Before the 1989 Chicago motor show, there was no mass-market sports car for motoring enthusiasts of average means.

There were hot hatches and mid-engined coupés, but the affordable roadster had vanished in the preceding decade. Then Mazda unveiled the MX-5 and, in a moment, the open sports car had a future.

The world’s most written about and, arguably, most desirable affordable car first arrived in Britain a year later, filling the void left by the old Lotus Elan. By 2000, the MX-5 had become the biggest-selling sports car of all time.

Such was the regard in which the second-generation model, produced between 1998 and 2005, was held, it was possible to overlook the fact that it shook and wobbled and wore a dated cabin. The charm of a basic, affordable roadster still prevailed.

By the time the Mk3 MX-5 was launched in 2005, buyers wanted more comfort and big-car refinement. To a large extent the MX-5 fulfilled that brief, even if weight had now grown to more than 1100kg (the original tipped the scales at less than 950kg; the Mk2 was a little over 1000kg).

Thankfully power increased too, and the range now encompasses 1.8 and 2.0-litre models, manual and automatic gearboxes and the choice of soft or folding hard-top models.

The 1.8-litre is only offered in the soft-top version, which incidentally weighs 80kg less than the hard-top Roadster Coupé, while the tin-top gets the option of the 2.0-litre motor and a wider range of trims.

Those trims include the Sport Tech model, which gains Bilstein suspension and a front strut brace for a slightly more focused drive.

Mazda performed a tight, targeted facelift on its popular roadster in 2009, tackling initial customer criticism that ranged from the linearity of its steering to over-intrusive bottle storage arrangements.

At the 2012 Paris motor show Mazda launched a facelifted MX-5 to keep it fresh before an all-new model is introduced in 2014. The car is distinguished by a new front bumper and grille, while a new 'active bonnet' is fitted to improve pedestrian safety.

The question is, with the introduction of models such as the Toyota GT86, Subaru BRZ and BMW Z4, can the ageing Mazda MX-5 still cut it in the entertainment stakes?

Top 5 Convertibles

First drives

Find an Autocar car review

Driven this week

  • Mercedes C350e Sport
    First Drive
    28 September 2016
    Petrol-electric C-Class is a surprisingly well-priced alternative to a diesel but not the greatest example of the new ‘PHEV’ breed
  • Car review
    23 September 2016
    Aston kicks off its ‘second century plan’ with an all-new turbo V12 grand tourer
  • Ford Ka+ 1.2 Ti-VCT 85
    First Drive
    22 September 2016
    A rounded, refined and well-sorted bargain supermini – once you’re used to the confusing role redefinition imposed on the once-cheeky Ka
  •  Maserati Ghibli Diesel
    First Drive
    22 September 2016
    Maserati releases another range of updates for its range best seller, the Ghibli. We've driven the diesel version, but there's little improvement on before
  • Tipo Front
    First Drive
    21 September 2016
    New Fiat Tipo offers impressive space and practicality for a reasonable price. We try the 1.6 diesel on the demanding roads of North Wales