On the road

Enjoy the Mazda MX-5's aplomb through twists and turns - the tackling of which has long been its forte.

by Richard Bremner
Last Updated: 31 Aug 2010

Sometimes, the best way to maintain success is to repeat it. That's why the new Mazda MX-5 looks much like the 721,621 MX-5s that preceded it. The little two-seater sports car, unashamedly inspired by British roadsters from the '60s such as the Lotus Elan and MGB, is the most popular sportster of all time.

But though it seems the same at first glance, Mazda has renewed - and, it claims, improved - every part of the car. So what's different? Stare at this new MX-5 and you'll notice the subtle bulges of its wings around the wheels, which lend it a more muscular mien; the more assertive gape of its grille; the tidier headlamps, prettier tail-lights and the bigger wheels. You could well conclude that it looks much the same as the old, but you're less likely to think this if you drop inside - and drop you do, in a car this low - because the cabin is a distinctly more pleasant place to be.

There are signs that a stylist has been at work: richer materials are in evidence and - most important of all if you're tall - there's more room. But the layout of the instruments, the controls and the broad shape of the dashboard are very obviously inspired by the MX-5s past, and there's nothing wrong with that.

Belt yourself in and fire up the new two-litre motor and the similarities continue. You sit low, the slightly over-large wheel just where you want it, as are the rest of the controls, whose positioning and movement Mazda has really laboured over. So the short-throw gear-lever slots home with a pleasingly mechanical action, the pedals sink with clean precision - though it takes deft footwork to make smooth shifts - and the wheel swivels with pleasingly instant accuracy.

The MX-5 has never been a road rocket, its modestly potent engines being more about the accumulation and maintenance of momentum rather than vicious surges of acceleration, and so it is with this latest edition. The motor might be the MX-5's biggest yet, but you have to work it to go hard, and your pleasure in this process will be slightly diminished by the engine's occasionally coarse revvings. Better, then, to enjoy the Mazda's aplomb through twists, turns, curves and corners, the tackling of which has long been its forte.

Here the MX-5 behaves like a precision instrument, the wheel aiming it just so as you bear down on bends, the immediacy of its response reminding you of the agility you might once have enjoyed in the school gym. Or perhaps not. Whatever, driving this thing is great sport - which is just how a roadster should be.

That this car is relatively modestly priced, cheap to run, has a roof that can be dropped in seconds (and raised, just, from the driver's seat with a muscle-stretching wrench), as well as a decent boot, heater and stereo, make it a thoroughly practical buy. But best of all is simply that it's pure, unadulterated fun. Just like the original.

SPECIFICATION Price £18,500 est (available from October) Max power 158 bhp Max torque 139 lb ft Max speed 130 mph 0-62 mph 7.9 sec Fuel consumption n/a CO2 emissions n/a RIVALS Fiat Barchetta £11,995 Left-handed Barchetta is charming and practical. Not as deft as the Mazda, but cheaper. Toyota MR2 VVT-i £17,150 This mid-engined roadster is fun. No great looks, lacks luggage space, but it's dependable.

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