February 6, 2009

Weekend With A Roadster

So as my car sits on stands in Astral's garage, I've been using his lightly modified Roadster in the meantime. I wanted to take it out for a nice evening drive on Saturday night, and then Sunday morning came with 45+ degree of sunny weather. A few sweeping turns, couple of short highway dashes, I decided to write up a small review of my friend's current pride and joy. I decided to pair it off into sections as I had various things to say about the different parts of the car.

Power
For a 2.0 litre with only 186 HP, this car can move. Very quick and agile, and certainly stays true to the sporty "Mazda Roadster" (Miata in USA) heritage. The extra torque and light body really helps it move when accelerating around a turn or even just a quick start from the green. I really don't have any complaints about the engine at all, as I feel it's pretty good for the car.

The exhaust that Astral has on the car definitely gives the car a more aggressive sound, but it has a sort of "moo" to the noise when getting in the higher RPMs. I would love to hear a exhaust note that is much more aggressive like a 1986 Sprinter Trueno or something, but this is at least much better then stock.
SuspensionThis was very surprising to me, of all the categories listed. The Roadster does not have the softer Bilstein suspension, and that is a good thing from what I've heard. For quick and agile response, this car has little problems with that. But too much input, and you may lose control. I'd like to say that this is a untamed wild horse. It could be my skill level as a driver, or the cold roads with these tires, but I wasn't that pleased with the unpredictability of the car.
Overall in terms of bumps and turning feel, the suspension was great. He has a nice Mazdaspeed 4 point strut bar that makes the front slightly stiffer and front end "jolty", but I still can't get over the unpredictable factor. This could be a good thing in that it teaches you to be more consistent in your turning and ability overall, or it could just be me.
The height of the car was a surprising factor. Small roadster with wheel gap that you could easily stick your fist into? I'm not sure who's idea that was, but that is the only side appearance killer to me.

Footwork
TCS TCS TCS... This part I found to be very unamusing to me, just as Keiichi Tsuchiya had felt during his review of the Roadster back on Best Motoring. The TCS seems to kick in at the moment it feels the slightest bit of any sort of understeer what-so-ever. I have no idea what prompts for this behavior, but believe me does it get in the way.

There were various times I was going straight and a slow pace and the TCS light would flash, or taking a turn casually and the light would flash. I'm not sure if that means the car is even more unpredictable and TCS is really fighting it, but the TCS doesn't allow me the full feedback I'd like when driving the vehicle.

The brakes in general felt great. They stopped pretty quick, even when cold, and allowed for good downshifting during heel-and-toe.

The tires on the other hand, this plays along with the handling. I'm not sure if these were the culprits overall, but I really was not pleased with this grip in general, even on that sunny Sunday. 45+ degrees and still not giving respectable grip with that solid planting feeling doesn't make this a winner.

As for the clutch, the clutch needed to be bled so it was pretty sloppy. Changing engagement points on me, getting softer throughout the day, then stiff at first start up. If this was bleed well, it would feel pretty good I'm assuming, but we did bleed it twice previously and still no go.

Lastly for the gas, the pedal was very touchy. Heel-and-Toe downshifting was hard to do smoothly as the moment I tapped the pedal, I was revving past 5,000. After the whole night I had gotten used to it, but come the next morning it was hard to adjust again.

Appearence
What a sharp looking car. Granted, my opinion is biased, but I like that this car is for those who want a RX8, but without the hassle of rotary maintenance. They both look similar, with a similar aggressive stance, and great packages offered.

Even the interior was comfortable and allowed you to be "wrapped in" when driving so that everything is within reach. I would have liked to see more room in the cup holder, and the gas tank release was hidden in some compartment, but other then that, the interior was comfortable.

Operating the convertible was fairly simple, but it was putting it back up that sometimes would hurt my shoulder. If you don't do it at a specific angle, you won't be able to pull the cover up easily, so you have to reach completely behind you and lift up. Other then that, was nice to have a convertible for a change.

Overall
I give this car a 6 out of 10. I did enjoy it very much, and had a blast taking it into the city and around my area. My biggest complaints were the unpredictable moments with the tires and handling overall, where it would give you consistent feedback and response, and then suddenly let go. My biggest compliment was that it's light, agile, quick and attractive.

If it were my car, I would do the suspension first before anything. The height seems to be a bit too high for my tastes, and everyone complains of the stock "sport package" that is offered with the Bilstein suspension. I also would change the wheels to something wider, along with a wider, and better summer tire.

But for a stock car, you definitely get your money's worth. In terms of potential for tuning? It's there for sure.
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