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Old 03-25-2004, 04:41   #1 (permalink)
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AU:Ageing MX-5 to go out with a bang

By Andrew Heasley
The Age



Mazda has given its ageing MX-5 roadster a performance boost as part of a farewell freshen-up just 18 months before the arrival of an all-new model.
Mazda hopes the SE's turbocharger -- increasing power by 14 percent and torque by 23 percent -- and a sharper handling package will revitalise showroom interest.

Sales of the MX-5, now in its 15th year of production, are about half of what they were a year ago. Just 58 sold in the first two months of this year, compared to 106 for the same period last year. Mazda Australia managing director Malcolm Gough says the Japanese factory's decision to turbocharge the tiny convertible was a natural progression for a model whose days are numbered.

"We've got 18 months to the new model. How do we extend the life of the current one?" said Mr Gough. The last hurrah? "Basically, yes."

The MX-5 SP developed by Mazda Australia in 2002 showed the company's head office turbocharging the MX-5 could be achieved reliably. However, the SE lettering and a modest body kit and bigger wheels are the only clues to its hotted-up performance.

The force-fed version of the MX-5's 1.8-litre four-cylinder, which produces 121kW and 206Nm, combines with a lightweight (1122kg) body for sizzling on-road performance. The claimed dash to 100kmh has been cut by 0.6 seconds to 7.8 seconds. The taut suspension and rear-drive layout lap up the extra power, with sharper steering providing a sportier demeanour. On twisty roads, the SE has loads of grip and poise.

Asphalt corrugations mid-bend invoke some mild shaking of the windscreen -- or scuttle shake -- but it's not bad compared with other open-topped cars. Only a faint note of turbo whistle can be heard, drowned out by air turbulence with the roof down.

For $45,490 plus on-roads, the SE costs a shade under $5000 more than the regular MX-5.

The 6 is the next Mazda in line for a sports variant, with a turbocharged all-wheel-drive version expected soon.

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