A first drive in 2019 Mazda MX-5 by Dan Trent, Goodwood Road & Racing

With tedious predictability you’ll hear macho dullards slate the Mazda MX-5 as a hairdresser’s car, lacking in power and too small or cute to cut it as a proper sporting machine. Most manufacturers would have responded to such feedback by making subsequent models more aggressive looking, faster and increasingly prestigious. But Mazda isn’t most manufacturers.

For the current MX-5 it actually went the other way, reducing size and weight to something close to the 29-year-old original. It introduced new engines but, while they were revvier and more economical, they weren’t any more powerful. A little more horsepower can’t hurt though and, while Mazda is sticking to its guns, this updated version has gained extra spring in its step.

The range still comprises fabric-roofed convertible and folding hardtop RF options, with a 1.5 or 2.0-litre engine. Both of these have been reworked, the latter to most dramatic effect with an increase in power from 160PS (158bhp) to 184PS (182bhp) thanks to stronger, lighter internal parts and a raised rev limit. And not a turbo in sight.

This is unusual in this day and age, as is the incentive to explore what lies in the upper reaches of the rev counter. It’s also perfectly in tune with the MX-5’s traditional vibe, the combination of a zesty, naturally-aspirated engine and quick-shifting manual gearbox just the tonic in a world of boring, torquey turbos. And all the better to enjoy with the roof down. Those who felt their masculinity threatened can now show their face down the pub again too, an eight-tenths reduction in the 0-62mph time bringing it to just 6.5 seconds. It sounds and feels decisively feistier than before too.

Those who appreciate the MX-5 will understand it’s about a lot more than bragging rights though. Rear-wheel-drive is also rare in this day and age but the little Mazda celebrates the balance this brings, the 2.0-litre version even getting a limited-slip differential as standard. And you don’t need to know how that works to enjoy how sharp steering and a subtle push from the rear axle contrives a sense of agility. The lack of weight helps here too, the little Mazda a quarter of a ton lighter than most modern hot hatches, to the benefit of everything from ride comfort to fuel consumption.

Other detail improvements include the addition of reach adjustment to the steering wheel. This is still a small car and those much over six feet are going to find it a squeeze. But you now at least stand a chance of finding a driving position that works. Mazda insists the suspension hasn’t been modified but this new car seemingly rides with more flow and composure too, despite still sitting a little too high on its springs and showing significant body roll when you up the pace. Sport models get stiffer Bilstein dampers and are better but it’s still a little roly-poly in standard form.

It’s affordable though. The 1.5 SE+ costs just £18,995, the 2.0-litre starts at £22,295 for the SE-L Nav+, Sport Nav+ costs £24,795 and the new GT Sport Nav+ with standard blind spot monitoring, LED headlights and reversing camera is £25,795. By this point the spec is so comprehensive the only options left are metallic paint in a variety of shades, including the signature Soul Red. RF hardtops cost £1,800 more like for like and include an automatic option.

Obviously a two-seat roadster isn’t going to score with those who need a practical family car, luggage space or an all-rounder. But if your situation makes it viable there are few better ways to make driving fun again, be that a summer’s evening on a B-road or just the daily commute. That you can now do it all just a little bit faster than before just adds to the innocent sense of fun.