Your first few miles in this MX-5 reveal a truth that devotees will have suspected and that Mazda’s own engineers hint at when invited to. It’s that this ‘lesser’ 1.5-litre version of the car is undoubtedly the most authentic, the most evocative of the much-loved first-generation MX-5 and, in terms of how it actually performs, arguably the sweetest.

The high-revving character of Mazda’s 1.5-litre four-pot is the reason why. Whereas the 2.0-litre car produces more mid-range torque relative to its peak power, the 1.5 needs to spin to allow the car to hit full stride. And it’ll spin with not only freedom but also gathering force, right the way to the 7500rpm redline.

Matt Prior

Matt Prior

Editor-at-large
The longitudinal four-cylinder engine and RWD layout make for a perfect 50/50 front/rear weight distribution

Still, we’re not talking about a particularly quick full stride, although, needing little over eight seconds to hit 60mph from rest, the car is appreciably faster than the 1989 original and close enough to hot hatch pace for respectability.

And yet this MX-5 plays perfectly to arouse your excitement and seize your enthusiasm as a willing hostage. It hardly matters how fast you’re going.

The temptation starts with an unexpectedly rorty exhaust note, which sounds playful and offbeat even at idle. Blip the accelerator out of gear and the revs flare with promising urgency, then engage first and the MX-5’s mechanically detailed and supremely positive shift quality announces itself. You’re already having an absorbing and special driving experience – and you’ve yet to even turn a wheel.

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Gearshift aside, the car’s controls are light and, being so obliging to control, fairly short-geared and revving cleanly from very low revs, it moves away from a standstill with a pleasing lack of inertia. Add some throttle and you’ll pick up speed gradually at first, with limited mid-range torque on tap but with perfect response and a supremely linear delivery of it as the revs rise. 

You work this engine intimately and intuitively, like an extension of yourself. Occasionally you’ll wish for more power; it would be wrong of us not to acknowledge that. But most of the time you’ll be too busy revelling in the vivid mechanical interaction and the joy of  taking a modern sports car to the redline as and when you choose without worrying unduly about the potential consequences for your driving licence.

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