrades to the MX-5. Mazda have already done that for you off the bat, minus engine upgrades. The 1.5-litre engine is a joy to exploit, eking out all 96kW of power. Despite the modest number it was still enough to get the semi-slick tyres lively at times. It’s not fast by any means, the 2.0-litre engine with 118kW would’ve been perfect in this.
But this car isn’t about straight line speed. It’s about the overall driving experience and if I were to describe the driving experience in a culinary way, it’d be as raw as sushi. Well, technically sashimi but let’s not get bogged down with terminology. I was smiling so much not even botox could fix me. It got to the point where people were looking at me like I was a certified lunatic.
Who cares what others think when the handling is so much sweeter than standard. The NR-A has a lowered ride height and slightly more camber at the rear, meaning it zips around corners even more so than the standard MX-5. It felt more planted on the touges around Tochigi prefecture.
Certainly, it felt less skittish than the standard setup MX-5. The lowered ride height also meant less body roll. It was more stable at higher speeds compared to normal soft top, especially on motorway journeys. The normal MX-5 had quite a bit of vertical movement at higher speeds with the roof down, the lowered more planted NR-A solved that.
The beauty of this car is it’s perfectly road legal so you can take it out to your favourite stretch of road on Saturday and then take it to a track day on Sunday without having to make any modifications. If you like it as it is you can enter in the ‘Party Race’, Mazda’s customer race series. Only unmodified factory NR-As from the NB, NC, and ND generations are allowed.
This is unashamedly a track toy that you can just so happen to drive on the road. If you really wanted to you could daily it but I couldn’t. The low ride height was the biggest draw back when driving in day-to-day situations. An example would be it was too low for most of the coin car parks in Tokyo which have a stopper that rises from the ground.
Other than that, the manual gearbox wasn’t a problem in the city, however, it could get wearisome in stop/start traffic. The roll cage and bucket seat combo did also get a bit irritating when you just want to go out to the shops as well. Luckily there’s a normal seatbelt so you don’t need to use the harness all the time.
|Brand/Model||Engine||Power/Torque||Fuel, L/100km||Cargo capacity, seats up, litres||Price – High to Low|
|Fiat Abarth 124 Spider||1.4-litre, 4-cylinder turbo petrol||125kW/250NM||6.4||140||$52,900|
|Toyota 86||2.0-litre, 4-cylinder petrol||152kW/212NM||8.4||240||$51,986|
|Mazda Roadster NR-A||1.5-litre, 4-cylinder petrol||96kW/150Nm||6.1||130||$32,969/¥2,646,000|
The Pros and Cons
|• Mazda have made the MX-5 driving experience even better
• Track-ready setup
• Rev-happy engine
|• Compromised for daily driving
• Can’t buy it in New Zealand
What do we think of it?
This was one of the best motoring experiences I’ve had, simply due to how much fun this car is to drive on the open road.
Sure, there are compromises to be had such as reduced usability but if you love driving this is about as close to a Porsche GT car as you can get for a fraction of the price. As a pure driving experience it’s hard to beat, especially at this price range. If it had the larger 2-litre engine it’d be perfect.
|Vehicle Type||Sports car|
|As tested Price||$32,969/¥2,646,000|
|Engine||1.5-litre 4-cylinder petrol|
|Kerb Weight, Kg||1010|
|Length x Width x Height, mm||3915x1735x1235|
|Cargo Capacity, litres||130|
|Fuel Tank, litres||45|
|Fuel Economy||Manufacturer’s rating, combined: 6.1L/100km
Real World: 9.0L/100km
|ANCAP Safety Ratings||N/A|
|Warranty||5 year Unlimited Kilometre New Vehicle Warranty
5 year Unlimited Kilometre Corrosion and Anti-perforation Warranty