From £28,0159
Brackley tuner takes Mazda's latest 2.0-litre engine to another level – but that's only half the story

What is it?

The Super 220 is BBR GTI’s most recent kit for the Mazda MX-5, and one that builds on the powerful 2.0-litre Skyactiv-G engine introduced for factory cars the year before last.

Those factory-standard cars are regarded as the best ND-generation MX-5 models to date, especially when fitted with the optional Bilstein dampers and Mazda’s mechanical limited-slip differential. They offer better performance than the older 2.0-litre motor but pair it with the hunger for revs you get with the loveable 1.5-litre, and this Super 220 kit claims to have raised the bar in both respects.

British owners will probably choose to have the kit fitted on-site at BBR GTI in Brackley (just behind the Mercedes-AMG Petronas Motorsport building – you can’t miss it), and it consists of high-performance cams with upgraded valve springs and retainers, an attractive four-into-one stainless steel exhaust manifold and BBR’s own cold-air intake and K&N-designed high-flow air filter.

Gelling it together is an ECU remap from StarChip and the result is an increase in power from the stock 181bhp to, as the name suggests, a little over 220bhp for a specific output nibbling at the exhaust tips of a Ferrari 430 ScuderiaIt all costs £2682, to which you’ll need to add £600 and a day or three of the car’s time for fitment.

However, this particular example is more than a basic Super 220 conversion. And as we’ll soon discover, you're almost certain to want in on some of the extras.

The gorgeous dirty-gold OZ Ultraleggera alloys cost £1500, including Goodyear Eagle F1 tyres, and the Wilwood brake calipers, which come with braided lines, cost £765 fitted. Peer under the car and you’ll see bright-red adjustable Eibach anti-roll bars (£560) and BBR’s custom progressive springs, which are made from Sheffield steel (also £560). 

The springs are paired with the factory-spec Blistein dampers but their compression rate starts at around 10 percent stiffer than standard; they also lower the ride-height by 30mm, which if nothing else gives the humble MX-5 some serious kerbside appeal. You don't have to have the decals, either – most owners don't, but for magazine tests BBR understandbly wants everyone to understand this ain't no normal MX-5.

Finishing it all off is Mazda’s own aero kit, with front splitter, side skirts, rear apron and a dainty spoiler. Were you to start with a box-fresh 2.0-litre MX-5 donor car, the total cost would be around £28,500. However, were you to find a good used example, you could pay rather a lot less. Now might be a good time to set aside some time for browsing the classifieds…

3 Bbr gti mx 5 super 220 2020 uk fd hero rear

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What's it like?

Totally tat-free inside the cabin. BBR’s modifications have always focused on the mechanical elements of the MX-5 and so even this fully loaded example is factory-standard within. That means analogue dials plus leather-trim for the thin-rimmed steering wheel and gearknob – there's no Alcantara, harnesses or the like. In fact it's all faintly old-school in feel with cosy ergonomics, and even before you’ve hit the engine-start button you’ll wonder how well Mazda’s only gently bolstered seats are going to fare against proper BBR-spec performance.

Fire the thing up and it doesn't feel so standard anymore. As well as the Super 220 engine upgrades, this car is running BBR’s GT-spec exhaust silencer, whose note is enjoyably punchy at idle – tight and brassy but also juicy – and only gets better from there. BBR’s Supersport silencer allegedly ups the ante considerably, and to the extent that it’s not officially recommended with the upgraded exhaust manifold: good fun but far too lairy for most.   

Once the engine’s warmed through we take the opportunity to explore its potential along the stretches of dual carriageway en route to some good B-roads. The first thing you notice is that throttle response is crisper that almost every conceivable rival at this price (perhaps the Yaris GRMN was a touch sharper at high revs) and the power delivery feels flawlessly linear. It grows in strength and character right up until the red line, which now sits at 7800rpm, up a generous 300rpm on standard. That's not quite supercar-high but it’s up there with the best of the rest, and with sensible gearing there’s plenty of opportunity to max-out the first three gear ratios as often as you like.

With an improved power-to-weight ratio the Super 220 feels quick enough but still not memorably so. Torque is increased from from 151 to 166lb ft up and arrives earlier, but you’ve still got to make the engine sing for its supper (which, just to remind you, is a highly pleasurable undertaking) and, on balance, progress feels maybe a shade slower than you’d experience in a turbocharged Fiesta ST.

