Bosses at Mazda clearly believe imitation is the sincerest form of flattery. One quick glance is all it takes to realise that the new MX-5 Sport Black takes its inspiration from the manufacturer’s successful, factory-backed GT racer.
There’s the same bold metallic green paint finish, dark alloy wheels and low-slung, sporty stance. In fact, add in the motorsport machine’s garish orange and grey decals, and you’d struggle to separate the two.
However, look closely and you’ll soon spot the differences. For instance the road car, which is based on the range-topping 2.0-litre Sport Tech RC, features a much higher ride height. Also, its twin exhausts don’t have the same huge diameter and fruity sound as the racer’s centre-exit set-up.
Other changes include the addition of Sport Black badges on the front wings, plus a neat honeycomb grille in place of the track car’s purposeful wire mesh item. And unlike the GT machine, you get a choice of exterior colours; if you don’t fancy the head-turning green finish of our test car, then you can go for either metallic red or pearlescent white.
But the most obvious difference between the two MX-5s can be found over the driver’s head. The competition car gets a spidery roll cage that protects the occupants in a crash – although not against the elements – while its roadgoing cousin has a folding hard-top.
Made from lightweight composites, the automated mechanism weighs only 37kg more than the fabric hood fitted to lesser models, and can be lowered or raised in a mere 12 seconds.
With the unit stowed, you will be treated to a grandstand view of the MX-5’s luxuriously appointed cabin. The seats, steering wheel and gearknob all get a soft black leather covering with contrasting white stitching, while classy piano black trim helps add to the upmarket ambience. Finally, a transmission tunnel-mounted plaque lets you know which one of the 500 Sport Black models you are driving.
Elsewhere, the interior is identical to that of the standard Sport Tech version, which means you benefit from heated seats, a powerful Bose stereo and Bluetooth phone connection.
As you would expect, build quality is excellent, while all the plastics look and feel robust. The driving position is also perfect, thanks to a wide range of seat adjustment, and the cabin is impressively free of wind buffeting when the top is down.
It’s certainly a far cry from the stripped-out cabin of the racer. Here, carbon fibre is used throughout, and all the traditional instruments, heating controls and stereo equipment have been ditched to save weight. The track machine isn’t the most practical option, either.
You get only one seat, while lifting the tailgate reveals an additional 80-litre fuel tank – vital for long-distance endurance events, but useless for carrying luggage.
Do the same on the road car and you’ll be greeted by a 150-litre load area, which is more than enough space for a couple of overnight bags.
Mechanically, the newcomer is identical to other models in the line-up – and that’s no bad thing. While the 158bhp 2.0-litre engine can’t match the 275bhp racer for outright pace, it responds sharply to the throttle, is keen to rev and emits a sporty rasp.
The 0-62mph sprint takes a claimed 7.6 seconds – a full 4.6 seconds slower than the GT machine – but the Mazda rarely feels slow. And accessing the available performance is never a chore, thanks to the beautifully weighted and precise gearchange, which serves up slick shifts with only a flick of the wrist.
However, it’s the MX-5’s sparkling chassis that shines the brightest. The rear-wheel-drive set-up is beautifully balanced, while the sharp steering and compact exterior dimensions make it possible to place the Mazda with pinpoint precision.
Grip from the 205-section tyres is adequate rather than strong, but this allows you to adjust the roadster’s line through corners with a mix of steering and throttle. It also means you can enjoy the MX-5’s engaging driving dynamics at any speed.
The only black mark is reserved for the surprising amount of body roll the softly suspended Mazda displays in corners, although the upshot of this is a remarkably supple ride on poorly surfaced roads.
At £22,995, this limited-edition model is only £360 more than the car on which it’s based. Given all of its extra kit and exclusivity, that seems like a small price to pay. Better still, the MX-5 Sport Black serves up 90 per cent of the thrills of the GT racer at a fraction of the cost.
Chart position: 1WHY: Special aims to capture spirit of MX-5 racer, with revised looks and cabin. But the regular car’s great dynamics and keen 2.0-litre engine remain