Mazda MX-5. It seems to be the perennial answer to any 'what car to choose' thread in the PistonHeads forums.
The little open-top sports car holds a fond place in many people's hearts for fun countryside motoring. But as cars get fatter, heavier and wider, do the latest versions of the no-longer-so-little Mazda keep the fondness alive? Enter stage left (or pic below) our new Mazda MX-5, which we've added to the PH fleet for a three month stint to find out whether the latest version still has what it takes to warrant those forum recommendations.
Our new Mazda MX-5 in its natural habitat
Mazda seems so confident that the Mk3 version of the MX-5 is as good as the original they have gone all supermarket on us with a BOGOF offer to celebrate the car's 20th anniversary: Borrow One Get One Free. Either that or Mazda has realised that technology has moved so far that he memory of the supreme fun on offer in a first-generation MX-5 is a distant memory that needs refreshing and updating. So next to the latest arrival on the PH fleet, a shiny silvery-grey new MX-5, is a somewhat less shiny original Mk1, sporting 120k - no doubt very pleasurable - miles on the clock.
A quick game of paper, scissor, stone between myself and Riggers gets me into the new Mk3 for the journey north. Swallowing motorway miles in great chunks was not the intention of this car but, with the electric hard top cleverly stowed away and wind gently brushing the top of my head, it isn't a bad experience. You feel much more in touch with the countryside, despite being on a dull motorway, and with cruise control set it is easy to pity fellow motorists trudging along.
previous MX-5 Roadster Coupe the team reviewed for PH which had me talking more about foldable roofs than the enjoyable side of the car. A brief recap of the spec list makes me hope for much more this time around, and a return to good-old MX-5 fun.
Above the standard specification, our Sport Tech model has 17-inch alloy wheels, a front-suspension strut bar, Bilstein shock absorbers and a limited-slip differential - potentially making this version the best handling Mk3 you can pick up from a dealer. With 158bhp ready to fire the rear wheels across hill and dale, my thoughts of tech-specs are broken by the sign to Pickering and the accompanying legend 'Gateway to the Moors'.
Riggers compares the MK1 with MK3:
"As an object of pure, simple driving pleasure, the original Mazda MX-5 still has few peers. Even with what seem to be tired suspension bushes and the wear-and-tear of almost two decades on the road, the early 1.6 that Mazda has lent us is still an incredibly sweet car.
"It even keeps up with the far more powerful new car over give-and-take B-roads - no mean feat considering its age, skinny tyres and supposed performance deficit.
"Looking at the latest MX-5 side by side with its automotive grandfather, it's hard to imagine that the new one could possibly be blessed with the same sense of simplicity, agility and intimacy that makes the Mk1 MX-5 so special.
"And yet...and yet...despite its extra size, weight and power the new MX-5 does still have that same zingy spirit that made the original such a hit. True, you don't feel quite as connected with the road as you do in the original, but that's probably because you're a lot more comfortable. The steering, gearchange and general handling balance still make the latest MX-5 one of the most involving and rewarding sports cars this side of a Lotus Elise.
"That the Mazda manages to remain true to its heritage while packing in a folding metal roof, cruise control, plenty of oddment space and cupholders, a decent sound system and climate control is a thoroughly commendable achievement.
"But I'd still take the old one, because on a pleasant summer's evening - and on an open, empty road - there is no car on earth that could put a bigger smile on my face at any money, let alone for the £2000 it would cost to get you a nice early example."
I'm not sure I agree with Riggers. As we turn to head south back to PH HQ, the sun is shining again and I am smiling at the prospect of going home with the roof off. If the past week is anything to go by, the next few months of MX-5 ownership is going to be a pleasure.
So watch out on the forums, as I will probably be joining those recommending the MX-5 as your 'car to choose', too!
Photos: Tim Watson