The all-new Mazda MX-5 range offers customers a five-strong model line‑up with a choice of three powertrains (1.8i or 2.0i with 5-speed gearbox, 2.0i with 6-speed gearbox), and three equipment levels (Standard, Option Pack and Sport). On display in dealer showrooms since mid October, the third-generation MX‑5 officially went on sale from 1 November.

The new Mazda MX-5 has achieved a near-impossible task, it is even better than the iconic model it replaces, while staying true to the spirit of the original cult car. Bigger, better engines deliver more power and better fuel economy, with reduced CO2 outputs. Longer, wider and taller (by 20, 40 and 20 mm respectively) the new MX-5 weighs only a few kilos more than the previous model, despite more generous standard equipment and enhanced primary and secondary safety.

During 2006, sales of the new Mazda MX-5 are expected to reach more than 8,500 units, of which 2,800 are predicted to be fleet sales, and to maintain a similar level through 2007. The new model – with its athletic and aggressive body lines, larger alloy wheels, more powerful engines and twin exhausts – is proving to have a greater appeal for men with 60 per cent of preorder website sales to male customers, and this initial ratio (60/40 male/female) is expected to continue.

A choice of five body colours will be available – two micas (Galaxy Grey and Winning Blue), one metallic (Sunlight Silver) and two solids (Brilliant Black and True Red). Stylish 16-inch 5‑spoke (available on 1.8 and 2.0 models) and 17-inch 10-spoke alloy wheels are available (standard on 2.0 Sport models).

Further confirmation of the new Mazda MX-5’s enhanced popularity was the high demand for the sixth model in the initial line-up, the special introductory model, the 2.0i Special Launch Edition, which was available on the preorder website from August. The strictly limited run of 300 units of these Velocity Red, 2.0i Sport-based models for the UK market – each individually numbered – was entirely sold out by mid-October.

While many aspects of the third-generation Mazda MX-5 are even better than its predecessor, it retains all the original virtues for which the Mazda MX-5 is rightly famous. All MX-5 generations have reflected the Japanese ideal of Jinba Ittai, the symbiosis between rider and horse. Instead of focusing on pure speed, Mazda developers worked to achieve the ideal of a balanced driving machine that provides skilful drivers with high levels of driving enjoyment without the need of a large-displacement engine.

Vehicle weight and weight distribution are crucial factors in achieving this ‘driving balance’. Painstaking adherence to a “gram strategy” paid off, and despite featuring more standard equipment and a stiffer body shell, the new Mazda MX-5 is only about 10 kg heavier (depending on version) than the outgoing model.

In order to deliver the maximum in driving fun, the engine of the new Mazda MX-5 has been moved 135 mm further to the rear of the vehicle, and the battery and fuel tank are now positioned closer to the car’s centre of gravity. As a result, the third-generation Mazda MX‑5 with two passengers achieves an ideal 50:50 weight distribution over the front and rear axles.

This ‘ideal’ weight distribution, combined with the longer wheelbase, wider track, lower centre of gravity and reduced ‘moment of inertia’ (thanks to moving heavy components towards the centre of the vehicle), has produced a sports car that is even more agile and more fun to drive than the original.

The most successful open two-seater sports car of all time, the new Mazda MX-5 is still an affordable, fun to drive roadster with harmonious proportions and no unnecessary frills – still clearly recognisable as a Mazda MX-5. However, the new Mazda MX-5 has the athletic build of a true sports car.

Mazda designers renounced the “cola bottle waist” of both previous models while increasing the car’s width and giving the fenders a more prominent design. The vehicle’s low, flowing side sills, a slightly wedged shape profile and a body that tapers slightly inwards at the front and back – are retained. Thus the new Mazda MX-5 is a “synthesis of modernity and tradition,” as MX-5’s Chief Designer, Yasushi Nakamuta, defined it.

The wider cockpit has more hip, shoulder and elbow room, and space to fit side airbags for the first time. Thanks to the 65 mm longer wheelbase (2,330 mm), people as tall as 1.86 m can comfortably fit into the car – previously, it was a bit cramped for people over 1.80 m.

The soft top is made of high quality material and can be opened and closed by using a centrally-placed latch in just six seconds and using only one hand. The Z-fold soft top, when completely folded back, sits flush with the boot lid, which does away with the need for a tonneau cover. And you don’t even have to get out of the car to open or close the top.

For the inside, MX-5 designers sought to create a higher quality feel, as well as combining new materials. Mazda MX-5’s solid quality finish is achieved by using decorative piano black embellishments and quality detailing on features such as the driving instruments, whose needles seem to twitch in anticipation of the driving enjoyment to come, when the car’s ignition is switched on.

