What is it?
This is the Mazda MX-5 Icon, a name that shows no shortage of confidence and one that some will argue sounds better when it is bestowed by others rather than self-awarded. No matter, for Mazda has a track record here, having launched three Icon editions previously, in 2000, 2005 and 2007. As here with this fourth-generation car, all have been sold in limited numbers, and all have sold well.
This time round, just 600 examples are being made, each resplendent with a plaque between the passengers' shoulders to prove it. To all intents and purposes, the MX-5 Icon is a well-kitted, well-priced 1.5 SE-L Nav bedecked with striking paintwork on its door mirrors, rear spoiler and front skirt, some stickers down the side, and the addition of some natty alloys and a temptingly long kit list that would normally cost rather more than the additional £800 it does when packaged together here.
It would be easy to be cynical, of course: reasonable value and eye-catching paintwork do not make a great car, but it would be a mean-spirited soul that begrudged the MX-5 - perhaps the least shouty sports car in the history of the genre - an opportunity to celebrate inherent qualities that have, to date, earned it a 4.5-star road test verdict with this engine, plus a ‘junior’ handling day win in 2015, shortly before delivering a mauling to some significantly more pricey opposition in handling day proper.
What's it like?
I dare say your brow won’t even register a flicker of surprise when I report that the MX-5 Icon is identical to the 1.5 SE-L Nav upon which it is based, both to drive and to sit in. The paintwork doesn’t make it faster and a celebration plaque doesn’t make its interior any more cerebral. Thank goodness for that, because this latest-generation MX-5 is a car that doesn’t need fiddling with, thank you very much.
Lest you have forgotten, it is a joy in pretty much every way. The cabin is noteworthy both for how it accommodates drivers of all shapes and sizes (within reason) and for how it does everything so well that you're often in danger of getting so comfortable that you take it for granted. The driver’s seat adjusts nicely enough, the pedal spacing (if not quite alignment) are just so, and the controls are nicely weighted and instinctively positioned. Many far more expensive cars fall at even these hurdles.
That you are seated nicely is all very well, of course. Nobody ever bought a car for that. Thankfully, the MX-5’s long-established recipe of delivering just enough without ever straying into giving you too much is alive and well. There’s a precision about the pedal responses, gearshift and steering that engender confidence and - excuse me if I get a little misty-eyed here - joy.
The engine - all 1496cc, 129bhp and 111lb ft of it - completes the picture. Shock horror, it’s no firebrand, but it suits this car so sweetly. Naturally aspirated, it delivers what power it has so smoothly and - this word again - precisely, that it’s hard not to pause for a moment and think dark thoughts about turbos. If you wish, you can play with it all the way to 7000rpm, although it is better in our experience to stick to the mid-range.
It has been said before, but it bears repeating at this juncture: because of that engine, the MX-5 is a car that doesn’t need the right road to be enjoyed. You can use most of its performance most of the time, and when you do encounter the right road, which will be more often than would be the case with most cars that are given the sports car tag, you can push on without undue fear of falling off the road or being incarcerated at Her Majesty’s pleasure.