Mazda MX5 Handling Upgrades: A Guide to Coilovers

By Max Anthony •  Updated: 11/09/22 •  6 min read

Mazda might not be at the top of your shopping list if you’re looking for a darn fast speed machine, but the cracking MX5, called the Miata, can tick more than a few boxes for demanding drivers. It’s affordable, lightweight, well-balanced, and has cracking engines.

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The car also looks the part, with subtle curves in early models and sharper and more contemporary lines in newer cars. There’s nothing not to like. Plus, if you’re lucky enough to get your hands on some early editions, particularly the Mk1 Miatas, proven reliability means there’s scope for a whole heap of aftermarket accessories that add a bit more speed, improve handling in turns, and bring the car up to the times.

Though you’ll find hundreds of engine mods to churn out a few more horses in the smaller displacement 1.6 and 1.8 engines, from minor ECU tunes to whole turbo kits, there’s less attention paid to how the car acts on the road. Bespoke handling upgrades improve handling and grip and keep it planted. For the MK1 (or NA variants), nothing does this better than getting a set of MX5 MK1 coilovers. These are the logical replacement for worn springs and shocks in high-mileage early cars. In addition, they transform the car without spending a penny under the bonnet.

Why Consider a Suspension Upgrade?

Mazda MX5 Handling Upgrades

Source: reddit.com

Let’s be honest here. The car is nimble and agile with every turn of the steering wheel. There’s a low centre of gravity, and the weight is low and distributed well along the length of the vehicle. Tyres and wheels get enough grip to put a smile on anybody’s face. This formula drew thousands of customers to Miata in the first place. Not huge bhp numbers, or roaring V8s crunching 0-60 times.

But can you do better? Short answer, yes. And in cars that have seen more track days, or spirited highway driving, this soon becomes necessary. Replacing the stock suspension not only improves the way the car drives but also removes safety concerns.

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Why Coilovers?

Coilovers fitted to any Miata make for a good-looking car. They lower the body and chassis and reduce the already low centre of gravity. A lower-sitting car and one riding on coilovers at all four wheels is a world apart from what Mazda initially offered as stock. There’s the option to adjust ride height, dampening when hitting potholes or bumps and rebound rates or how the car reacts when hitting said bumps and potholes.

The aim is to remove pronounced sponginess and firm up the ride. This is best utilized on the track and where the Miata naturally shines. Turning will be more precise, with more feel in the steering wheel, and the car stays planted. Couple this with better brake pads (or big brake kits) and callipers, and you can retain more speed in bends and accelerate faster on the straight.

So what exactly are they? The name says a lot. Coilovers are springs sprung around the shocks or dampers. This will include the height and compression adjustments, with the springs wound or loosened against the damper body. They’re pre-assembled units that differ a whole lot from the separate spring and shock setup in stock MX5 suspension.

Mazda MX5 Handling Upgrades

Source: scalesuspension.com

Design Considerations

The varying designs and complexity of coilovers allow for finer adjustments to suit a particular road surface. Single-perch and dual-perch coilovers offer height adjustment, but they do this differently. Single perch coilovers depend on spring preload rates, so lowering the car produces a spongier ride. And this hurts handling and how weight is distributed among wheels when cornering. A better response is from dual perch NA Miata coilovers in that they include an additional threaded shock body or perch allowing you to lower the car without affecting the preload. And this is the type of coilover you’ll see more often.

Another thing to consider is whether to go for mono-tube or dual-tube coilovers. Mono-tubes are simpler, incorporating a single rod and piston valve within a damping case filled with oil. This is separated by a nitrogen-filled gas chamber.

Dual tubes consist of a single cylinder and an additional outer casing. The piston can travel the whole length of the cylinder, buffeting the impact of road imperfections that much better. These are better tuned for comfier highway driving.

For the track, go for the firmer ride of mono-tube coilovers as there’s less travel in the shock due to the larger amount of oil. This allows for fine-tuning damping adjustments, cooler operating temps under more spirited driving, and fewer things to go wrong. Monotubes also have the edge in price and ease of installation.

Adjusting Compression and Rebound

Controlling how the coilovers react to bumps and potholes or the rate they compress and rebound will affect vehicle control. Rebound is how quickly the shocks return from a compressed to a normal position. This is determined by how oil reacts to the piston pushing down and the stiffness of the spring pushing up, or simply put the compression rate.

Having a way to adjust compression and rebound rates in the shocks, for instance, with separate external reservoirs and valves to increase or decrease how far down the suspension setup compresses and how quickly it rebounds, and to what extent, will allow for more convenience when faced with different road surfaces.

Spring Rates

Mazda MX5 Handling Upgrades

Source: functiontheory.com

Related to rebound and compression is the spring rate. This is the weight it takes for spring to compress a certain distance, often in metric values with kilos per millimeter. Higher spring rates mean more weight needs to be exerted to lower the car, meaning a stiffer, more compliant suspension. Spring rates are given in two numbers for the front and rear axles, with medium valued (around 8/6) a good balance if you’re using the Miata for a balance between road and track use.

Spring rates are also affected by the type of springs fitted. Linear springs have the same spring rate along the whole length, meaning predictable performance, while progressive springs increase the spring rate with more width for every centimeter of suspension travel. The springs adjust to weight as speeds in corners and turns to increase or decrease.

Which Coilovers to Get for Your Miata?

Mazda MX5 Handling Upgrades

Source: wallup.net

There are dozens of brands producing MX5 MK1 coilovers with different uses, different features and rates of adjustability, and drastically different designs. Prices also differ, with a high-end set for the NA or NB Miata running in the mid-thousands.

On the more affordable side of the pricing, scale are dual perch mono-tubes with multiple settings for height, rebound, and compression adjustments and are good for some track use. If you’re more about comfort and daily driving go for dual tubes with leaner spring rates. For hardcore track use, spend a little more for progressive springs with a higher spring rate in a monotube design and the adjustability you expect.

 

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Max Anthony

Max is a gizmo-savvy guy, who has a tendency to get pulled into the nitty gritty details of technology and cars. He attended UT Austin, where he studied Information Science. He’s married and has three kids, one dog and a GMC truck and a Porsche 911. With a large family, he still finds time to share tips and tricks on cars, trucks and more.