There are few cars that trade outright performance for handling thrills, but the Mazda MX-5 is certainly one of them. For all the plaudits showered on the Toyota GT86 and its Subaru BRZ twin, it’s easy to overlook just how good the MX-5 is.

Standard variants (read non-Bilstein-equipped Sport Tech MX-5s) ride surprisingly well, but those models with the suspension rates wound up leave a car that never really settles on typical British asphalt.

Matt Saunders Autocar

Matt Saunders

Road test editor
The MX-5 breaks away at the back end more cleanly and responds better to corrections than it did before.

In either event, the MX-5 fundamentally offers deliciously balanced rear-wheel drive handling.

Once you are confident in the car, it can be driven up to and beyond its limits of grip more easily than just about any other sports car around. The Mazda telegraphs a slide early on but is easy to catch with some opposite lock and a sensitive right foot.

Earlier versions of the Mk3 were somewhat handicapped by a degree of glutinous resistance on the hydraulic steering system, but a revised set-up applied to the 2009 facelift helped to restore some of the lost fluency.

One development that could hardly be faulted was the fitment of traction control and stability control on the MX-5. Second-gear oversteer on a roundabout is one thing, but the rear will step out at the top of third gear pulling on to a wet motorway, and the short wheelbase can make that kind of behaviour tricky to handle at speed. Electronic intervention is a worthy safety addition.

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Purists will bemoan the additional mass of the Roadster Coupé, which naturally sits high in the car and raises the centre of gravity, but you’d need back-to-back spirited drives in both to tell the difference. And even so, the hard-top is hardly lead-footed.

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