Motoring: The Lotus eater

Road test Mazda MX-5

Remember your first MGB? Top-down, two-seater motoring, wind in the hair, a world temporarily free of cares; a peculiarly British world, because it's here that most two-seater sports cars, of which the MGB was the most numerous, were created.

Italy has produced a few, too. And Japan has produced a few more. Yes, just when we Brits had forgotten how to do it, up popped the Mazda MX- 5. It was much the same idea, brought up to date and with a little bit of Lotus Elan mixed in for good measure, but this time it was guaranteed to work and keep on working, which was where the old BL interpretations weren't so hot.

Not surprisingly, the Mazda has been a huge sales success. And now, nearly nine years on - more than twice the production life of a normal Japanese car - there's an MX-5 Mark Two.

It's as well, really. Once other car-makers, including the current custodians of the MG name, realised that people hadn't fallen out of love with sports cars after all, we ended up with quite a selection to choose from. Against these newer rivals, the MX-5 has been seeming dated. Good grief, it may even be heading for that automotive rest-home known as the world of classic cars. Certainly there's the culture to support it, with MX-5 clubs all over the world. In Japan, where it's called the Eunos Roadster, the car is almost a cult object.

At first glance, this new version looks much like the old one. The pop- up headlights have gone, the former sidelight and indicator unit having grown to include the headlights as well, and there's no longer a crease running around the car's midriff. Instead, we find a subtle squeezing of contour along the lower flanks to give a soft-edged, zig-zag reflection of light, and a squatter, more muscular stance.

But - how could they? - the designers have replaced the pull-out chrome door handles, copied from an old Alfa Romeo Duetto, with boring modern ones. Apparently, the old handles broke fingernails.

The theme remains retrospective inside, with cowled, circular air-vents resembling the nozzle of a hair-dryer, but it feels more solid and looks more expensive. This applies to the whole car; the structure is stiffer, and the shudders over bumps are fewer. The hood's rear window is now of heatable glass instead of scratchable plastic, and the boot is now just small instead of laughable.

This new-found solidity does wonders for the driving experience, because is has allowed Mazda to modify the suspension. The changes are subtle, but the effects are dramatic.

Even its greatest fans have to concede that the old MX-5 could turn twitchy in a fast bend or on a wet road. It was fun if you felt heroic, but hard work if you weren't in the mood.

All that has gone. The new MX-5 feels much more stable, more tolerant of skill shortcomings. But this has been done without damage to the interactivity, the sportiness; the fun is enhanced, but the fear has gone.

The new car is faster, too. There are still two twin-cam, 16-valve engines to choose from, but the 1.6's power has risen from a feeble 88bhp to 110, while the 1.8 delivers 140bhp instead of 130. Both are good-looking engines - these things matter in a sports car, you know - with a pair of cast aluminium cam covers just like an old Lotus Elan's. And they feel eager to play, especially the 1.8. A sweet, swift gear change, activated by possibly the shortest, sharpest-shifting gear lever in mass-produced existence, helps the engine to sing.

This new MX-5 is the best sensible-money, everyday-practical sports car you can buy. Britain may have had the original idea, but Japan has made it work properly. So what's new?

Mazda MX-5 1.8iS

Price: pounds 18,775

Engine: 1,839cc, 4 cylinders, 16 valves, 140bhp at 6,500rpm. Five-speed gearbox, rear-wheel drive.

Performance: top speed 127mph, 0-60 in 7.8sec, 28-33mpg.

Rivals

Alfa Romeo Spider: pounds 23,305. Terrific wedge-shaped styling, fine pedigree, but expensive. Structure flexes over bumps, too.

BMW Z3 1.9: pounds 21,480. US-built, looks faster than it is; a shade over- styled. Less fun than Mazda.

Fiat Barchetta: pounds 15,825. Cute looks, full of retro details, but hatchback underpinnings take away sporty edge. Price close to MX-5 1.6's; left-hand drive only.

MGF: pounds 17,995. Mid-engined layout gives huge roadholding, but it feels less intimate than Mazda to drive. Cabin is plasticky.

