Motor Trend has already tested the new Focus ST against the MazdaSpeed3… and the ST won. But car buying is more than just numbers or styling – the unanswered question until you buy and begin to live with it is what the car would be like in ownership. Day-to-day driving, bad traffic, the occasional blasts down back country roads, cruising down the highway or even squirting the car from stoplight to stoplight. That’s the part that magazines almost never cover.
If you decide you can live with the styling of the Mazda3 family, you can certainly live with the engine and transmission. The engine is a nearly state-of-the-art turbocharged and direct injected 2.3 liter engine. You might literally say that the MazdaSpeed 2.3 was an EcoBoost engine before there was a Ford EcoBoost family. Not only is the engine a Ford engine design underneath, Ford owned the majority of Mazda when the engine was originally developed. But the biggest problem is torque steer, wildly absurd torque steer. In a chassis that was obviously never designed for this engine. Can you live with it… and if you choose the next-gen version of this same chassis – the Focus ST, can you live with the diminished torque steer that is still present in that car (and to one large degree or another, all front wheel drive cars?). Motor Trend set out to compare the two.
Yes, the older design looses again, and badly. We know that a new Mazda3 is coming very soon, spy pictures have shown a similarly sized vehicle being tested and we also know that the chassis is all-new. What we don’t know is if a MazdaSpeed engine will even be offered, and what we won’t be able to find out until that question is answered and a MazdaSpeed3 is delivered is if Mazda will tame some of it’s likely torque steer.
And, just in case Mazda decides not to offer such an engine again, here’s a link to our high-res image of the MazdaSpeed3 engine. Click on the image!
We’ve been keeping a close eye on V-8 Miata swaps [click for large gallery of images], with an eye towards possibly building one ourselves. That means very closely looking over Miata V-8 swaps at car shows, as well as reading all the literature and examples on websites we can find. Here’s an interesting post over on LS1Tech.com (active thread this week), with images of a LS3 swap performed by Flying Miata themselves using their extensive array of swap parts and kits. The car is now in Canada, being tuned by Champion Motors.
The dyno numbers are very good:
But what interests us most is how clean the swap is. And particularly the air intake:
Notice the Corvette-derived air intake tube, feeding from a filter mounted ahead of the radiator. Most V-8 Miata swaps end up with an air filter directly behind the radiator or off to one side due to space constraints under the hood - which would feed the engine hot air from the radiator or the headers. Very inefficient, and a tuning and drivability issue. Here are two examples.
The following Ford swap (unusually, a 94-95 Mustang/T-Bird swap, instead of the much more common 86-93 “T”-manifold and engine swap as in the original Monster Miata) is typical of Ford swaps in that the air filter ends up behind the headlamp to the left. Presumably it can pick up cold air here and it isn’t terrible. But it’s still a problem when moving slow, and it will be a problem in wet weather. The filter would be full of water in a rain storm. The very appealing V-8 Miata with the Toyota 1UZ-FE swap we encountered also had the same layout.
And here’s the worst location: right behind the radiator and too close to the right exhaust header. In real-world use, when moving slowly thru traffic or stopped, this engine will be breathing very hot air.
And real-world is our main interest here for a V-8 Miata swap. While we wouldn’t be driving it very often in daily use, we would be driving it on back-country drives here in Texas. These types of drives are tough on the car. An air filter very much lower than the bumper level will pick up water from the multiple water crossings we encounter on some of our favorite routes, and the typically low exhaust systems forced by Miata space constraints would be constantly dragging when on rough roads where suspension travel and ground clearance is crucial. Those are the two issues that must be resolved for us before going further. The adapted Corvette intake tube solves the first issue. Now we are going to pay more attention to exhaust systems as we encounter further examples.
In our ongoing search for unique engine swaps, here’s one we almost walked right past. At the November 1st Cobb Tuning First Thursday event in Austin Texas, we spotted a very clean early Miata and didn’t pay it any particular attention. After all, at Cobb Tuning, the emphasis is on turbocharged cars with considerably enhanced output. What could a Miata offer to the attendees?
