MX5 Performance Tuning tips

"The Fantastic MX5 Eunos or Miata "

The Mazda MX5 (also badged Eunos and Miata) is what every small roadster should be. The question remains though about the best mods and upgrades for the MX5. So let's look at the best performance modifications for this stunning motor and see what can be done to improve it and what we would focus on if we were building the ultimate modified MX5.

They are superb at handling thanks in part to the great chassis design and the cars lightweight.

It was an instant hit, when it was introduced in the late 80's/early 90's and each model revision sees improvements.

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Its back to basics approach captured the spirit of a fun roadster and won the car many fans.

One criticism thrown at the MX5 is the lack of power. Originally provided with just 2 engine options, a rather revvy and sporty sounding 1.6 and the slightly more powerful 1.8. The first task then is to uprate the power. Thankfully Mazda have provided a good block that has substantial scope for improvement.

Each new generation of the MX5 have brought significant improvements to the car. The latest 1.5 (132bhp) and 2.0 engines (162bhp) are quite lively and the power output is more suiting the car, but even then we want to wring out a few more horses!

The late 2018 revision to the 2.0 engines raised its power to 185bhp and the redline was raised to match that of the (1.5 which always felt sportier although it was less powerful.)

The model years for the MX5 Miata

  1. First generation (NA) 1989 - 1997
  2. Second generation (NB) 1998-2005
  3. Third generation (NC) 2005 - 2015
  4. Fourth generation (ND) 2015

mx5-tuning

Internal modifications should include a fast road cam, ported and polished head with a 3 angle valve job.

If budget allows then blueprinting and balancing the engine and fitting a low ratio gearbox will further increase the cars appeal.

A lighter flywheel will make the car rev more easily and it appears that the MX5 becomes quite a different beast with a slightly lighter 10lbs flywheel. (NB: If the flywheel is too light then the car will be hard to drive in stop start traffic.)

The clutch is a different story and should be the primary upgrade before any other MX5 engine tuning is attempted especially if the mileage is getting up there.

Small and nimble the only criticism is a lack of power, add some sensible tuning modifications and you have a world class roadster.

Engine mods for the MX5 Miata

Getting the best modified mods for your planned usage of the car is a time and money saver. Stage 3 motorsport mods just won't work well on the road and will make the car undrivable.

To remap the MX5 you should really go with an aftermarket ECU, or piggyback solution. The ME221 ECU which is drop-in gives a good base for your tuning project and is used by many respected MX5 tuners.

For NASP engines please watch our video which covers the 5 principles of tuning your MX5. Be sure to subscribe and support our new channel.

Best mods for your MX5

  1. Brake Upgrades - Improve your ability to stop ought to be near the top of your Mods list.
  2. Tunes - A remap provides the most advantage in terms of cost, aftermarket ECU upgrades, and inline Tuning boxes are all alternatives.
  3. MX5 Suspension Upgrades - Upgrading your suspension radically improves your MX5 handling Adjustable coilovers and better bushings are what is needed here.
  4. Upgrades to turbochargers and superchargers - Adding a turbocharger is the most efficient approach to increase air supply, allowing you to burn more fuel and make more power. It is one of the most costly upgrades you'll see massive gains.
  5. Intake and Sports Exhausts - Note that on their own these mods won't ADD POWER in most cases, but they can help enhance power after other mods by removing the restriction.
  6. Internal engine mods - crank, pistons, conrods & compression ratio including balancing and blueprinting
  7. Fast road cams are one of the most significant mechanical changes, but they must be fitted by someone who knows what they are doing and they are not always easy to source but you might find a local firm to regrind a stock camshaft.

MX5 Tuning Stages

Typical stage 1 mods often include: Lighter flywheel, Sports exhaust, Remap, Alloy wheels, Suspension upgrade (drop 30-40mm), Panel air filter.

Typical stage 2 mods often include: Ported and polished head, Fast road cam, high flow fuel injector, fuel pump upgrades, Power/Sport clutch.

Typical stage 3 mods often include: Internal engine upgrades (pistons/head/valves), Competition cam, Sports gearbox, Adding or upgrading forced induction (turbo/supercharger), Engine balancing.

Turbo upgrades on the Mx5/Miata

One popular mod on the MX5 is the addition of forced induction. For all those newbies who think you can just bolt on a turbo or supercharger we need to state the obvious here, you can't - a lot more is involved.

Whilst turbos can be added it seems slightly easier and makes economic sense to fit a supercharger.

You will find that turbo engines need quite a few extra parts namely an exhaust manifold, intake piping and ideally stronger lower compression pistons and a diverter valve whereas a supercharger is pretty much a bolt on and remap upgrade.

Turbo kits abound for the MX5 and we particularly like the offerings from BBR, pulling another 90bhp from the engine!

