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First drive: Mazda MX-5 SE is turbo-terrific!

Turbocharged: SE offers forced induction just 12 months before all-new MX-5 arrives.

Turbocharged factory Mazda MX-5 SE takes up where locally-built MX-5 SP left off

23 Mar 2004

IN automotive terms, 15 years is an eternity. But that’s precisely how old Mazda’s iconic MX-5 will be when its all-new successor goes on sale here in the third quarter of 2005.

Of course there have been limited editions, including a locally-built limited edition turbo, and an extensive facelift that brought fixed headlights and a stronger bodyshell in 1998.

But it’s the near-perfect formula of agility, performance and style that has helped ensure MX-5 – the world’s top-selling sports car – remains as popular as ever.

The 700,000th MX-5 was sold recently in the US and almost 10,500 MX-5s have called Australian roads their own.

Now, just over 12 months before the MX-5 is redesigned for the first time since being launched here in October 1998, the benchmark-setting Japanese roadster has come in for its biggest change ever.

Known in Japan as the Mazda Roadster Turbo and locally as MX-5 SE, the turbo-charged convertible is both a fitting swansong for the mould-creating original and the spiritual successor for Mazda Australia’s MX-5 SP, which was sold here from January 2002 at a price of $55,540.

"It’s fair to say a bit of inspiration for the SE came out of our car," says Mazda Australia managing director Malcolm Gough.

"The project manager was very impressed by it and they had a number of kits tested in Japan and the US. It helped convince them a turbo MX-5 wouldn’t have diluted the original concept."Truth is, the factory-built 121kW/206Nm MX-5 SE is not as hot as the 150kW/280Nm Australian-made SP – but nor is it as expensive.

Mr Gough said the SE "adds a new and very exciting dimension to the world’s best selling sports car and offers enthusiasts the only affordable, high performance, turbocharged, rear-drive sports car on the market".

22 center imageAt $45,490, SE is more than $10,000 cheaper than SP – of which only 100 examples were produced – as well as about $5000 more than the non-SE MX-5 priced at $40,530. An automatic version of the standard MX-5 remains available for $42,030, but the manual-only SE is expected to become the new MX-5 sales leader.

Including a hard-top version for $45,490 and optional leather trim at $1000, the freshened MX-5 range is expected to increase sales from around 45 per month last year to around 70 per month in 2004 – including 50 SEs and 20 non-turbo models.

MX-5 SE will be available in three colours including the exclusive Velocity Red.

Although Mazda describes the SE as “un-beatable sports car value”, it has nominated Holden Astra turbo convertible and Toyota MR2 as its key rivals.

While SP was essentially an engine-only upgrade, SE is the complete package.

It’s the first MX-5 to employ 17-inch alloy wheels (with 205/40 R17 tyres) and a torque-sensing limited-slip differential, while SE also gains a quicker steering rack (2.3 turns lock-to-lock instead of 2.7) and revised double wishbone suspension at both ends.

SE features modified Bilstein shocks, 20 per cent stiffer springs delivering a 7mm-lower ride height and larger-diameter anti-roll bars (up 1mm front and 2mm rear). ABS remains as standard, while standard MX-5 brake callipers are painted red.

The DOHC 1.8-litre four-cylinder SE achieves its 121kW (at 6000rpm) and 206Nm (at 4500rpm) performance peaks – giving it 14 per cent more power and 23 per cent more torque than the regular MX-5 – courtesy of a single-scroll turbocharger limited to 7.25psi and an air-to-air intercooler.

SE is claimed to reduce the standard car’s 8.4-second 0-100km/h acceleration time to about 7.8 secondsOther mechanical upgrades include a larger radiator, upgraded clutch, propeller shaft and differential, plus beefier rubber engine and diff mounts, and a larger exhaust outlet.

Inside, SE adds new seat trim with a red insert, drilled aluminium pedals, stainless steel scuff plates and a centre dash featuring a swirl alloy finish.

Air-vents, door handles and the gearbox surround also get an alloy-look finish, while the SE bodykit comprises a new front spoiler with extra-large air intake and recessed fog lamps, a boot spoiler and lower rear spoiler.

All MX-5s now feature a larger wind deflector housing an extra two rear speakers, along with twin front airbags, six-CD audio, power windows/mirrors, glass rear window with demister, remote central locking and seatbelt pretensioners with load limiters.

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