Looking closely, we were surprised to see a V-8 swap – but not the usual Ford or Chevy engines this time. Meet the Toyota 1UZ-FE engine swap: an all aluminum 4-liter DOHC V-8 used in Toyota and Lexus luxury cars from 1989 thru 2002. And note how well it fits: short, compact, room for headers, and the hood is at stock height. With an oversquare (big bore, short stroke) design, this engine revs well and already has a well-deserved reputation of reliability as delivered by the factory (which in this case, certainly did not foresee this use of their engine).
Unfortunately, the owner was nowhere to be found, so we don’t have any details as to the transmission, and we didn’t see any cutting, but the rest of the swap was terrifically clean. Clearly the car was stripped down to the bone, and painted inside and out. Overall this is probably the cleanest and most professional V-8 Miata swap we’ve seen, and certainly the most interesting. In our humble opinion, V-8 Miatas are becoming a bit common these days, when powered by Ford or Chevy. It’s time to put modern engines into these cars, and the Toyota UZ engine appears to be the perfect choice.
Use the category tags below to follow our series covering engines swaps, or our series specific to V-8 Miatas.
We’ve seen a lot of different V-8 engines swaps into Miatas over the past few years and covered many of them in posts here. We’ve seen neat swaps performed by individual builders, but we’ve also seen poorly executed swaps and outright hack jobs. Last night at the Cobb Tuning First Thursday car show in Austin TX, we saw the cleanest V-8 Miata that we’ve encountered to date. Built by Flyin’ Miata themselves – note the brass badge on the radiator support. As close to “factory” as it gets, and it looks it.
But here’s one more feature of this particular swap that we really liked. Note the original Corvette intake tract. Besides being neat and efficient, it also keeps the air intake away from the hot engine compartment. Which is a major problem with all the other Miata swaps we’ve seen, where the open air filter is usually just behind a headlamp, just inches away from the exhaust manifold. And sometimes behind the shock tower, up against the engine firewall. Not smart: it’s not going to work in hot traffic, and even at speed the engine will still be ingesting extra-hot air. This approach is far better.
The “FD” generation Mazda RX-7, built from 1992 to 2002, was only imported into North America for its first three years. It was a victim of the usual dollar to yen issues, changing emissions and mileage standards, and – let’s admit it – severe reliability issues.
But the RX-7 continued in production in Japan. When it came time to build the last year of RX-7s, Mazda built 1500 special JDM-only ’7s, known as the “Spirit R” and yielding up to 280PS HP. All were right hand drive. Except one, built for a Mazda Executive in the United States. Motor Trend magazine drives the only left hand drive RX-7 Spirit R in the world.
Every month we miss getting our Best Motoring DVD from Japan since it’s demise last year. We’d been watching Best Motoring almost since the start, and have spent uncounted thousands importing the videos directly from Japan. We thought we’d seen the last of their famous track comparisons – known as a “battle”, where Keiichi Tsuchiya and his fellow drivers pit the latest and greatest Japanese cars against each other on the track. And we especially miss Motoharu Kurosawa (nicknamed “Gan-san”) as the senior driver and editor.
But now Tsuchiya, Hattori, and Kinoshita are back (along with - to Western ears - an over-enthusiastic announcer), not as Best Motoring, and not on their usual track. The new series is known as “Best Motor TV” (BMTV) and it’s not as ambitious (or widely available) as Best Motoring, but hopefully it is a start. We are very happy to see them again, thanks to Nippon Television Network Corporation (NTV).
This time the battle pits the Toyota 86 (Toyota GT 86 to the Europeans, and “Scion FR-S” thanks to the half-wits in Toyota USA marketing) against the Subaru BRZ and the latest Mazda Miata on the Twin Ring Motegi (ツインリンクもてぎ or Tsuin Rinku Motegi). And not to give it away, but as anybody would know anyway, the Miata looses big time. 2.6 seconds per lap. Last place. By far.
