JUST when all the main manufacturers were pulling out of the mini-coupe market and turning out hot-hatches instead, Mazda did the reverse.
It launched the MX-5 in 1989 and that was a brave decision but it also turns out to have been an inspired one.
MX-5 has become an icon, the best-selling two-seater sports car in history.
It may have started in the shadow of Triumph Spitfires, Lotus Elans, MGs and co, but it is now undoubtedly the king of the coupes.
Now here’s the fourth generation model and, as you might expect, the most sophisticated version yet. But it remains true to the spirit of the original MX-5 in that it is light, simple and compact.
And compact is the key. Unlike a lot of modern cars which seem to grow, the MX-5 remains neat and dainty. A 6ft driver like me has a difficult job getting in and out but the effort is worth it.
So. what’s different about the new MX-5? Mainly, it’s better to drive, thanks to the centre of gravity being lowered still further, and it is 100kg lighter making it feel more nimble.
It’s also better equipped with features such as cruise control, climate control, parking sensors, satellite navigation, leather seats, a Bose stereo system and lane departure warning system.
This package of features plus competitive pricing means Mazda competes well against a raft of rivals including MINI Cooper Roadster and Peugeot RCZ.
Plus, it gains Skyactiv, Mazda’s suite of technologies which makes the car greener and cleaner.
Now the MX-5 is a great car to be in but getting in and out is a different matter. Unless you’re a gymnast or at least more svelte and agile than I, getting in and out gracefully is difficult.
That’s a shame because once you are aboard this could quite easily be used as an everyday car. It’s comfortable and refined yet sporty and exciting, switching from city runabout to dashing coupe at the press of the right foot.
MX-5 will appeal to a broad range of drivers - from veterans wanting a sporty second car to younger types not yet ready to settle for a hatch or saloon.
But the advanced connectivity will no doubt draw the smartphone generation. This is the MZD-Connect ‘infotainment’ system which allows you to access online entertainment via your phone, from internet radio stations to emails, Facebook and Twitter.
MX-5 comes as a 1.5 with SE or SE-L trim and as a 2.0 litre with SE-L. There are also Sport and Sport Nav models.
The flagship test model has alloy wheels, piano black trim, climate control, cruise control, speakers in the headrests and 7in colour touchscreen.
It’s on the road where this car really shines. You can tell it’s the lightest version since the original which is amazing considering how much equipment it includes.
It is shorter, lower and wider than the outgoing car, with the smallest overhangs and lowest centre of gravity yet.
You won’t find any car offering more fun for the price.
Mazda MX-5 2.0 160 SE-L Nav
ENGINE: A 1,998cc four-cylinder unit generating 160ps via rear-wheel-drive
PERFORMANCE: Top speed 133mph and 0 to 60mph in 7.3 seconds
COSTS: Combined 40.9mpg
INSURANCE: Group 29E
WARRANTY: Three years, 60,000 miles