BBR GTI Super 220 Review: What A 221bhp N/A MX-5 Is Like To Drive

BBR GTI has liberated more power from the recently updated ND Mazda MX-5 without resorting to forced induction, and the results are predictably pleasing

The updated version of the current ‘ND’ Mazda MX-5 looks much the same as the old one, and that’s fine by us, because all the important changes are under the bonnet. Crack open that naturally-aspirated 2.0-litre inline-four, and you’ll discover new valve springs, lighter pistons and con-rods and new crank counterweights.

The result of this is 181bhp, a modest increase of 13bhp. But it’s not about the headline figure - what’s really important is where it’s made: 7000rpm. And you can, and should, keep going until 7500rpm.

Revvy N/A engines are a rare treat in the now turbo-dominated world of the performance car, and we adored the refreshed ND MX-5 we drove last year. It didn’t really feel like there was room for improvement in the engine department, but inevitably, the aftermarket disagrees. Already, there’s a way to get more power from the rejuvenated SkyActiv-G, and it comes from BBR GTI.

BBR GTI Super 220 Review: What A 221bhp N/A MX-5 Is Like To Drive - Features

We’ve driven Brackley-based BBR’s turbocharged pre-facelift MX-5s before, but for its latest ND, forced induction isn’t on the agenda. The Super 220 is all motor, and on paper, it sounds extremely promising.

Buy the kit, and your ND will be treated to a custom four-into-one stainless steel exhaust manifold, a new cold air intake with a K&N high-flow filter, a Starchip ECU remap and a whole lot of new stuff in the top end. We’re talking new cams, valve springs and retainers, so say hello to 221bhp at a new rev limit of 7800rpm.

BBR GTI Super 220 Review: What A 221bhp N/A MX-5 Is Like To Drive - Features

In reality, the Super 220 feels as though it’s had a greater uplift in power and torque than it actually has, because you don’t have to wait until that 300rpm higher redline to experience a noticeable increase in poke. It makes significantly more power and torque all the way across the range, so wherever the revs are, it’s going to seem noticeably more potent than stock.

It’s also worth noting that peak torque - now 166lb ft, up from 151 - comes in at 4350rpm, a drop of 500rpm. This makes the 220 much more flexible - it’s now a car you can just leave in third on a twisty country road without ever feeling like it’s struggling.

BBR GTI Super 220 Review: What A 221bhp N/A MX-5 Is Like To Drive - Features

The new character of the engine is good for when you’re just pootling around normally, too. As standard, the ND will do barely anything at about 3000rpm, but here, the 220 will actually start to pull quite nicely.

The party still starts at about 5000rpm though, on the way to that joyous, almost anachronistic 7800rpm red line. God, it’s a joy to smash this thing into the limiter, even if you need to remind yourself the first few times you put your foot down to avoid accidentally short-shifting. Make no mistake: this is still an engine that needs to be worked hard, but the rewards mean it’s more than worth it.

The BBR GTI Super 220 MX-5's interior holds no clues as to what's been done underneath...
The BBR GTI Super 220 MX-5's interior holds no clues as to what's been done underneath...

The only thing we weren’t keen on was the BBR exhaust system, fitted to the car ahead of a dyno test where it’s expected to give an additional 5bhp. Its raspy note sounds purposeful enough, but it won’t be to everyone’s tastes, particularly as it largely drowns out the fabulous 7000rpm induction bark when you have the roof down.

The kit - which doesn’t include the aforementioned exhaust - is £3474 (including VAT) if you’re having it fitted, or £2682 for the parts alone. This seems like good value for the Super 220’s driving experience, but it’ll get expensive if you start factoring in supporting mods.

BBR GTI Super 220 Review: What A 221bhp N/A MX-5 Is Like To Drive - Features

The test car we tried had four-piston Wilwood front brakes (£798) which you’d probably want to go for given the increase in straight-line performance. The ND sits a little high and is quite soft from the factory, so you may also want to opt for BBR’s High Performance springs (£234). They drop the ride height by 30mm, and fitted with the MX-5’s standard ‘Sport’ dampers, they make the ND far less roly-poly without giving the car a nasty pogo stick-like ride.

However you do it, it’s not going to be cheap, but hey, that’s the aftermarket for you. There is, at least, the option of a £1734 Super 200 kit which ditches the fancy cams. It doesn’t have the same exciting 7800rpm peak power mark, but it does still make 202bhp.

BBR GTI Super 220 Review: What A 221bhp N/A MX-5 Is Like To Drive - Features

We don’t know for sure what traction will be like on more run-of-the-mill tyres - BBR’s demonstrator was wearing Michelin Pilot Sport Cup 2s, which seemed damn-near invincible once warmed up. That being said, we wouldn’t expect the 220 to be an accidental drift machine shod in the factory-fitted Bridgestone Potenza S001s.

Why? Because the Super 220 kit strikes a very good balance. It doesn’t give you an overpowered, barely useable tuner car, but it does just about nudge the ND into the territory of cars you’d describe as ‘quick’. Although BBR doesn’t give performance figures, it will be able to trouble a few contemporary hot hatches. It’s more exciting than the stock car without altering the raison d’etre.

Want to make your ND faster? You ought to think about ditching the idea of a snail.