Mazda MX-5 MkIII

Is newcomer the best version ever made?

Two decades of progress separate these MX-5s. Yet our contenders share the same focus on entertaining driving dynamics and wind-in-the-hair motoring.

Parked next to the original, the latest car looks significantly bigger, although its design is clearly influenced by its ancestor. The recent changes are designed to freshen up the appearance, and the sharper look is a success. There’s a revised silver-trimmed grille, a chrome finish to the door handles and our range-topping Sport Tech variant has new 17-inch alloy wheels.

Video: watch CarBuyer's video review of the Mazda MX-5

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Inside, tweaks have been made to the stereo controls on the centre console. The dashboard plastics have been upgraded, and fresh trim colour combinations have been introduced. Elsewhere, the cabin is carried over unchanged from the previous version. As a result, the driving position remains perfect; the design is attractive, and there’s plenty of room.

With standard air-conditioning, leather-trimmed seats and cruise control, it’s a world away from the spartan surroundings of the MkI. The progress is even more noticeable when you lower the roof. A fabric hood is still available, but the Roadster Coupé’s folding hard-top provides the best of both worlds – open-air thrills and coupé

The powered lid operates at the touch of a button mounted on the dashboard. It provides superior refinement when in place and looks much tidier than the original cloth hood when stowed. Better still, the car’s useful 150-litre luggage capacity isn’t restricted when the top is open – in contrast, the MkI can muster only 125 litres of space.

Not only is the current car more practical, it’s also faster. The smooth 158bhp 2.0-litre engine propels the MkIII from 0-60mph in 7.6 seconds, while its greater mid-range torque takes the strain out of overtaking.

Changes to the exhaust have resulted in a more sporty soundtrack at higher revs, and the revised six-speed manual gearbox has an even snappier shift action than the outgoing model. Turn into a corner, and it’s clear the latest model still shares the sporting spirit of the original.

While grip is much stronger than in the MkI, the most recent version retains a similar balance and poise as it slices accurately through corners. Only the extra weight of the steering disappoints, because it takes away some of the delicacy of the older car.

That is a minor criticism, though, and is probably the only downside of the latest MX-5. After 20 years, this legendary roadster is still at the top of its game – and genuine rivals are few and far between.

Details

WHY: The looks have been updated, efficiency improved and refinement boosted. Is the latest model as fun to drive?

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