When Cubby Broccoli, creator of the cinematic juggernaut that is the James Bond franchise, handed the reigns to his daughter Barbara, he reportedly offered this simple piece of advice:

“Don’t screw it up.”

I imagine a similar conversation took place somewhere inside Mazda when time came for the company to create this, the fourth generation MX-5.

For this isn’t just a car. It’s a motoring icon. An automotive legacy, even.

This isn’t just a car. It’s an automotive legacy.

You could argue that we Brits have embraced the MX-5 as one of our own, and the reasons for that perhaps aren’t too surprising when you consider its genesis, a sort of ‘Lotus Elan done right.’

The MX-5 concept has always been a simple blend of open top, front-mounted engine and rear-wheel drive layout, and its principles have been fearsomely defended by the company over the years, with each successive generation steadfastly refusing to gain much in the way of weight or dilute its increasingly appealing charm.

But as today’s cars do battle with consumer’s tastes for more techno-gadgetry and legislator’s demands for ever-higher safety ratings, there is one fact about the new MX-5 that sums up Mazda’s efforts in one, convenient number:

It’s over a 100kg lighter than the old model.

It’s shorter, too – by over 100mm compared to the outgoing model, and is even 55mm shorter than the 1989 original.

Colin Chapman, the founder of Lotus, famously once urged his engineers to “simplify, then add lightness.” That philosophy seems to have taken hold at Mazda, where it lives on in the company’s ‘gram strategy’ which sees even small weight-savings lead to a significant cumulative effect, and ‘Jinba Ittai,’ a Japanese expression that embodies the concept of car and driver as one.

Perhaps the best demonstration of those principles is the MX-5’s roof. While some roadsters wouldn’t be seen dead without an electrically-folding top, the new MX-5 eschews that mass of motors and wiring for a lightweight fabric affair that requires little more than the release of a single latch and a half-decent shove before it all folds neatly behind the roll-over bars.

It’s a concept that extends into the driving experience, too.

The steering – now electrically-assisted – is a little quicker than before, with fewer turns lock-to-lock, while Mazda’s engineers have strived to ensure a perfect 50:50 front-to-rear weight distribution, all in the interests of preserving the MX-5’s trademark agility.

Power comes from a choice of either a 1.5-litre four-cylinder petrol engine with 130hp, or a larger 2.0-litre unit with around 160hp.

While the 2.0-litre is exactly a second quicker to 62mph (7.3 seconds, versus 8.3), what the smaller 1.5 loses in power and torque, it more than makes up for with a better balance in its chassis and a finer set of responses.

That’s because Mazda engineered the MX-5 specifically for the 1.5-litre unit, only adding the 2.0-litre primarily for the US market, and while the difference may only be 25kg or so, that extra weight at the front has a noticeable impact on the car’s attitude, turn-in, and balance through a corner.

In everyday driving, the difference in performance between the two is far smaller than you might imagine, and certainly for our money, we’d choose the 1.5 over the 2.0-litre.

Both are mated to the same sweet-shifting six-speed manual gearbox, and it’s a delight to use, its stubby lever and short throw matching its well-judged close ratios.

The 2.0-litre models are equipped with a limited-slip differential and Bilstein dampers on top-spec Sport models, but across the range the MX-5 rides with a perfectly tuned sense of purpose: yes, it’s firm, but meaningfully so.

So, the ingredients are all there. A well sorted chassis, a thoroughly optimised set of responses, and an engaging character to every interaction.

The result is perhaps one of the purest driving experiences on the market. Only the Toyota GT86/Subaru BRZ offers anything like the same levels of wholesome entertainment and, in common with the BRZ, the driver of an MX-5 can be having the time of their life bumbling through town at just 30mph, whereas more exotic machinery demands licence-losing numbers to be showing on the speedo before their true character is revealed.

The driver of an MX-5 can be having the time of their life, all while bumbling through town at just 30mph.

The fact this level of fun can be yours for just eighteen and a half grand is, frankly, remarkable.

Yet for all this well-honed performance, there is one area where the MX-5 falls down, and it affects me personally more than most:

It’s just a little bit too small.

While Mazda claim to have added a millimetre here or shaved a millimetre there, the result is a cabin that still doesn’t offer enough adjustment: the steering wheel adjusts only for height, not reach, and there’s not enough rearward travel in the seats for tall drivers.

Climbing aboard is made difficult both by the handbrake, and a curious lump in the floor on right-hand-drive models that limits where you can place your feet.

And for me, that means once I’ve origamied my 6ft4 frame inside, I’m still left to deal with a more upright seating position than is comfortable, and a handbrake that digs into my left leg.

Ordinarily, this would be a big problem.

But such is the little Mazda’s charm that I can’t help but blame myself for being too damn tall, rather than complaining that the car is too damn small.

You see, not for nothing is the Mazda MX-5 the world’s best-selling sports car.

Tester’s Notes

  • No getting away from the fact it is just too small
  • Handbrake location and lump in floor make entry/exit difficult for tall drivers
  • Steering wheel doesn’t adjust for reach
  • Digital speed read-out would be more useful in place of gear-shift indicator
  • 1.5 is the better choice with better balanced handling and responses; outright performance isn’t that far behind the 2.0-litre
  • Great gear-change – stubby lever falls naturally to hand; well chosen ratios
  • Creates a pure driving experience that can be enjoyed at all speeds
  • An incredible level of fun for the money
Entry-level Price £18,495 Price as tested £23,835
Engine 2.0-litre 4-cyl petrol Transmission 6-speed manual
Power 160ps @ 6,000rpm Torque 200Nm @ 4,600rpm
0-62 7.3 secs Top speed 133 mph
Economy 40.9 mpg CO2 161 g/km
Dimensions 3915 x 1735 x 1230 (LxWxH) Kerb Weight 1075 kg