MX-5? What on earth were they thinking!

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MAZDA was alone in thinking back in 1989 that what the motoring world needed was a two-seater sports coupe.

All the memorable versions - the MGs, Triumph TR7s and co had come and gone - so what on earth was Mazda thinking of?

Well, they were right. The MX-5 is now in its 26th year and is doing very nicely, thank you. In fact, it’s claimed to be the best-selling sports car of all time.

It’s not alone now. Its success has prompted rival manufacturers to return to the sports coupe market and it now has a flurry of rivals.

So, how does today’s MX-5 measure up? Well, pretty well. In a world where even ordinary cars are sometimes described as iconic, the MX-5 really is special.

I remember the first cars in 1989 being small and basic. Today’s version is still compact but it has a much more upmarket feel to the cabin. Yet on the open road, it is still a wind-in-the-hair sports car with a fantastic engine and wonderful ride and handling.

It is firm, but still comfortable. In fact, true sports fans might prefer it to be a little sharper.

MX-5 still wins awards including 2016 World Car of the Year, UK Car of the Year and Japanese Car of the Year. Not bad for a humble coupe.

The new MX-5 is still a lightweight model and it is shorter, lower and wider than the car it replaced.

The centre of gravity is incredibly low, which gives it go-kart handling.

The MX-5 is a broad range, spanning SE, SE-L, SE-L Nav, Sport and Sport Nav.

It comes with a choice of two SKYACTIV-G petrol engines – 1.5-litre 131ps and 2.0-litre 160ps. Tested here is the 2.0 litre unit which is both quick and economical and is a perfect unit for such a well-balanced car.

Across the range it features alloy wheels, LED headlights, a leather steering wheel, plus a lightweight fabric hood which is very old school - simply open the clips and it folds back by hand in seconds..

SE-L models add LED daytime running lights, climate control air-conditioning, DAB radio, Bluetooth and cruise control, plus Mazda’s MZD-Connect connectivity and infotainment system with colour touch-screen display and Multimedia Commander.

SE-L models with the 2.0-litre 160ps engine are distinguished by 17-inch Gunmetal alloy wheels and piano black door mirrors, and benefit from a strut tower bar and limited slip differential.

Step up to Sport trim and both the 1.5 and 2.0-litre cars feature rain sensing wipers, rear parking sensors, smart keyless entry, Premium Bose surround-sound and heated leather seats.

The MX-5 is an easy car to love. And provided you are agile enough to squeeze into the tight cabin, it is a vehicle which is bound to put a smile on your face. With a 130-litre boot and plenty of oddment strorage, it is an easy car to live with, too.

* Mazda will launch the MX-5 Retractable Fastback (RF) in March 2017. Priced from £22,195 to £28,995 it will be an addition to the MX-5 range with a retractable hard-top.

Mazda MX-5 2.0i Sport Nav

PRICE: £23,690. Range starts at £18,495

ENGINE: A 1,998cc four-cylinder unit generating 160bhp via rear-wheel-drive and six-speed gearbox

PERFORMANCE: Top speed 133mph and 0 to 60mph in 7.3 seconds

COSTS: Town 30.4mpg; country 51.4mpg; combined 40.9mpg

EMISSIONS: 133g/km

WARRANTY: Three years 60,000 miles

Rivals

Fiat 124: Perhaps the biggest competitor. The 124 is cheap, neat and has good ride and handling. The MX-5 looks better and rides better. The 124 costs from £19,545

Audi TT: This model is better looking and has exceptional ride and handling but at £27,585, it is a lot more expensive than the MX-5. To get an open-top TT you need to spend £29,000.

Toyota GT86: A fine offering from Toyota but the Mazda has a much better cabin and again is much cheaper than the GT86 which starts at £25,945.