However, the thing about the Ford is that its performance feels ideally suited to B-roads: quick enough to give your frontal lobe a solid workout but not so quick that you’re checking the instruments every other corner and so can’t truly immerse yourself in the drive. It’s exactly the same with the Super 220. Better, even, because it takes a little longer to initially build speed and you’ll hold onto gears right up until the red line. In this sense the factory 2.0-litre SkyActiv-G already excels, but the additional polish of the Super 220’s delivery, along with its crisper response mean nobody is ever going to regret paying for this upgrade.

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You'll still want those suspension tweaks, which allow the chassis to match the powertrain; at the very least you should shell out for the anti-roll bars. The comprehensive setup on this car is very nicely conceived indeed, and while it compromises the car's comfort in town, by the point you're halfway done with second gear on the open road, it's already hitting its stride. What's nice is that BBR hasn't eliminated the natural roll-motion of the MX-5. Instead, those movements are only tightened in both magnitude and rate so you still get the same predictable and communicative flow but with much more precision and control. In particular, vertical travel at the rear axle is a lot better defined, which helps when you're popping up over crests, taking corners with strange cambers or suddenly find one side of the car rolling through a series of potholes or ruts.

Then, when you really want to play, well-judged levels of grip (the tyres are merely 215-section) and perfect B-road dimensions in the context of a car with a front-engined, rear-driven balance make it supremely trustworthy and easily controllable. Were the steering more interested and alive, it'd be near perfect, but, as it stands, if we're talking about a car to get in and immediately enjoy, exploit and immerse yourself in, the Super 220 still has the Alpine A110 S we tested last week licked.  

10 Bbr gti mx 5 super 220 2020 uk fd rl driving

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Should I buy one?

Take a look at the performance car market today and it’s easy to think that around £50,000 is the entry point for something genuinely well sorted with rear-wheel drive.

To be perfectly clear, the Super 220 demolishes that idea, and to drive it even briefly is to want it in your garage on a more permanent basis.

Admittedly, you need to commit to owning a modified MX-5 to get a truly enlightening experience: the engine kit is good at what it does but the addition of BBR’s anti-roll bars, springs and the lightweight wheels are what makes it difficult to imagine the ND-generation car getting much better than this. 

On the right tyres, you’re presented with a Goldilocks blend of grip and power, and enough precision to decide for yourself which of those two attributes will be the dominant force. Honestly, this is a car that encapsulates why we love driving – and it's affordable.

BBR GTI MX-5 Super 220​ specification

Where Northamptonshire Price £2682 (kit) On sale Now Engine 4 cyls in-line, 1998cc, petrol Power 221bhp at 7800rpm Torque 166lb ft at 4350rpm Gearbox Six-speed manual Kerb weight 1188kg Top speed 155mph (est) 0-62mph 6.0sec (est) Fuel economy circa. 40mpg CO2 n/a Rivals Mazda MX-5 30th Anniversary, Toyota GT86, Toyota Yaris GRMN

14 Bbr gti mx 5 super 220 2020 uk fd otr nose

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Richard Lane

Richard Lane
Title: Deputy road test editor

Richard joined Autocar in 2017, arriving from Evo magazine, and is typically found either behind a keyboard or steering wheel.

As deputy road test editor he delivers in-depth road tests, performance benchmarking and supercar lap-times, plus feature-length comparison stories between rival cars. He can also be found on Autocar's YouTube channel

Mostly interested in how cars feel on the road – the sensations and emotions they can evoke – Richard drives around 150 newly launched makes and models every year, and focuses mainly on the more driver-orientated products, as is tradition at Autocar. His job is then to put the reader firmly in the driver's seat. 

Away from work, but remaining on the subject of cars, Richard owns an eight-valve Integrale, loves watching sportscar racing, and holds a post-grad in transport engineering. 

Join the debate

Add a comment…
Cersai Lannister 23 January 2020

Love it, love the price

A set of performance upgrades that are priced in line with the car and not doubling it. I had a turbo MX-5 once and bought it despite a mild dislike of tuned cars. It was great and if I had an MX-5 in Britain I'd do this.

275not599 23 January 2020

Alas, the one mod I would

Alas, the one mod I would need for his great car is a 6 inch reduction in driver height.  It's so cramped!

275not599 23 January 2020

Alas, the one mod I would

Alas, the one mod I would need for his great car is a 6 inch reduction in driver height.  It's so cramped!