Looks and image
To be fair, the little Mazda’s visual appeal depends on the angle from which you’re looking. At one or two angles the bonnet looks odd, but from most viewpoints it’s a fantastic-looking thing; lithe and small, tightly-packaged around a chassis no larger than that of its great-grandfather.
The back lights are a mix of old BMW Z4 and new Jaguar F-Type, but the light signature at night is unmistakably unique. LED headlights are standard on every model to allow for the incredibly narrow, knife-sharp design.
Space and practicality
It’s shorter than before, so unsurprisingly the boot is smaller. But it’s more evenly shaped than before and it’s deeper, with a narrower rectangular recess at the bottom to stop smaller bags moving too much.
The cabin is small and six-footers may feel cramped, particularly people with long legs. The lack of reach adjustment on the steering column is a niggle but for a 177cm-tall man (me) the driving position is pretty good anyway.
You can remove the slightly flimsy central cupholders, or shift one of them to a slot beside the passenger’s legs. Handy.
Behind the wheel
No other sports car feels so light, so responsive to throttle inputs through corners or so downright hop-skip-jump happy. Bilstein dampers on this 2.0 Sport model keep the tyres on the Tarmac without sagging in the corners, so a briskly-driven MX-5 flows beautifully over and along the road, rather than crashing through it. It’s so confidence-inspiring you’ll laugh out loud.
The 1.5 is higher-revving, with about 500rpm extra versus the 2.0’s 6,600rpm limit, but the torquier 2.0 gets up to speed much faster. It’s a rear-wheel drive joy machine, whereas the 1.5, although sweet and revvy, just lacks muscle for overtakes and true sports car handling.
Value for money
It’s not a huge jump northwards from the entry model, the 1.5 SE, to a mid-spec 2.0 SE-L - and it’s the latter you should go for. It’s much easier to enjoy and feels more like a true rear-wheel drive sports car should. At a little over £20,000, it’s just about the best value proper sports car on the market. And it comes with a soft-top! The jump to Sport, which brings loads of extra kit including the Bilsteins, is a hefty £2,600.
Who would buy one?
The question on my lips as I step out of the car at Inverness Airport to make my way home is this: why wouldn’t you? This is as good a car to drive as you’ll find below £50,000, and you won’t lose your licence while enjoying it. If you need more space or four seats you’re clearly looking in the wrong place, but if your lifestyle allows, you know you want to (and you really do).
This car summed up in a single word: Energising
If this car was a... breakfast drink: it would be premium orange juice. It’s sharp, it’s well-resolved and it makes your mornings that much brighter.