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The phrase ‘if it ain’t broke, don’t fix it’ seems to apply as much to the MX-5 as Mazda’s own jinba ittai philosophy.
The rear-drive, two-seater, four-cylinder, up-to-2-litre formula hasn’t changed in 30 years, meaning that Autocar’s glowing praise for the original – saying it offered ‘a rare degree of driver satisfaction’ and that ‘few others, at any price, can offer so much’ – rings as true today as it did in 1989.
Granted, there’s the opinion-splitting RF (retractable fastback) launched in 2016, but here we focus on the MX-5 in its purest roadster form.
In an era when cars seem to be gaining heft, it’s to Mazda’s credit that its fourth-gen car is shorter, the same height and, in some specs, lighter than that ground-breaking original. Not that any of the intervening iterations could be accused of obesity.
And so what if it has become the default choice for anyone wanting a fun, affordable sports car? Its popularity has bred a passionate community of owners, none more so than here in the UK. But perhaps that’s only natural, since the MX-5 was born out of a love and appreciation for classic British sports cars.
This enthusiasm explains, at least in part, why 550 of the 3000-strong production of this 30th Anniversary Edition – the 52nd(!) special-edition MX-5 – are UK-bound. Of those, 370 will be roadsters, as here, the rest RFs.
It’s based on the 2-litre, 181bhp Sport Nav+, and for your extra £3000 you get Racing Orange paint, bespoke forged-aluminium Rays wheels, black wing mirrors, orange brake calipers and Brembo front brakes.
There’s also an Alcantara-wrapped cabin with Recaro seats and orange highlights; it feels as pleasingly minimalist as the original, but still packs the expected 21st-century tech.
You can’t help but feel that Mazda missed a trick by not adding any extra power or tweaking the suspension, given the aftermarket appetite for add-ons, but at least it has Bilstein dampers, a strut-brace and a limited-slip differential.
It’s not for shrinking violets, but the fourth-gen takes the spirit of the first and thrives on it, the driving experience closer to the original than any since.
The six-speed manual has a dinky lever and a short throw with a light, precise action, the steering is direct and, while the ride is firm, there’s enough compliance for comfort.
You could be forgiven for thinking you’re in a classic sports car, given the voluptuous curves that greet your gaze from the driver’s seat, but press the starter and this is a thoroughly modern, engaging and delightfully raw car. The exhaust is throaty without being exhibitionist, especially rewarding under load north of 4000rpm, with a discreet burble when you lift off.
An instant classic, the Anniversary’s grin-inducing ability won’t diminish – and its rarity is the icing on the cake.
Images: Will Williams
- Engine 1998cc ‘four’; 181bhp @ 7000rpm; 151lb ft @ 4000rpm
- Transmission six-speed manual, RWD
- 0-62mph 6.5 secs
- Top speed 136mph
- Mpg 40.9
- Price £28,095