Softly, softly

Since its introduction in March 1990, not a great deal has happened to the Mazda MX-5, buoyant sales apart (6000 in the UK, 300,000 worldwide). A turbocharged kit, developed in conjunction with BBR, became an option in November 1990, and there have been a few limited editions, one BRG, one black and one that looked like a cross between a slice of battenberg and an Argyll sock, produced commemorate Mazda’s Le Mans success in 1991.

Until this spring, such changes as there had been were thus more cosmetic than technical. Now, however, the original 1.6 engine (which was actually quite perky, though made to sound more so by a trick exhaust) has been superseded by a 1.8 unit derived from that in the 323, albeit lightened. Power has accordingly risen 15 per cent, to 130 bhp on a par with the MX-5 UK Cup racers that provided the basis for a one-make series in 1990/91. The car is heavier, though (by 50 or 70 kg, according to which model you choose), and doesn’t feel substantially nippier. Indeed, top speed is little changed, at a claimed 123 mph (up from 121), and 0-62 mph will take an estimated 8.6s (another fractional gain).

In parallel with engine development, the chassis has also been modified. Although the original was a paragon of balance, and torsional rigidity, further bracing has been added, and the suspension has been tuned to cope with the extra weight. Mazda says that its intention was to “suppress roll during the initial stages of cornering and improve the overall ride comfort while maximising the handling”.

Well, there was never much wrong with the ride quality on the original. If anything, the revised set up has lost a little sharpness. It feels softer than it used to and body roll appears to have increased.

But it still handles well. It has grip in abundance, as you might expect of something which remains only modestly powerful in the overall scheme of things, and despite its new-found mushiness it is still fun to drive, which, after all, has always been the whole point. And if there is a better manually-operated hood mechanism anywhere, we have yet to find it. . .

There will be two versions of the revised MX-5, the more basic of which is listed at £14,495, only £245 more than the original cost four years ago. The S, which we tried, is priced at £17,395, the £2900 difference absorbing ABS, power steering, driver’s air bag, electric mirrors and sundry other details. Both, however, are fitted with a neat immobiliser as standard. The MX-5 may be too demure for some tastes, but it was never intended to be a TVR. Whatever your personal feelings, it remains one of the best ideas a major manufacturer has had in the past 10 years. S A