There is still a lot of debate or arguments between the MX5 turbo owners and supercharged owners as to which is the most cost effective, and which suits the car the most.

Dyno results are generally fairly similar but the power delivery is very much down to personal tastes.

The supercharger has a linear smooth delivery and the turbo gives a fun wallop in the back part way up the rev range.

We've also seen some tuners experimenting with twin charging conversions and making some seriously high power gains.

When this is properly setup you can hit power figures in the order of 200 to 300bhp or around 250 bhp on stock internals.

The stock engine will also benefit from some basic tuning modifications. Most owners will add an induction kit although the benefits of this are questionable unless you also add a cold air feed pipe. A sports exhaust and sports catalyst will free up a few more horsepower on the NASP versions and even more if you have added forced induction with a bolt on turbo or supercharger kit.

Miata MX5 Intake and Exhaust Tuning.

Now we move on to the intake and exhaust and ensure proper flow through the engine. Induction kits are only beneficial to add power if the cars air intake is restricted!

If you have heavily modified your engine and it's need for air INCREASES DRAMATICALLY then an induction kit is the answer and will help remove this restriction.

Induction kits can work well on turbo engines and larger engines (if supplied with a suitable cold air feed or air box), generally though we'd just recommend for MX5 engines you fit a sports panel air filter preferably made from cotton.

Sports exhausts generally help improve air flow out of the engine but avoid an exhaust that is too wide or you could very well end up with a reduced flow rate. So generally speaking, keep to 1.5 to 2.5 inches for best results.

Getting a professionally ported and polished head with larger valves can fully maximise your power gains. A good triple plate fast road upgraded clutch will help to keep that power going where it should. Never cut corners or ask a standard OEM clutch to cope.

The best mods we recommend for your MX5 are a remap especially on a turbo, a fast road camshaft and sports exhaust, with a good air intake. NASP engines do not achieve big power gains if you remap them, unless you have done extensive modifications. With turbocharged engines this is another story. A remapped turbo will give phenomenal power gains and fully release the potential power of the engine.

We've also come across some owners experimenting with twincharged conversions and making some seriously high power figures.

Despite the large cost involved adding forced induction to a NASP engine will give large power gains. It is generally cheaper to bolt on a supercharger than it is to install a turbo. Turbos give boost in increasing proportion to the engine speed and this can make mapping difficult.

Superchargers will give a boost which is directly proportional to engine speed so is simpler. Adding forced induction will generally require a lower compression ratio or water injection.

Suspension and handling improvements for the MX5 Miata

On the track, quick cornering is critical, and suspension plays a role. Because the track is devoid of bumps and potholes, it is forgiving. Thus, you may employ severe suspension drops on hard springs and lower the vehicle to improve aerodynamics and lower the centre of gravity without sacrificing ride quality.

The majority of MX5's built include softer suspension than we would like and we feel it will degrade the handling and driving enjoyment if left stock. Because track vehicles are configured for driver preference and style, the best configuration is not only subjective, but also dependent on the circuit's attributes the same is true of the road.

Your suspension needs to reflect your needs and preferences as a driver.

The road presents a plethora of problems and issues, so suspension needs to be adjusted to suit poor quality road surfaces and allow you to live with your MX5 as a daily driver.

So what mods and upgrades do we recommend for a road focussed MX5?

Handling is already very keen on the MX5 but adding some uprated suspension can dramatically improve the handling. All older models will benefit from the fitment new rubber bushes (bushings) as these tighten up the suspension especially when there is old worn out soggy suspension components.

It should be noted that some owners reported worse handling with polyurethane bushes as these cut out the passive rear steer effect (passive toe-in) which makes these cars so much fun.

Therefore, what variables and elements must you consider while setting up and selecting your vehicle's suspension?

When engineers build and specify the setup for a vehicle's suspension, they must take into account speed bumps, uneven terrain, passenger comfort, and road noise.

A good suspension system maintains the tyres' proper angle on the road for maximum contact area. Body roll must be kept at a minimum, and the centre of gravity of the vehicle must be kept low. Torquecars advises a 30mm drop on the majority of sports-oriented cars with factory-spec improved suspension.

Suspension Common Mistakes & Urban Myths

Purchasing a non-adjustable suspension kit that lowers the MX5 50mm with the expectation that it would be ideal.

Some kits are fairly generic, and vendors often imply that they may be used on any or a variety of vehicle types.

It is patently untrue to assert that one suspension firmness and ride height suits all.

An incorrect angle between the final drive and the wheel hub may cause damage to the drive shaft and gearbox.

Additionally, adjusting the ride height has an effect on how the suspension travels under load, resulting in scouring and early tire wear!

