"Rejoice, because the latest MX-5 is the real deal: a proper back-to-basics sports car in its purest form." So says my esteemed colleague Mr Sheehan in his write-up on the facelifted ND - or Mk4 - MX-5; a car which apparently rights most of the few wrongs of the original, turning it from a deeply amusing toy convertible into one that has enough power - just - to be genuinely exciting.
It seems, then, that the MX-5 remains the answer to everything - just as it always has been. But £23,000 might seem quite a lot to spend on one - especially given how cheaply used examples can be had. So whither the previous generations of the MX-5 - and is a pre-facelift ND still worth your time?
I reckon so. Have a look at this early 1.5 SE-L Nav. It's only a couple of years old with just 20,000 miles on the clock - few enough that it should still feel like a new car. Yet it'll set you back just £13,000, with a bit of a haggle. Granted, the 1.5 isn't quick, but I've always found its sweet, rev-happy nature makes it actually more enjoyable to wring its neck than the slightly less free-spinning pre-facelift 2.0. And this SE-L Nav spec keeps things relatively simple, with an uncluttered interior, cloth seats, smaller wheels and squidgier suspension, the better to soak up all those B-road bumps.
I actually ran one of these, in this exact specification, as a long-termer for six months when the ND first came out. There was a lump in my throat when it went back. It was comfortable and economical enough for everyday, yet that terrier of an engine and wonderfully reactive chassis made you feel as though you were bombing around at crazy speeds, when in fact you were rarely breaking the limit. I fell for it in a big way; the fact you can buy one today for this sort of cash has me seriously tempted.
Of course, the ND still has a fair way to travel on the depreciation scale. If you'd rather a modern MX-5 that's already taken most of its hit, you could do a lot worse than a Mk3. Oh, I know, it has the reputation as the duffer of the family, but let's not get carried away here; after all, even though it lost some of the bare-bones simplicity of the earlier models, the Mk3 was still very good fun to drive - the facelift versions especially so, with a revised power steering system that fixed some of the stiffness of the earlier examples'.
These later cars are now going for tempting money, too. This one, for example, feels like a steal. On for £6,300 by a private seller, it's the model you want - a 2.0 Sport Tech, finished in fetching black over black. It's also had some sympathetic tweaks from an MX-5 specialist, to make it even sharper, plus you get most of the mod cons you'd get in the later ND, too - in other words, air con and heated leather.
True, this example has a dented sill, which you'll need to spend out on to get fixed. But even after you budget £500 for a new sill - assuming you want to bother doing it at all - this still looks like a cheap example with some sensible tweaks to make it sharper than the average Mk3.
But what if even this sort of cash is beyond your budget? Well, anyone who knows anything about banger motoring knows that one of the smartest ways to spend two grand on something fun these days is on a Mk2 MX-5. In fact, you don't even need to spend that much; just look at this example with its low miles, leather interior and wood-rimmed wheel, on for a fiver short of £1,600. That makes it almost as much fun - if not as much - as a Mk4 for a tenth of the price.
It rather goes without saying with any old MX-5 that you'll want to check for frilly bits. But if it isn't a rustbucket, this strikes me as one of the most tempting sports car bargains out there at the moment. A recent cambelt and waterpump change, a life spent in the garage and lots of paperwork suggest it's been well looked after; the short MOT is less appealing, but you can't have your cake and eat it.
Of course, the elephant in the room as far as the Mk2 is concerned is the Mk1. It's cuter, more compact and more direct than its successor, and is therefore more desirable, especially so given the fact you get pop-up headlights to play with. The problem is it's rather tricky to find good Mk1s at non-speculative prices these days. It's not impossible, though. This one is only a few hundred quid more than the Mk2 above, and looks to have been well-loved, again coming with a fair bit of paperwork. Looks well on its cross-spokes, too, and while the mileage is higher than the Mk2's, it's not exorbitant.
Mind you, it's the sort of car you should snap up, because low-mile Mk1s are more usually coming onto the market at £3,000 and above these days. This late Harvard's a lovely thing, for example, and its £3,495 price tag is indicative of the fact it's a late model and a special edition - but I tend to subscribe to the argument that a Mk1 MX-5 is best served simple, which means I'd think twice about paying the premium over the more basic car.
But if you do want a cheap Mk1, move quickly. Not only are numbers dwindling due to their appetite for rust, but speculators are already asking big money for low-mileage examples. That's usually an indication that prices are about to rise. And given how much fun they still are, that could make a well-bought example a considerably smarter - and cheaper - investment than that facelifted Mk4 you're now very tempted by.