ROAD TEST: Alan Candy lifts the lid on the Mazda MX-5 2.0i Sport Tech Soft Top


SPORTS cars come and sports cars go but the Mazda MX-5 seems to go on forever.

An instant hit when launched in 1989, the traditional little rear-wheel drive two-seater has truly become an icon of the age. It even makes it into the Guinness Book of Records for being the world’s best-selling roadster in history, notching up an incredible 900,000 sales up until February this year.

We just can’t get enough of them. The UK market alone accounts for 10 per cent of the MX-5’s global sales.

And there seems little chance of its popularity waning. In the 2011 prestigious Auto Express awards, the Mazda was announced as best roadster. And in the all-important JD Power awards, customers voted the MX-5 as best sports car.

After a week at the wheel of the latest Mazda MX-5 2.0 Soft Top Sport Tech, it isn’t hard to see why.

The MX-5 is a perfectly formed, compact sports car of the old school, yet with enough technical gadgetry to keep it firmly at the cutting edge of technology, without complication.

Every MX-5 I have driven seems to have fitted me like a glove.

It’s easy to settle into quickly and instantly feel at home. It doesn’t take much adjustment to find the ideal driving position and although the car is low slung, the driver is afforded a generous forward view of virtually all the bonnet – something almost unheard of nowadays.

This helps with parking and manoeuvring, obviously, but above all, it keeps the driver firmly in touch and involved in all the unravelling action once the ignition key is turned.

The other beauty of the car is that it manages to appeal to both male and female drivers, that it’s relatively affordable and that it keeps its price so well in the secondhand market. A number of MX-5 owners who live near me drive 10- or 12-year-old examples full of character and still in great shape.

The 2.0i Sport Tech model I have been driving (£21,135) is an excellent example of the genre, with stiffer suspension for sharper handling. Standard kit is lavish, including leather seats, cruise control, powerful Bose stereo, Bluetooth, climate control air conditioning and front foglights.

The highest performing 2.0i petrol engine bashing out 160-odd bhp sees the car accelerating to 62mph in a pretty rapid 7.6 seconds, although the car does have to be worked hard.

With a thrilling and refined exhaust note and the prospect of ripping through the punchy six-speed manual gearbox, this is no chore and every ride turns into an experience.

The range offers a choice of drop top – either an electrically folding metal roof or the fabric hood of the car I drove. Although both are easy to use, I’d opt for the sliding metal every time, in terms of sheer practicality.

As a proper two-seater, the MX-5 offers all the intimacy and inevitable drawbacks of such a set-up. Its ground-hugging platform means getting in and out is always a bit of a battle and the ride on the sporting version is firm, bordering on the harsh.

However, high-backed sports seats are supportive and comfortable, although the lever adjustment for rake is vague.

Once settled aboard, it’s easy to quickly relate to the instruments and controls on offer, thanks to the incredibly simplified dash layout.

Fingertip audio controls on the steering wheel are easy to find and sort, being among the best of their type, and it’s good to find that in winter, the car demists and defrosts quickly, with the wonderful benefit of heated seats boasting five separate settings.

On the road, the MX-5 rips it up with razor precision steering and outstanding roadholding and finely controlled cornering. Even a minor deviation can be swiftly tidied at the flick of a wrist through the steering.

Obvious compromises are a small boot only suitable for a few weekend bags and little oddments space in the cabin, although Mazda do their best with some hidden lockers behind the seats.

But with the MX-5, you know what you’re getting. Traditional driving enjoyment in a sports car that will always be universally admired. It’s notched up its place in drop top history and nothing really looks like shifting it.

Stat attack

> Mazda MX-5 2.0i Sport Tech Soft Top, £21,135 (MX-5 prices start at £17,990).

> Mechanical: 160ps, 1,999cc, four-cylinder petrol engine driving rear wheels via six-speed manual gearbox.

> 0-62mph in 7.6 seconds.

> Max speed: 132mph.

> Combined mpg: 36.2.

Insurance group: 27.

> CO2 emissions: 181 g/km.

> Bilstein dampers, front fogs, heated leather seats, Bose audio system.