While everyone was swooning over the new Toyota GR86 and subsequently getting worked up that you can’t actually buy one, some might have forgotten that if you want a lightweight, front-engined, rear-wheel-drive sports car with a manual gearbox, you could simply go to a Mazda showroom and buy a Mazda MX-5 all along.
The current generation of the Mazda MX-5, codenamed the ND, was brilliant when it launched in 2015, and because it’s such a timeless concept, it hasn’t aged a day. It also helps that Mazda has kept it fresh with model-year tweaks here and there – some small, some quite significant.
Other long-running nameplates, such as the Mercedes SL, have markedly changed in character throughout their run, but the MX-5 still fulfils much the same role as it did when it first went on sale in 1989.
It came about as the result of an American wistfulness for cheap British roadsters on the one hand, and a Japanese firm’s readiness to speculate and innovate in order to make its global reputation on the other. ‘Mazda Experiment, Project Number Five’ would go on to become the world’s fastest-selling sports car.
The idea of an affordable open-top was hardly new to Japan. Preceding decades had seen oddities such as the Datsun Fairlady, Honda S500 and Toyota Sports 800 emerge, often as their fledgling makers’ first production models. But by the end of the 1970s, with the demise of such icons as the Triumph Spitfire, MG B and original Lotus Elan, the segment was assumed to be in decline.