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Car Review

Mazda MX-5 Super20: First Drive

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ADDITIONAL MODEL INFORMATION
2012 Mazda Miata MX5

author photo by David Boldt May 2012
  • Created as a one-off for the Miata's 20th anniversary
  • Super20 is a strategically modified SEMA MX-5
  • Mazda amped up the macho on the Miata

The best way to appreciate Mazda's Super20 is to think back to 1990, when the Japanese automaker introduced the first MX5-Miata and stunned the enthusiast community with its reworking of the classic two-seat roadster. The automotive landscape was showing some light at the end of a very long tunnel. Automakers appeared to be clearing safety and emissions hurdles, and while the U.S. economy had many consumers preparing for an era of reduced expectations, we weren't yet fully resigned to those reductions. Mazda, still working to establish itself fully in the U.S., helped soften the post-1980s economic landing with its 1990 introduction of the MX-5 Miata.

The Japanese had already tiptoed into this segment sporadically, although it had long been the turf of British and European carmakers. Honda jump-started its automotive vision with a small-displacement two-seater, and Datsun/Nissan enjoyed some stateside success with the 1600 and 2000 roadsters, but these were softball lobs in a major-league park. Mazda's RX-7 was a minor hit, but its rotary power held it back from success among mainstream enthusiasts. The new Miata, a clever amalgam of Lotus Elan proportions and an MGB footprint, set the marketplace on its ear and introduced the waiting list and the over-sticker transaction to the Mazda showroom.

Twenty years later, Mazda elected to commemorate the Miata's launch with a special edition, the Super20, that honored the original intent. Introduced in 2010 to a SEMA audience of early rodders and tech-savvy twentysomethings, it was then repainted for an encore performance in 2011. And for our own commemoration of the Miata's 21st anniversary, we were given roughly 20 hours to figure out just how super this Mazda might be.

Our start, just north of Disneyland in Fullerton, California, was ironically appropriate: after a generation, the MX-5's spec is still as much of an amusement park ride as ever. Although a straight shot south on Interstate 5 may not be on Car and Driver's short list of great automotive routes, our destination was Symbolic Motorcars in La Jolla, one of the great automotive showrooms.

At the SEMA show in 2010, the Super20 was swathed in a medium gray. That, in combination with black fender flares and accents, gave it a Dark Knight feel; this might be the car left in the bat cave for Robin. For its 2011 SEMA encore, it was repainted in what we'll call Boddingtons Ale yellow. In fact, with the black flares, accent striping and roof, the MX-5 looks more than a little like a Boddingtons can set on its side, with 200-plus horsepower beneath its flip-top lid.

Reinforcing the Batman and Robin imagery is the Super20's 2.0 liter DOHC 4, which is fitted with a Cosworth supercharger; it goes like a bat out of hell. If the standard Miata is the mild-mannered reporter, this one, with the addition of a Cosworth supercharger, reflashed ECU and Racing Beat header and exhaust, is Supermazda. Rarely have such simple mods done so much good. The engine pulls from idle-second-gear starts are a no-brainer-and accelerates forcefully in any gear. When traffic on Interstate 5 permitted squirts from 80 to 100 mph, the acceleration was effortless, while sixth gear allowed relatively relaxed efficiency at closer to legal speeds.

Chassis upgrades include Mazdaspeed coil-overs, Racing Beat front and rear anti-roll bars and 16x9 Enkei wheels wrapped with 245/45R-16 rubber. The addition of the tallish rubber is the most retro affectation of an admittedly retro exercise, and we loved it. The taller tire eliminates the need to drive around or tiptoe over the typical pothole, while the Toyo compound adds prodigious grip. The taller sidewall is something we've also seen Mazda do on its B-spec Mazda2.

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Our drive took us to Symbolic Motorcars, franchise dealer for Bentley, Rolls-Royce, Bugatti and Lamborghini, and its La Jolla showroom is wall to wall with desirable exotics. The showroom next door, belonging to Grand Prix Classics, is home to every childhood fantasy, assuming that your childhood took place in the 1950s and 1960s. From Alfa Spider to Elva to Kellison Special, owner Mark Leonard's emporium was everything a vintage racer or vintage wanna-be might hope for.

With Symbolic Motors dishing the dream and Grand Prix Classics tickling the imagination, we were able to fully get our arms around the attainable fantasy provided by Mazda's SEMA MX-5. Higher horsepower and a big bump in torque were matched by improved suspension and strategic upgrades to the two-seater's appearance. We're hooked, thinking this modified Miata would make for a decade of great driving. And when it's time to move on, you could consign it for sale in La Jolla - or list it on AutoTrader.com.

This image is a stock photo and is not an exact representation of any vehicle offered for sale. Advertised vehicles of this model may have styling, trim levels, colors and optional equipment that differ from the stock photo.
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Mazda MX-5 Super20: First Drive - Autotrader