Additionally, purchasing lowering springs but using normal dampers, or upgrading dampers and using standard springs, is a terrible choice. The suspension system should be analyzed holistically.

With the dropped suspension, your ground clearance decreases, your tires may grind against the wheel arches, and speed bumps become insurmountable obstacles.

Bear in mind that speed bumps could, if you go too low, puncture the sump, removing the engine's bottom and the majority of the front skirt of a lowered automobile. Lower does not always imply superiority.

TorqueCars advises a 35mm drop for the majority of street vehicles and a 30mm drop for cars equipped with improved suspension (sporty versions which already have lower suspension).

These tolerances may be far lower with standard suspension and 17" rims, however lowering the vehicle may create a slew of troubles.

Alloy wheel selection on the MX5 Miata

Stick with 16 inch alloys for best performance although 17 inch alloys might look marginally better to many people,  it will stuff the handling and performance, smaller wheels are better from a performance point of view.

Newer models were setup on 18's and this seems to work quite well, but this involved a new suspension design and setup.

Alloy wheels will help the brake cooling and are usually lighter than steel ones. Don't forget that your choice of rubber greatly affects your cars grip and handling. It is not worth compromising performance with cheap tyres when you can buy track legal slick performance tires.

A strut brace will keep the alignment of the chassis and help to prevent flexing. Fitting a rear anti roll bar is not an option as the MX5 comes with a good anti roll bar.

MX5 Miata brake upgrade mods

The standard brakes on the MX-5 are great considering it's light weight of the car and most owners consider the expense of bigger brakes to be a waste of money.

But for serious track days where you drive harder you should at least consider uprating the brakes. Fitting better pads will improve things but for the best effect you should really get a big brake disc conversion and 4,6 or 8 pot calipers.

While larger brake discs are the first thing that comes to mind when discussing brake modifications, don't overlook the pads - they are perhaps more critical than the discs, and certainly, faulty pads may impair the handling of your MX5.

Brakes are critical – traveling swiftly requires the ability to stop quickly! The friction pad presses against the disc, converting kinetic energy to heat.

When you press the brake pedal, the force is passed to the servo, which amplifies your foot pressure and activates the brake.

The pad transfers braking heat throughout the discs, therefore keeping the disc cool is the aim and is best done with a larger surface area.

With its center channel, the vented disc increases the disc's surface to air ratio, resulting in improved and quicker cooling.

Drilled discs help keep pads 'clean and sharp' by improving the air-to-pad ratio and reducing gas buildup between the pad and the disc. Larger discs result in improved cooling, albeit they may entail the use of a different alloy wheel.

MX5 brake pad selection

The material composition of the pads is the largest factor in your braking, and you want a high friction surface not a long life or low dust formulation. However, even though they generate noise and dust, it really is worth investing in high friction brake pads and on their own will make a difference to your MX5's braking.

Racing pads are constructed from a high-friction material that performs optimally at elevated temperatures.

Due to the fact that racing grade brake pads perform optimally when very hot, they are unsuited for road usage, where braking is performed on cold pads or in short bursts.

TorqueCars has established that Pagid and Black Diamond fast road pads provide an excellent balance of braking and wear but there are lots of others out there suitable for the MX5, drop into our forums to discuss these options with our MX5 owners.

Certain performance brake pads emit practically no brake dust and last far longer than the standard pads I was using — however driving style has an effect on pad and disc wear. When the ABS senses a lockup, it automatically releases the brakes until the wheel resumes normal rotation.

The stopping power of a vehicle may be increased. Typically, you would replace the discs and pads. A bigger disc generates more friction and disperses more heat, which benefits you immediately.

With a large disc conversion kit, you'll have more braking sensation and an easier time detecting the moment of lockup.

Function of Calipers and Pistons

Calipers (which apply the clamping force) and pistons (which push the calipers).

The more pistons you have, the greater the clamping force, which enables you to use bigger pads.

So the aim here in improving your MX5 brakes is to increase the pad size and material, disc size an design, the calliper to carry this, and a higher piston count to enhance the impact of disc upgrades.

We hope you've found this tuning guide informative and we look forward to updating these articles further in the near future.

To join us in our friendly tuning forum and meet other MX5 owners and swap tips hints and tuning ideas click here.

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3 Responses to “MX5 Miata Eunos Tuning”

  1. ROBERT BENNETT says:

    Good Info. Thanks.My 2011 MX5 1.8 Powered roof requires more bhp to approx 150 bhp at flywheel, please suggest and your charges for this. Thanks. RB.

  2. TorqueCars says:

    What mods have you done to your MX5? What mods work best, which were the most disappointing and what mods have you got planned for the future? Please share your tips.

  3. Shahar says:

    Hey wil a sr20dat engine with turbo will fit and mx5 nc?

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