Long-Term Road Tests

Daily updates on our fleet of cars and trucks

1994 Mazda MX-5 Miata: More Grip Than A GT-R


Or a Porsche 911 Cabrio. Or a new BMW M3.

Project Miata's new suspension has given it some serious stick. The kicker? It achieves this on stock-sized tires, which are measly 185/60s on stock 14-inch wheels. Let's hear it for light weight cars, folks.

Hit the jump for the track test results.

When we performed baseline testing on Project Miata, it produced 0.89 g on the skidpad, ran through the slalom cones at 64.3 mph and braked from 60 mph in 129 feet. That was on the bone stock suspension and good summer tires.

Once we installed the Fat Cat Motorsports coilovers and Racing Beat front bar (along with 949Racing end links), we had the alignment checked and corrected as needed. It actually hadn't changed much despite the new, lower ride height of 4.75 inches front and 5 inches rear (as measured at the pinch welds).

Then we were off to the test track to confirm what our posteriors were telling us -- that this is a whole new old Miata.

We didn't bother testing acceleration this time. Just handling and braking. Keep in mind that only the suspension was changed and not the tires -- it's rolling on the same 185/60R14 Dunlop Direzzas as before. As per our usual testing protocol, the fuel tank was full and the spare and jack were in place.

Test Results:
Braking 60 - 0 (ft): 117
Slalom (mph): 71.3
Skid Pad Lateral Acceleration (g): 0.95

Braking Notes:
Impossible to be consistent. Very difficult to threshold brake without locking right rear tire. Strange -- perhaps due to off-camber surface & stiff suspension?

Handling Notes:
Skidpad - Very neutral balance going counter-clockwise runs but far less neutral turning clockwise - just solid understeer. Still, an incredible number on stock-width rubber.

Slalom - Very stable here -  better than the current model MX-5. Lithe, communicative, predictable and fun. Easy to place and easy to drive. Doesn't even mind mid-corner bumps - rare for a Miata.

Jason Kavanagh, Engineering Editor @ 176,112 miles.



subytrojan says:

06:23 PM, 05/19/10

Nice!!! Time to hit an AutoX and road course, Jay! :o)

zcalvert says:

06:34 PM, 05/19/10

i confess i haven't been all that interested in the project miata... but this is pretty damn impressive.
my interest is definitely piqued.

knitbeanie says:

06:34 PM, 05/19/10

"Braking Notes:
Impossible to be consistent. Very difficult to threshold brake without locking right rear tire. Strange -- perhaps due to off-camber surface & stiff suspension?"

check your brake proportioning or abs (pretty sure that 94+ had ABS)
also, could be a sticking piston in your caliper.

ptcdawg says:

06:37 PM, 05/19/10

Please, don't ruin this car with DUBS....

hurls65 says:

06:54 PM, 05/19/10

Oh crap, I really didn't want to spend this much on the suspension on my 90...

I was just going to go the Koni route

It's always hard to pull the trigger on a non-essential updgrade that costs more than the car is worth

I am lining up to get a set of Direzzas though... these are the z1 star specs right?

And 2nding the tire/wheel thing.

I suspect that you're going to do a wheel upgrade (why? with these numbers!), but pls keep it minimal... as you say, the joys of lightness

texases says:

07:02 PM, 05/19/10

Exact same tires as my Gen1 GTI, same weight, too. LOTS o' fun!

(p.s.-now that you've dropped $2k on the Miata, what's planned for the Corvette?)

wanderlust3 says:

07:05 PM, 05/19/10

If you guys are welding in a rollbar later on (say, a Hard Dog brand rollbar) those handling numbers may improve even further :)

cmac2992 says:

09:32 PM, 05/19/10

the understeer in one direction and the right rear locking is more than likely suspension preload, corner waiting, or tire pressure. As for future suggestions, i vote wheels and tires, 6ul

blueguydotcom says:

10:14 PM, 05/19/10

Wow. Super impressive. Always loved the original generation MX-5. It felt so right.

powell_jr says:

05:38 AM, 05/20/10

Wow 71+ mph on the slalom is awesome. I love this project.

ms3omglol says:

06:02 AM, 05/20/10

Tiny Timiata says, "Can I have some more horsepower and tire please sir".

eswalls says:

06:22 AM, 05/20/10

So none of it was "POOR?"