Life and Style
Small winemakers say the restriction makes it hard to sell overseas
food + drink
Arts and Entertainment
A comedy show alumni who has gone on to be a big star, Jon Stewart
tvRival television sketch shows vie for influential alumni
Arts and Entertainment
Carrie Hope Fletcher
booksFirst video bloggers conquered YouTube. Now they want us to buy their books
News
Clare Balding
peopleClare Balding on how women's football is shaking up sport
PROMOTED VIDEO
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
News
ebooksNow available in paperback
Arts and Entertainment
Damien Hirst
artCoalition's anti-culture policy and cuts in local authority spending to blame, says academic
Sport
premier leagueMatch report: Arsenal 1 Man United 2
Arts and Entertainment
Kirk Cameron is begging his Facebook fans to give him positive reviews
film
News
i100
Sport
Jonny May scores for England
rugby unionEngland 28 Samoa 9: Wing scores twice to help England record their first win in six
Life and Style
fashionThe Christmas jumper is in fashion, but should you wear your religion on your sleeve?
Arts and Entertainment
Jason goes on a special mission for the queen
tvReview: Everyone loves a CGI Cyclops and the BBC's Saturday night charmer is getting epic
Arts and Entertainment
Jerry Hall (Hand out press photograph provided by jackstanley@theambassadors.com)
theatre
Sport
Tony Bellew (left) and Nathan Cleverly clash at the Echo Arena in Liverpool
boxingLate surge sees Liverpudlian move into world title contention
Voices
Neil Findlay
voicesThe vilification of the potential Scottish Labour leader Neil Findlay shows how one-note politics is today, says DJ Taylor
Life and Style
food + drinkMeat-free recipes and food scandals help one growing sector
Latest stories from i100
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
Independent Dating
and  

By clicking 'Search' you
are agreeing to our
Terms of Use.

iJobs Job Widget
iJobs Education

Randstad Education Cardiff: Maths Teacher

£100 - £120 per day: Randstad Education Cardiff: We are currently recruiting f...

Randstad Education Cardiff: Science Teacher

£100 - £120 per day: Randstad Education Cardiff: Science Teacher -Full Time - ...

Randstad Education Cardiff: After School Club Worker

£40 - £45 per day: Randstad Education Cardiff: The Job: Our client in the Newp...

Randstad Education Cardiff: English Teacher

£100 - £120 per day: Randstad Education Cardiff: Randstad Education Cardiff is...

Day In a Page

Mau Mau uprising: Kenyans still waiting for justice join class action over Britain's role in the emergency

Kenyans still waiting for justice over Mau Mau uprising

Thousands join class action over Britain's role in the emergency
Isis in Iraq: The trauma of the last six months has overwhelmed the remaining Christians in the country

The last Christians in Iraq

After 2,000 years, a community will try anything – including pretending to convert to Islam – to avoid losing everything, says Patrick Cockburn
Black Friday: Helpful discounts for Christmas shoppers, or cynical marketing by desperate retailers?

Helpful discounts for Christmas shoppers, or cynical marketing by desperate retailers?

Britain braced for Black Friday
Bill Cosby's persona goes from America's dad to date-rape drugs

From America's dad to date-rape drugs

Stories of Bill Cosby's alleged sexual assaults may have circulated widely in Hollywood, but they came as a shock to fans, says Rupert Cornwell
Clare Balding: 'Women's sport is kicking off at last'

Clare Balding: 'Women's sport is kicking off at last'

As fans flock to see England women's Wembley debut against Germany, the TV presenter on an exciting 'sea change'
Oh come, all ye multi-faithful: The Christmas jumper is in fashion, but should you wear your religion on your sleeve?

Oh come, all ye multi-faithful

The Christmas jumper is in fashion, but should you wear your religion on your sleeve?
Dr Charles Heatley: The GP off to do battle in the war against Ebola

The GP off to do battle in the war against Ebola

Dr Charles Heatley on joining the NHS volunteers' team bound for Sierra Leone
Flogging vlogging: First video bloggers conquered YouTube. Now they want us to buy their books

Flogging vlogging

First video bloggers conquered YouTube. Now they want us to buy their books
Saturday Night Live vs The Daily Show: US channels wage comedy star wars

Saturday Night Live vs The Daily Show

US channels wage comedy star wars
When is a wine made in Piedmont not a Piemonte wine? When EU rules make Italian vineyards invisible

When is a wine made in Piedmont not a Piemonte wine?

When EU rules make Italian vineyards invisible
Look what's mushrooming now! Meat-free recipes and food scandals help one growing sector

Look what's mushrooming now!

Meat-free recipes and food scandals help one growing sector
Neil Findlay is more a pink shrimp than a red firebrand

More a pink shrimp than a red firebrand

The vilification of the potential Scottish Labour leader Neil Findlay shows how one-note politics is today, says DJ Taylor
Bill Granger recipes: Tenderstem broccoli omelette; Fried eggs with Mexican-style tomato and chilli sauce; Pan-fried cavolo nero with soft-boiled egg

Oeuf quake

Bill Granger's cracking egg recipes
Terry Venables: Wayne Rooney is roaring again and the world knows that England are back

Terry Venables column

Wayne Rooney is roaring again and the world knows that England are back
Michael Calvin: Abject leadership is allowing football’s age-old sores to fester

Abject leadership is allowing football’s age-old sores to fester

Those at the top are allowing the same issues to go unchallenged, says Michael Calvin