The ventilation system uses additional air vents on the centre stack and in the foot well, to extend Mazda MX-5’s open-air driving season considerably. Now you can drive the new Mazda MX-5 comfortably in air temperatures from 10 to 30° C. Quarter windows placed at the bottoms of the A-pillars, along with a new, more efficient aero board wind‑blocker, make driving with the top down even more comfortable.

Mazda MX-5’s new interior has more practical storage compartments and the larger boot can now hold beverage cases, containing 12 1.5-litre bottles, carried upright.

Mazda has given the latest MX-5 two new engines from the MZR petrol family, a 2.0-litre four‑cylinder and a 1.8-litre unit. Both engines meet Euro Stage IV emission standards and are mounted longitudinally under the bonnet.

Both are lightweight and compact, with chain-driven, double overhead camshafts, four valves per cylinder, sequential inlet-valve timing (2.0-litre engine) and variable intake-air systems (VIS). The cylinder block and head, as well as the oil pan sump, are made of aluminium.

The MZR 2.0-litre engine produces a maximum of 160 ps of power at 6,700 rpm and generates maximum torque of 188 Nm at 5,000 rpm. Even more important, between 2,500 and 6,700 rpm, a minimum of 90 per cent of engine torque is always available. The Mazda MX-5 with a 2.0-litre engine has a top speed of 130 mph. The 2.0i achieves 36.7 mpg on the combined cycle (up from 32.5 mpg for the outgoing 1.8i) and records a CO2 figure of 183 g/km (down from 210 g/km).

The MZR 1.8-litre engine produces a maximum of 126 ps of power at 6,500 rpm and 167 Nm of torque at 4,500 rpm. This entry-level model has a top speed of 122 mph. The new 1.8-litre engine is 16ps up on the previous 1.6-litre engine and with fuel efficiency gains of 2.5 mpg – the vehicle returns 38.7 mpg on the combined cycle – and only emits 174 g/km compared with the 210 g/km of the outgoing 1.8i engine.

The manual transmission mated to the MZR 1.8-litre engine is an enhanced version of the five-speed transmission of the previous Mazda MX-5 model. For the MZR 2.0-litre engine there is a newly developed six-speed manual transmission that features even shorter shift travel with especially low-effort shifting.

The new Mazda MX-5’s standard equipment package includes two front airbags, passenger seat airbag deactivation, 16-inch steel wheels with 205/50 tyres, height‑adjustable steering wheel, an aero board wind-blocker, vinyl soft top with heated glass rear window, retractable key, remote central locking and an audio system.

Standard equipment for 2.0 Sports models includes 17-inch alloy wheels with 205/45 tyres, premium cloth soft top, a storage net in
the passenger foot well, a leather steering wheel with audio controls, gear shift knob and handbrake lever, leather faced heated seats, six audio speakers, and stainless steel scuff plates.

Among the most important options are metallic paint exterior colours, a black leather interior with seat heating, a “LogIn” keyless entry and start system, Bose® audio system and an anti-theft alarm system.

The new Mazda MX-5’s passive safety system includes an important innovation – side airbags for head and torso as standard on 2.0 models. They are integrated into the seatback sides and consist of two chambers, which are activated at the same time. The upper chamber protects the occupant’s head and remains firmer and inflated longer than the lower chamber, achieving an effect similar to curtain airbags in a closed-body vehicle. The lower and somewhat smaller airbag chamber provides optimal protection for the torso.

The MX-5’s aluminium bonnet, like that of the Mazda RX-8, is designed to provide optimal pedestrian protection. A shock cone structure on the inner bonnet panel absorbs the majority of contact energy. Side airbags, dynamic stability control and traction control systems are standard on all 2.0 models.

Thanks to the excellent levels of security, including Thatcham 1 alarm and immobiliser (standard on all derivatives), together with the modest overall costs of service, maintenance and repair – which remains at a similar level to the outgoing models – the insurance groups for the all‑new MX-5 remain equally competitive in the non‑premium S segment, ranging from 11E to 13E.

Meanwhile, residual value experts say used car values at three years/60,000 miles on the new MX-5 will be in line with those more frequently associated with premium badge marques because demand in the used car market for the two-seater continues to be enormous. Figures from CAP Motor Research range from the Mazda MX-5 retaining 43 per cent of its P11d value for the flagship model to 47 per cent for the entry-level 1.8i derivative at three years/60,000 miles.

Prices range from £15,600 to £18,900 (on the road).