Sorry, I'm a 2010 GTI owner, and still bitter :)

bodyblue says:

07:33 AM, 05/20/10

It is so funny to see newer cars with their huge (and heavy) tires and wheels and then see what a car REALLY needs to be fun and handle well. And the 60's look nice with a decent sidewall. When I put 245/60-15s Eagle GTs on my 72 Gran Torino I thought they were HUGE! Now that size is a truck tire! Keep it light and fun on the Miata, please! This is a great project car!

drtwofish says:

07:45 AM, 05/20/10

If you do upsize the wheels, take a look at the Enkei RPF-1's - great looking, cheapish, and around 10 lbs for a 15". Yes, I have them on my Miata :-) One question I haven't seen answered in the posts - does the Miata project have power steering? That's my only disappointment with mine, and one that will be rectified soon.

blueguydotcom says:

08:09 AM, 05/20/10

Amen about how silly the big tires are. I had 18s on 3 BMWs and never liked handling as much as 328s on 17s.

canadaphant says:

08:09 AM, 05/20/10


Take solace in that while this will out grip, brake and handle your car in spades, yours is at least consistent! Then there's the back seat thing, the safety stuff, the lack of funky smell, emissions, etc, etc...

tmanz says:

10:21 AM, 05/20/10

hows the ride on regular roads?

And add a rollbar soon.

bimmerjay says:

11:05 AM, 05/20/10

"Amen about how silly the big tires are. I had 18s on 3 BMWs and never liked handling as much as 328s on 17s."

I had 16's on a 3-Series and thought it was soggy, even with RFTs. The 18's I thought were perfect, though the RFTs still clomp over bumps. On the M3, it's tough to tell the difference between the cast 18's and the lighter forged 19's I have. I wish OEM's would focus on making wheels lighter instead of bigger - I can't imagine going any larger then they already have.

txmatt1 says:

11:25 AM, 05/20/10

Wow, huge "improvement."

The reason I put improvement in quotes is I'm wondering if increasing these limits will ultimately make it less fun as a playmate. If that cloverleaf/offramp that used to be done at 50 or 55 mph with the tires scrubbing now has to be done at 70+ to approach the limits, that actually could be less fun/approachable. Now you're driving a car whose limits are so high that they are harder to safely explore. And most anything you'd reasonably do in daily driving has the car loping along at a ho-hum 4/10 instead of a more entertaining 7/10.

Might be a fun experiment when the handling, brakes, chassis bracing, wheel-tire upgrade, and alignment/corner weighting are all sorted out to throw some all-season 14" tires on it (if the stock wheels would fit over upgraded brakes). While uber-grip is great on the track, I could see that a well sorted/balanced package with less grip might be a better everyday plaything.

carterbw77 says:

01:48 PM, 05/20/10

Wow. All that on 185/60 on stock 14-inch wheels. That is something else. What would be the ideal wheel size for this vehicle? Track use in mind. I can’t imagine what the grip numbers would look like then….

dino6 says:

03:45 PM, 05/20/10

Wow- nice numbers. One request, please don't turn the project car into a track car. Keep it real for the roads. I'd like to hear how the ride is on a variety of roads with this setup.

technetium99 says:

05:51 PM, 05/20/10

>>>Wow. All that on 185/60 on stock 14-inch wheels. That is something else. What would be the ideal wheel size for this vehicle? Track use in mind.

According to Mazda engineers in Car & Driver, it is 14" tires. Fifteens for the RX-8.

jkavanagh says:

08:37 PM, 05/20/10

Just before testing, I made a last minute tweak to the ride height and didn't have time to go back and re-check/remove preload in the rear bar. I'm pretty certain that's the reason for the uneven handling / locking tire...

As for fun, Project Miata is far more fun now than on the stock suspension. It's much more precise and willing to change direction, and its manners more predictable since there's less bump sensitivity. The added grip is no bad thing in any way, and the ride is completely inoffensive - it firm yet compliant. Being off the bumpstops is a great thing...

chingachgook says:

06:39 AM, 05/30/10

Jason, you are an mnet member so you already know that the best wheels/tires for this car are the 949 6ul 9x15 with 225/45-15. Don't let the wimps convince you that these are too big, they are perfect.

So get on with it.


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