Given the ND-generation is hardly box-fresh, it comes as no surprise that some new editions and variants of the MX-5 have started to pop up.
While the goal is maintaining sales momentum, which traditionally slows as specialist sports cars age, the real winners are buyers.
In the case of the 2021 Mazda MX-5 range, a new MX-5 GT RS takes the title of the sportiest of the ND range. Well, kind of.
Mazda fans will already know that the GT RS’s additional equipment has been available in numerous overseas markets with slightly different names.
Chief among the tweaked specifications are enthusiast headline acts, like specifically tuned Bilstein dampers, lightweight BBS forged alloy wheels, Brembo four-piston front brake calipers, and a chassis-stiffening front strut brace.
Mazda refers to the car as an ‘Australian market initiative’, but the truth is international markets have had access to most of those parts either as options or stand-alone spec for a few years.
The Aussie aspect seems to have more to do with the name, with GT RS pointing to its slightly more honed demeanour. Meanwhile, GT SP, as used on the CX-9 and Mazda 6, are just colour and trim variations.
As part of a broader 2021 range update, the MX-5 GT RS, as with the rest of the range, adds Wireless Apple CarPlay connectivity and the option of new Deep Crystal Blue paint.
Elsewhere in the range, the hardtop MX-5 RF GT Black Roof adds available Pure White nappa leather, and the 1.5-litre Roadster and 2.0-litre RF base grades come with black mirror caps.
Trainspotter stuff, really. Apart from the addition of the GT RS, the range stays the same.
The Roadster name denotes manual-folding fabric roof models. RF, or retractable fastback, models feature a powered hardtop mechanism.
The entry point remains the 1.5-litre Roadster, up through GT, and GT RS grades, which both run a more powerful 2.0-litre engine. The RF range is all 2.0-litre powered and follows the same steps through the range, with a slightly fancier GT Black Roof as the halo model.
As before, you can pick from six-speed manual or six-speed automatic transmissions on all but the GT RF, which is manual only. Manual models feature a limited-slip rear differential, but automatics miss out.
There’s more detail on the specification and pricing for the 2021 MX-5 range here.
The short version is a starting price from $36,060 for the manual 1.5 Roadster, up to $51,120 for the fully-loaded RF GT Black Roof auto. In the middle of the pack, the GT RS Roadster is priced from $47,020, while the RF GT RS commands $51,100 – all before on-road costs (ORC).
|2021 Mazda MX-5 GT RS|
|Engine||2.0-litre naturally aspirated four-cylinder petrol|
|Power and torque||135kW at 7000rpm, 205Nm at 4000rpm|
|Drive type||Rear-wheel drive|
|Kerb weight||1052kg (Roadster), 1101kg (RF)|
|Fuel claim, combined||6.8–6.9L/100km|
|Boot volume||130L (Roadster), 127L (RF)|
|ANCAP safety rating||Five-star, tested in 2015|
|Main competitors||Toyota 86/Subaru BRZ, Nissan 370Z, Ford Focus ST, Hyundai i30 N|
|Price as tested (excl. on-road costs)||From $47,020 (Roadster), $51,100 (RF)|
You could also think of the RS as a $3000 upgrade over the regular GT. Not bad compared to shopping for extras yourself in the aftermarket.
On the other hand, there's not much breathing space between the GT RS models and a more powerful Nissan 370Z ($50,490 + ORCs), or something with a more practical edge and a cheaper entry price, like a Ford Focus ST ($44,890 + ORCs) or Hyundai i30 N hatch ($41,400).
As the star of the revised range, the GT RS models were the focus of the launch. And to really hone in on their track-focussed nature, Mazda dropped them onto the tarmac at the Broadford State Motorcycle Sports Centre, just south of Melbourne.
The non-RS-spec MX-5 was also on hand for a quick back-to-back blast.
While the upgraded hardware carries branded logos, and looks the part, the difference isn’t night and day. The regular MX-5 is a pretty handy compact sportster, and the GT RS isn’t a balls-to-the-wall weapon, more of an incremental improvement.
Starting out in the GT RS Roadster, it soon feels planted, secure and confidence-inspiring. Broadford may not be the most demanding track, and it’s only a very short course, but it hides some elevation changes and has plenty of interrupted sightlines.
Sharing the track with the regularly suspended RF GT, it was easy to see where the Bilstein dampers held the car flatter and helped keep a lid on some of the errant rear-end movements that the normal, softer dampers couldn’t clamp out.
