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Mazda MX-5 Roadster Coupe 1.8i SE

Click to view picture gallery“Mazda’s design doctrine for its
  iconic MX-5 sports car is crystallised
  in just two words: Jinba ittai. The
translated as: person (and)
  horse (as) one body
  the unity of horse and rider in
  Japanese mounted archery. It also
  graphically sums up a driver
  perfect connection with a car

IT'S THAT MERGING OF PERSONAS the machine with the human that the two-seater MX-5 exists to bring about. The philosophy continues in the latest generation of Mazda's iconic sportster, although now it wears a folding metal hardtop that can, at the press of a button, be magicked away in less than the 9.9 seconds the 1.8i takes to accelerate to the benchmark 62mph.

The MX-5 sits low and it looks almost too small when you stand alongside it. It's not and it's actually roomier than its predecessors. The big surprise is just how easily a muscular six-footer can fit inside the cabin and get comfortable. There's almost a sense of sleight-of-hand when this happens because even lighter-built drivers feel 'snug' in the MX-5 Roadster Coupe.

The driving position is good and not as 'laying down' as you might expect with legs at a comfortable angle and room to set the backrest to the position that suits you best. Headrests are integrated into the seatback, which makes for decent shoulder support. Side-bolstering is effective but not intrusive and the seat base is long enough to provide good thigh and under-knee support.

“The powered roof
couldn’t be any easier to
use: push the safety
button in the central
latch to release it, then
press and hold
the dedicated ‘down’
button on the fascia…
nine seconds later
there’s no sign
of the roof —
only clear sky
Once settled inside, everything is directly to hand most importantly the stubby gearlever that's well-sited for snappy changes. And you'll never have to fumble to retrieve your seatbelt because neat guides are fitted to the outer shoulders of both seats. A well-considered touch.

Fit and finish is typically Mazda in other words, good. The fascia is simple and effective and a minimal distraction when you're driving; exactly as it should be.

The five dial-set includes an oil pressure gauge essential if you're planning some trackday outings. Instrument graphics are clear white-on-black and can be read at a glance to keep matters simple, the speedo is calibrated to show 100mph at the twelve o'clock position.

There are convenient remote audio controls on the slim, leather-rimmed steering wheel in addition to those on the audio system's main fascia panel, which has good-sized buttons for the driver or his passenger to use. Power door mirrors and windows are standard, and you'll find a 12-volt power outlet and Aux-in socket ahead of the gearlever.

There is, surprisingly, quite a lot of in-cabin storage: the cup-holders-cum-bin between the seats is accessed via a sliding lid that when closed doubles as a convenient armrest; the glovebox is of a practical size and lockable; there are slim but useful mesh door nets and small bottle-holders in the doors; and another lockable cubby in the rear bulkhead between the seatbacks you'll need to open it to release the fuel filler flap.

The powered roof couldn't be any easier to use: push the safety button in the single central latch to release it, then press and hold the dedicated 'down' button on the fascia… and nine seconds later there's no sign of the roof only clear sky. And no sign of the 'coupe' hardtop either it stows away in its own dedicated well between the boot and rear bulkhead, fully covered by the rear deck panel.

Somebody will no doubt, this very second, be asking: 'But does it go up and down when the car is moving?' NO, it does not. And a good thing too the danger is, of course, other drivers. Drop your top on a moving car and everyone forgets what they're doing and gawps, or worse, attempts to video it on their mobiles. So NO is good.

The one constant in every review and road test of the MX-5 ever written (and feel free to correct me if I'm wrong) is that it's 'a hoot to drive'. Living in a time when front-wheel drive is the dominant automotive characteristic, the Mazda's rear-wheel drive is a breath of fresh air.

A good reason for driving top-down is that you can hear the engine working. So turn off the stereo remember, this car's about oneness. And if you want to be a player, don't play around: focus. The clutch action is light. And the short-throw gearlever clicks between ratios with tactile accuracy. Focus and savour the involvement.

“The 1,798cc engine
pumps out 124bhp and
123lb ft of torque —
enough zing to make the
MX-5 feel pokey
in all five gears.
On motorways this
gives the 1.8i a natural
gait around
the 75mph mark
using just half of the
maximum revs
The seconds biggest surprise will be the ride. Given the nimble, almost seat-of-your-pants grade handling, the MX-5 rides far better than you'd expect. The 205/50 Yokohama tyres help, doing as much for comfort as they do for grip.

On the open road the MX-5 is always eager to entertain you. The front-end responds crisply to the helm and it all feels taut and well 'planted' on the tarmac.

Push too hard and the tail will, in time-honoured rear-wheel drive tradition, break away you know it's coming and the well-sorted chassis makes it straightforward to counter and recover with your pride intact.

Grip is consistent and can be taken for granted, leaving you free to concentrate on the right line and reap the satisfaction as you and the MX-5 tuck in, then lance through a challenging series of bend.

Michael Schumacher will be the first to tell you that the secret of fluid, seemingly effortless sports driving is carrying speed with you through the bends.

And to do that you don't need an excess of power: the 1,798cc engine pumps out 124bhp and 123lb ft of torque enough zing to make the MX-5 feel pokey in all five gears. On motorways this gives the 1.8i a natural gait around the 75mph mark using just half of the maximum revs.

The real joy, as Mazda's enthusiast-engineers intended, is in the matching of the power available to the capability of the chassis. Only then is harmony achieved; and with it oneness of purpose.

At 150 litres, the boot is compact but then how many bags do two people need? For the record, the MINI hatch only has 160 litres, and that has to be shared out between four. The MX-5's bootlid opens wide for easy access to the deep boot, which contains nothing more than one of the ubiquitous puncture repair kits.

An automatic 'PowerShift' transmission is now available and offers paddle-shifting progress but for many keen drivers it detracts from the whole Jinba ittai thing. Still, if you want it, tick the appropriate box. However, if you want an engaging driver's car, stick with the manual 'box and the MX-5 will show you a good time. MotorBar

Mazda MX-5 Roadster Coupe 1.8i SE | £19,990
Maximum speed: 123mph | 0-62mph: 9.9 seconds | Overall test MPG: 37.7mpg
Power: 124bhp | Torque: 123lb ft | CO2 167g/km