The MX-5, basic price pounds 12,995, is what people think a two-seater sports car should be, and if it is Japanese, rather than British or Italian, then the fact that it always starts is more than adequate compensation.
The British and Italians might have invented the cheap baby sports car, but it took the Japanese to sanitise it for people who couldn't face the characterful oil deposits on the drive and the need to carry a socket set, a tow rope and the number of the AA if you were to have real hope of reaching your destination.
The world went on buying sports cars long after their makers, MG, Triumph, Fiat and Alpha Romeo, lost interest. But eventually, they gave up, and in the mid-Seventies, the cheap sports car was declared dead.
And so it remained, until Mazda popped up with the MX-5 in 1989. Looking suspiciously like the Lotus Elan, from which it was copied, the Mazda came with such novel features as electric windows that whirred up as well as down, a hood that kept the rain on the outside rather than channelling it at your feet, pop-up headlamps with an electrical system as dependable as sunrise.
And it's been a great success, the second most popular sports car ever, after the MGB. Mazda has sold 370,000 - 9,000 of them in Britain, and almost half of those to women. Why do they buy it? According to Mazda, both sexes rate driving pleasure, reliability, quality and styling as priorities, while females put price, manoeuvrability, exterior colour and safety ahead of the men, who like its roadholding, acceleration and trade- in value.
Both are lying. What they really love the MX-5 for is what it says about them. "It's stylish and a lot of fun," says one owner. "It's good-looking, top up and down," says another. "After driving it, I want to marry it and have its children," says a third, female, owner. Another woman claims she went for it "because it's safer than an old MG, and because the price is very, very good." But adds, "I love driving it down the King's Road on a Saturday morning." Blokes may never admit this. They'll tell you that they love it because it handles really well (and it does scuttle round corners with satisfying aplomb), that its twin cam 1800cc motor gives it brilliant acceleration and that it's almost as much fun as sex. Truth is, however, that the MX-5 is probably bought to ensure its owner a steadier supply of the latter. Whatever the sex of its driverReuse content