The instincts of many long-standing Mazda MX-5 owners will be to keep the mechanical specification of their car simple, and thereby to give the lauded delicacy of the car’s handling the best chance to thrive. We had the same instincts – hence the chosen specification of 1.5-litre engine, standard suspension, open differential and 16in wheels for our road test subject.
In reality, the MX-5’s handling doesn’t reward that judicious restraint in unqualified terms, in ways to which we’ll come. But that shouldn’t prevent this car from taking its place among the most vibrant, responsive and engaging sports cars available at any price.
From the effortlessness of its hold on the road, through its fine balance and directional agility, to the zapping crispness of its every answer to a few extra degrees of steering angle or mid-corner dab of pedal, this car remains a true sporting great.
On delicacy, meanwhile, nothing short of a Caterham, Lotus or Ariel can equal what the MX-5 brings to the table. The car’s 195-section tyres produce only moderate but perfectly balanced grip levels and therefore don’t overburden the suspension or steering with cornering forces, and they break away into lateral slip with a wonderfully tender progressiveness.
The day of our performance tests started wet but subsequently dried out. It therefore afforded us the opportunity to find out that the MX-5's delicate dry-surface grip level becomes even more tantalising when a bit of surface water is in the mix. In the wet, an uninterested driver might call that grip level worryingly faint - although the MX-5's ESP would look after even them.