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Full Road Test
Back in 1989 the original Mazda MX-5 rewrote the rule book on two seat roadsters. It even earned a place in the Guinness Book of Records as the all-time top seller in the segment. The third generation MX-5's familiar styling make it instantly recognisable - but that's where the similarities over the earlier cars end. Underneath the skin it's completely fresh - bigger, more spacious, safer and featuring a far higher-quality cabin.
Taller drivers will find the cabin offers much better space compared to the cramped previous generation models. It's still a snug fit though, and the steering wheel only adjusts up and down and not in and out, which hampers the ability to get comfortable. Higher quality interior materials mean it's a far better place to spend time, while your knees will definitely thank Mazda for the removal of the cupholders in front of the gearlever. Practicality is limited by a small boot - there's barely half the luggage space you'd find in a typical family hatchback - although there are some useful cubby holes between the two seats.
The fabric roof mechanism is refreshingly easy to use - unlatch it, fling it backwards and carry on. The folding hard top is just as easy, with a button operating the system that hides the roof in a rapid 12 seconds. The only criticism that can be levelled at it is that it doesn't operate when the car is moving, as convertibles such as Audi's A3 do.
On the road MX-5 is a hoot to drive thanks to rear-wheel drive and enthusiastic engines. Some rigorous weight saving ensures that it's only fractionally heavier than the previous generation model, while high-strength steel has given it a far more sturdy bodyshell. The engine sounds great with the roof up or down and the short-throw gearlever delivers rifle-bolt accuracy.
An automatic gearbox is available for the first time on the MX5 following the facelift of the third generation of the car. Named Powershift, it is a six-speed 'box that can be operated by steering-wheel-based paddles or left to change gears itself as a standard auto. It is frustrating at times as it isn't always willing to sit in a gear, sometimes dropping down two ratios or more when the car is asked to overtake on the motorway. Its changes are smooth though and it adds a welcome extra option to the little roadster.
Ride quality is decent and handling is sublime - with plenty of grip and progressive, predictable behaviour when the limit approaches, plus the reassurance of an optional stability control system. The basic, 126 bhp 1.8 litre engine delivers decent performance, although most buyers will aspire towards the considerably more rapid 160 bhp 2.0 litre version.