It’s still very much an MX-5, though. There’s still a sense of movement and roll through the corners, enhancing the sense of speed. It’s just that there’s a little less of it when pushing hard.
On an almost perfectly smooth surface, it’s hard to say how the ride is affected, but given there was no bucking or rock-solid resistance over corner-marking kerbs, there’s a good chance the new suspension proves a workable compromise.
The same goes for the brakes. There’s not a world of change between the GT and the GT RS, but the Brembo brakes offer a slightly more aggressive bite. As temperatures rose, both on the track and as more laps were piled on, the basic package didn’t fade, but did start to soften just a little.
Cut to the GT RS Brembos, and it felt a bit more confident as the day wore on. Not a fully-fledged track pack, but certainly a worthwhile upgrade for sustained hard use.
The strut brace up front – well, it looks neat with the bonnet up. Honestly, I’m not going to tell you it makes a significant torsional difference. It didn’t particularly stand out on the sample drive.
The one thing still missing from the GT RS spec sheet is the available Recaro seats seen on the 2019 30th Anniversary edition. They’re often grouped with the other sporty bits and pieces overseas, but haven’t made the grade this time around.
The other MX-5 bits are largely still unchanged. I’m always surprised at the variety of sizes and shapes that can fit in comfortably, but like a fitted T-shirt, the MX-5 interior is great for some and out of whack for others.
Practicality isn’t an MX-5 strong suit. The boot measures 130L in the Roadster or 127L in the RF.
I'd also strongly suggest leaning towards the Roadster if you plan to go top-down often. It's a much more serene experience at speed, with the RF buffeting and rustling in the breeze behind your head. On-track, the open Roadster is fun; the open RF tends to dull the experience and dial up the white noise.
The interior goes light on storage. You’ll fit a phone under the centre armrest, the glovebox is decent but behind you, and the cupholders were given an overhaul a few years ago, but still feel a bit wibbly-wobbly.
That’s all forgotten, though, as you drive the accelerator pedal into the carpet. Fire up from a keen-revving low point on the tacho, find some pull in the mid-range, suspect you’ll start running out of puff past 5000rpm, but keep pushing and unravelling more and more past 6000 and cleanly on to 7000rpm.
Then it’s just a case of stepping on the lightly sprung but feelsome clutch, slipping the lightweight but reasonable resistance gearknob through the gate, and starting the dance all over again.
The GT RS’s 2.0-litre engine deals the same 135kW at 7000rpm and 205Nm at 4000rpm as other 2.0-litre models. That’s not a boastful headline figure, but it turns out to be plenty involving around Broadford’s compact layout. Explorable without creating too much trouble.
Can you overcook it? Yes, if you try hard enough. Did you think you wouldn’t? Probably not – but that’s the benefit of the relative safety of a track session and keeping the heat off the streets.
As for other sensible details, you’ll find the same five-year, unlimited-kilometre warranty on the MX-5 as other Mazda models. Given the track focus of the GT RS, and the enthusiast following of the MX-5 in general, you’d expect some form of warranty under track conditions, but Mazda Australia has ruled this out.
Capped-price servicing is available, alternating between $332 and $377 per visit for the basic service, plus extra charges for things like brake fluid, air filter, and transmission fluid with their own replacement schedule, and associated additional costs. Services are due every 12 months or 10,000km.
On the safety front, the MX-5 wears a five-star ANCAP rating, as bestowed in 2015 – old enough now to be considered out of date for comparative purposes. Safety equipment on all variants includes front and side airbags, forward autonomous emergency braking (AEB), blind-spot monitoring, rear cross-traffic alert, and a rear-view camera.
For some peace of mind, there’s traffic sign recognition to help keep track of speed zones and tyre pressure monitoring. The GT, GT RS, and GT Black Roof add reverse park sensors, adaptive headlights, driver-attention alert, lane-departure warning, and reverse AEB.
Despite the mixed connotations the GT RS name brings, Mazda hasn’t turned the MX-5 into a snarling, hard-edged beast.
The MX-5 is what the MX-5 is, and really, that’s okay. In this instance, the MX-5 GT RS is still what it is, with a dash more enthusiast appeal thrown in, but not enough to upset the natural balance.
Not faster for the sake of it, but rather quicker because you are. It's designed to cope with drivers starting out on their journey into the world of weekend club racing, who may not wish to choose their own adventure.