Performance upgrades 101

Performance 101 featured image

While we don’t really like to separate modifications to tiers or stages, there’s no better way how to structure them by importance and effect on the car, assuming you are starting with a stock one. Two notes before we begin – this article is focused on performance impact, so it’s not considering your driving technique or effects like your excitement made by cone air filter or loud exhaust, etc. We also recognise this is not a guide for experts, whose opinion could vary from ours depending on the car use case, but merely a general guidance to help people who are inexperienced with performance modifications and fast driving.

Maintenance tasks

  1. Basic service – engine oil, coolant, spark plugs, brake and clutch fluid, transmission and differential oil, power steering fluid.
  2. Check if all components like hoses, ingition cables, brakes and wheel alignment are in good shape.

Stage 1

  1. Tyres – upgrade to UHP tyre compound, we recommend 195 or 205 width on R15 wheels. We have the best experience with Yokohama AD08RS, these perform well in both dry and wet, while keeping great balance and not making the car prone to understeer as with some other tyres (e.g. Federal 595RS-R).
  2. Brakes – once you start experiencing brake fade, or smoke, we recommend to upgrade to performance brake pads. Excellent choices include Hawk HP+ and Ferodo DS2500. We did not have good experience with EBC brakes, but it might depend on your specific use.
  3. Safety – get a roll bar. No, seriously, don’t put this one off for later. We’ve seen several friends roll their MX-5 even in mild speeds and as you can imagine, their roll bars came quite handy.

Stage 2

  1. Suspension – replacing the stock suspension with sport shocks and springs. If you have factory Bilstein, we recommend to keep it, unless you have budget (€1000+) to get good replacements, or change only the springs for stiffer and slightly shorter ones (front 8 kg/mm, rear 6 kg/mm). Great coilovers are made by Koni, Bilstein, Tein, MeisterR and others. Do your research online, because some (especially cheap) coilovers will not work all that well and you don’t want to spend money on parts which won’t perform.
  2. Torsen or aftermarket LSD insert – if you have an open differential, it will be holding you back quite a lot on corner exits. There’s no real difference between T1 and T2 type Torsen, but watch out for Tochigi Fuji Super LSD, which tend to break a lot.
  3. Cooling – performance radiator and coolant reroute. Both of these upgrades target a different weakness of the MX-5 engine, hence we recommend to do both. If your budget does not allow to do them simultaneously, first replace the radiator and then do a coolant reroute.

Stage 3

  1. Chassis stiffness – frame rails or butterfly brace depending on your budget. There are also front shock tower braces, fender braces, rear suspension arms braces and stiff door bushings available, but we consider them supplementary as major stiffening effect is made with roll bar and frame braces.
  2. Exhaust – good, dyno-proven headers can improve torque and top horsepower in the 5-10% range. The middle piping and rear muffler can help support better flow from good headers, but alone (stock headers, stock cams) they hardly make a difference.
  3. Lightweight wheels – quality wheels are expensive, that’s why we list them so far into the list. Aim for forged or flow-formed wheels with weight under 6 kgs or 13 lbs for a R15x7 (+- 0.5 inch) wheel.

Stage 4

  1. Intake – to be frank, most intake kits just make your car sound cool without real performance benefits. Putting a cone air filter to the stock intake location as it will only suck in hot air from the exhaust headers. You might pick up 2-3 horsepower at the top, but you’ll loose important torque in the midrange because you’ve removed the stock intake resonator. If you’re serious about intake change, look for (or make) a kit that sucks air from the front of the car.
  2. Lightweight flywheel and clutch – will decrease your shift times and should slightly improve throttle response and acceleration. Desirable on track, perhaps not that much on a street car used daily.
  3. Gauges for engine monitoring – at this point we assume you’re regularly driving hard, either on track days or other events, so making sure all is in order is worth the €100-200 spent on gauges.

Beyond stage X

Well, at this point there are many different options and mods you can choose from based on your preferences. Starting with forced induction through big brake kits and ending with full aero kits, it’s really up to you and the purpose you want the car to fulfill.

We hope this general guide helped you to get an idea on what modifications are useful for your MX-5 to perform the best it can and provide you with rewarding drives. Remeber, working on your driving skills is as important as improving your car’s capabilities on the limit. Did we miss anything elementary you’d say should be an part of our list? Please let us know!

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