TRYING to work out why the Mazda MX-5 has become such an icon of sports car design is not rocket science.
It's perfectly plain to see why it has become the darling of the British wind-in-the-hair brigade. It's compact, affordable, athletic and looks so good it puts you into a different league when it comes to image.
The MX-5 was born out of the demise of the British small two-seater industry. While everyone was bewailing the loss of the MG Midget, Triumph Spitfire and Austin Healey Sprite, Mazda engineers were working on the MX-5 which signalled the rebirth of a market which many pundits said was gone for ever.
The MX-5 is one of those cars that they got fundamentally right at first go. The new model may look a bit more muscular but the idea's still the same.
It does exactly what the Midget and Spitfire did - brought sports car driving to the masses without losing an iota in street cred.
The latest MX-5 which comes with a choice of four petrol engines of 1.8 and 2.0 displacement.
This car really does have that magical something that ensnares the driver in its web of charm. I first experienced it in the early 1990s when I drove one of the first examples in the USA. It was called the Mazda Miata and during my drive I was approached by at least four people who offered me far more than its list price to make it their own.
The car then went on to enter the Guinness Book of Records as the most successful open two seater of all time.
Mazda has produced nearly 725,000 units to date and demand remains high.
Last year the third generation of this car came to Europe. Thankfully Mazda had not kicked it upmarket because of its success.On the face of it the MX-5 remains the affordable fun two-seater with wonderful driving qualities that it always was.
But its looks are slightly different. Gone is the cola-bottle waist and in is a much more athletic build which telegraphs that this is a true sports car.
It harmonises tradition and modernity in a positive way, giving a wider cockpit and, for the first time in this model, side airbags.
The soft top is very well designed without going down the electric route. It can be opened with one hand in just six seconds and sits flush with the boot lid, doing away with the need for a tonneau cover.
The interior is of a better design but is still a bit too black for my taste.
On the road this car displays a clever blend of practicality and sports car performance. Even the entry level 1.8 that I drove carried it all off in style. This model can attain 122mph from 126PS.
It's odd, because this car does have the feel of the traditional British two seater, yet is steeped in Japanese legend and folklore.
For instance it was made to reflect the Japanese ideal of Jinba Ittai, the symbiosis between rider and horse which is traced back to the Yabusame ritual where an archer shoots an arrow at a target when charging along at full gallop.
Well the the MX-5 certainly hits the bullseye with me today as it did on my first experience with it across the dusty Californian desert.
Mazda MX-5 1.8i
Mechanical: 126bhp, 1,798cc, 4cyl petrol engine driving rear wheels via 5spd manual gearbox
Max speed: 122mph
0-62mph: 9.4 secs
Combined mpg: 38.7
Insurance group: 11
CO2 emissions: 174g/km
BiK rating: 21%
Warranty: 3yrs/ 60,000 miles; 3yrs paint; 12yrs anti-rust