Unfortunately, an S2000 wasn’t entered in the battle – and that’s what we would really liked to have seen, given that we own both a late-model Miata (“NC”, with the handling suspension package) and an S2000.
And we’ll give an opinion as an owner and 30 year track rat: the current Miata with the optional handling package is too soft and too slow. In stock form its just a lousy track car. You can see it in the video when it is rolling over onto it’s bump stops in some of the turns. And the engine is nothing special… just an inherited and rather dull Ford Duratec with minimal differences. And the seats have no support.
All of these issues are critical differences between the Miata and the Toyota 86/BRZ/FR-S triplets – things that the Subaru and Toyota product planners and engineers very clearly understood would be required in a serious sportscar.
Yes, Mazda has more cars on more tracks on any given weekend, and a track-prepared Miata would have done well. But the major difference is that the 86/BRZ/FR-S has a much better base to begin with, thanks to the better vision of its product and engineering teams. And the S2000 even more so thanks to its fabulous engine. Rumors of an upcoming all-new Miata with an even smaller engine and even less interior space just support the fact that the days of the Miata as the ”definition” of a classic sportscar are long over. Subaru/Toyota will just continue to improve their own product, a forced induction engine is on the way, the Japanese aftermarket is already providing modification parts, and the same new chassis may even appear underneath a small sports sedan in the coming years.
This is momentum, which Miata has lost.
Test: Twin Ring Motegi laps
In the classic Best Motoring format, the slower car (Miata) gets a head start.
Test: 0-400 meter acceleration.
The acceleration test is much closer, although the triplets still win. You can see the differences in power-to-weight ratio (and they are provided in the first video).
We’ve seen many V-8 Miata engine swaps, as well as I-4 and V-6 swaps. This one is the king of them all: 2 (two!) V-8 engines, inline, and slaved together. You might call it a V-16, although technically it’s not.
In the video you’ll note that, unfortunately, this is one Miata that is not suited to the autocross course :-)
The V-16 Miata was built by one Tony Hair, who used two relatively cheap “Chevy 350″ engines. Why would anybody build such a thing? Answer: just ’cause. In the world of engine swaps, the question “why” is never asked. Once completed, some might call this the “ultimate” Miata. Keep in mind that as soon as something like this is built, somebody, somewhere, is going to start planning something even more outrageous. That is what the engine swap hobby is all about.
Follow this link to see how a 2009 MazdaSpeed3 achieved >500 horsepower on pump gas, using meth injection, a FP HTA3582R, and Cobb Tuning AccessPORT tuning.
Our reaction? Incredible… and this is likely the record so far. Of course, don’t even think about the torque steer – much less traction. This is where AWD would be necessary to make this streetable. But this is a great achievement… and look at the nice spread between the torque peak and the HP peak. The factory MazdaSpeed3 (or MazdaSpeed6, which we once owned) drops dead at just under 6k. This would be a nicely flexible engine for the street, keeping the revs in the range of 4k to 7k.
How little is too little? Would you be interested in a Miata that weighs 720 pounds less than the current car?
That means a 1760 pound Miata, with a micro motor to match.
The first gen Miata (NA), built to very different safety standards than we have today, weighed in at approximate 2200 pounds.
The current Miata (NC) is larger, but also meets or exceeds the current safety standards and has considerably improved structural integrity that pays off in both safety and chassis dynamics.
Extensive engineering design work was performed to ensure the new NC Miata would be as light as possible. We have cut-away images from the Mazda press preview showing the bare body from different perspectives to illustrate this. Look at the underside of the aluminum hood, for example. The dimpling and stamped holes save considerable weight.
So it’s very hard to believe that significant weight could be taken out of this car without also reducing it’s size prohibitively.
We’ll have to say, as a 6′ tall current Miata owner, that this is going too far.
Those of us who love both horses and our Mazdas completely understand the design philosophy of Mazda. Here it is in Mazdas own words, as only the Japanese can tell it: