Mazda£€™s two-seater MX-5 roadster is one of my favourite sports cars even though it had to overcome my annoyance at being a direct copy of the original Lotus Elan. Now in its fourth generation, Mazda has kept the car remarkably faithful to the originals simple concepts.
You can still raise and lower the roof with one hand and drive with enthusiasm without being anti-social. But while the new MX-5 costs from £18,495 you would need £35,880 to buy a Lotus Elise.
Even more remarkably as cars get bigger, heavier and clumsier, the MX-5 has shrunk slightly and is up to 100g lighter than the last model. Designed like all Mazdas predominantly for the American market, the MX-5 looks best when there isn£€™t a number plate stuck in its mouth. There£€™s a choice of two engines, a 129bhp 1.5 litre or the 2litre of the test car.
The 1.5 is reputedly better balanced through corners but there can£€™t be much in it and there were plenty of times when I needed all the bigger engine£€™s 158bhp. Both versions use a six-speed manual gearbox to drive the rear wheels for the handling balance a front-wheel drive hatchback just can£€™t deliver.
Thanks to 50:50 front to rear weight distribution the MX-5 feels neutral, even when you are pressing on; and equally importantly it was confident during some very wet weather with little of the squirrely, wheel spin prone behaviour friends predicted.
Bilstein dampers reduce the body roll of other models, though the ride is firmer. A limited-slip differential helps traction out of tight corners. I wasn£€™t totally sold on the electromechanical power assisted steering though.
It could feel numb round long corners and there seemed a small centre area of vagueness. The MX-5 always puts a smile on your face and you don£€™t have to twiddle knobs between handling or suspension settings to find one that still isn£€™t quite right.
The ride is quite busy and there£€™s tyre noise over rougher surfaces. The brakes were great but initially there is a little too much power assistance. I would prefer a pedal you had to press harder to slow the car. The short gear lever throw and engineered mechanical feel adds to driver involvement.
Along with the manual gearbox there£€™s a proper sports car handbrake, not an electronic one. Thanks to the efficiency of the engine and the car£€™s low weight and aerodynamic shape it£€™s hard to get the fuel consumption below 40mpg according to the computer.
Yes, there are niggles. There is no reach adjustment for the steering wheel and I would have liked to sit lower. It£€™s difficult to see what speed you are doing too. Sorry officer. A 160 mile trip gave me backache and getting items out of the locking stowage compartment behind your shoulders; there is no glove box, means being double-jointed.
And Mazda could consider giving a prize if anyone can find the electrical accessory socket in the cabin… The seats are now closer to the centre of the car so larger people will rub shoulders.
Boot volume has gone down but it£€™s better shaped so you can now get in two hard shell suitcases and squashy bags. The cabin feels good quality and the test car benefitted from air conditioning and heated seats.
The satellite navigation screen accepted addresses but did not want to take full postcodes. It also has voice recognition. Refinement is good with the fabric roof up and wind noise isn£€™t intrusive until you are over the national limit. The only grief was one very cold morning when the remote control would not open the boot.
Also consider: BMW Z4, Fiat 124 Spider, Lotus Elise
Verdict Brilliant junior sports car. A little cracker.