The sun is finally out, and many of you will be playing with the idea (and probably not for the first time) of acquiring a drop-top sports car. Built in the same mould as British legends such as the Triumph TR6 and Austin Healy 100-4, Mazda’s celebrated MX-5 is a good place to start.
In the not too distant future Mazda will sell its one-millionth MX-5. Yes, Volkswagen has sold over 1.7 million Golf GTIs alone and, even more ridiculously, Toyota has sold nearly 40 million Corollas. But both these cars have always been the last word in reliability and practicality.
The MX-5, on the other hand, only has two seats, it also has a tiny boot, and at motorway speeds it deafens it occupants in a way that will make skydivers feel at home. It’s not hard to surmise, then, that the heart, and not the head, has driven sales of Mazda’s impertinent roadster. And that’s a rare thing these days.
With a 1.8-litre, four-cylinder engine, the rear wheel drive MX-5 also happens to be one of the greatest advocates for low emissions fun ever built.
Old dog, new tricks
Mazda’s fourth generation MX-5 is due in 2014, and is expected to be powered by a turbocharged 1.3-litre unit that has been breathed on by the firm’s impressive SkyActiv technology. It will be cleaner, lighter, faster and generally more efficient than ever. Before then, the current MX-5 will receive a light facelift which will take inspiration from the striking Takeri concept, revealed at last year’s Tokyo Motor Show.
Mazda's fourth generation MX-5 is anticipated to feature a larger, more aggressive front grill as well as harder feature lines. A development of the fledgling KODO design language seen on the CX-5, we're also likely to see a move away from the current car's friendly, ovoid shapes to a more defined and muscular form.
Right now, however, we’ve got this: the Venture Edition.
Painted in Radiant Ebony Mica, and adorned with menacing gunmetal coloured alloys and a tasteful level of chrome detailing on the exterior, the Venture Edition also features front fog lights that give the front graphic a much-needed lift. Inside, you get Havana Brown leather seats with grey stitching, as well as piano black paneling on the dashboard. Also included is an integrated TomTom navigation system.
Overall, these details equal more than the sum of their parts - the Venture Edition looks incredibly fresh next to early third-generation cars, which can now look a little stilted, especially those fitted with steel wheels.
Touring to France (during June, when driving top-down in England was all but incomprehensible), in variable conditions and on variable road surfaces, revealed just how far the MX-5 has come, even since the second generation - production for which ceased in 2005.
With marginally increased dimensions, the cabin is spacious yet cosseting in a way that a roadster should be and the driving controls are all well situated – particularly the thin-rimmed steering wheel. And whilst not entirely suitable for relentless motorway miles, the Venture Edition’s leather seats are encouragingly supportive and comfortable.
The MX-5, however, has always been more about the driver's physical connection with the car, rather than their visual appreciation of the car's innards.
Old dog, old tricks
With so many modern cars now emitting under 100g/km of carbon dioxide, the Mazda's figure of 167g/km, produced by a 1.8-litre four-cylinder engine, may seem a little unimpressive.
Try and find a sports car that offers a similar level of involvement, at a similar price, though, and you'll struggle. The only real competitor is the new Toyota GT86, which emits 164g/km CO2 when fitted with an automatic gearbox. Remember, however, that the MX-5 is now six years old.
Cruise at a leisurely pace down roads like the picturesque D922 from Cordes-sur-Ciel to La Lande, flanked by sunflowers and vineyards, and you'll manage around 35mpg. At motorway speeds the MX-5 will even manage economy in the low-forties. Below 30mpg, however, and you're probably on a race track. Which is where you'll want to be.
The perfectly positioned short-throw gearstick really is joy to use. Nicely weighted, it encourages you to be firm yet precise, and coupled with an easy revving four-cylinder engine, the driver is incited to hold on to each gear right up to the red line. This is a good thing, as this engine needs to worked hard to give up the goods.
Near perfect weight distribution endows the MX-5 with wonderfully neutral handling, although it can be hard to exploit it with just 126bhp available. A relative rarity for a car in this price bracket, the car's limited-slip differential inspires confidence on the limit too.
Provoke it, however, and the MX-5 is a wonderfully compliant machine when pushed over the bounds of traction.
The prospect of lighter, sharper and greener installment of the best selling sports car ever assembled is, unsurprsingly, more than a little mouth watering. The depth of engineering in Mazda's new SkyActiv engines will suit the MX-5 better than any other car they produce, and the proposition is undoubtedly causing rival manufacturers some sleepless nights. For the rest of us, it can't come soon enough.
Engine: 1798cc 4-cyl petrol Power: 126bhp @ 6500rpm 0-62mph: 9.9 seconds Top speed: 121mph CO2 emissions: 167g/km Economy: 39.8mpg Price: £18,995
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