The Mazda MX-5 is one of those timeless cars - it’s had the same basic look for nearly 24 years and it’s still immensely popular. It’s characterised by stylish sports car proportions and low weight, and it provides real driver enjoyment for those on a moderate budget.

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Its success rests on a fairly simple recipe. First, there’s the look – it features the kind of classic sports car proportions that never go out of style, as evidenced by the fact that the design of the MX-5 has barely changed since it first launched in 1989.

Second, the engineering – it marries a lightweight chassis with moderately powerful engines to create truly excellent handling. And third, the MX-5 – priced from £18,495 – has always been one of the most affordable sports cars on the market.

The latest, third-generation version sports a new bumper and grille, and more safety equipment. There are five main specifications, which include SE, Sport Tech, Sport Tech Nav, Powershift and Sport Graphite.

There’s also a more powerful Mazda MX-5 GT version, which is available through its racing partner, Jota, as well as a BBR version.

Our choice: MX-5 2.0i Sport Tech manual

Styling

Mazda has definitely found a winning formula in the styling of the MX-5. Standard SE versions get 16-inch alloy wheels, while more powerful Sport Tech versions come with 17-inch alloy wheels.

All versions get climate control, electric windows and remote central locking with boot release. Plus, all models, apart from entry-level SE, get cruise control. 

The latest, third-generation Mazda MX-5 received a facelift in 2012, which brought in a more aggressive grille and front bumper. 

Driving

There are two engines available with the Mazda MX-5, 1.8-litre and 2.0-litre petrols - they produce 124bhp and 158bhp, respectively.

The 1.8-litre model is paired with a five-speed gearbox, while the 2.0-litre gets a six-speed. You can also get a six-speed automatic gearbox, which comes with steering wheel-mounted paddles.

The third-generation Mazda MX-5 is so popular because it provides great driver enjoyment - it offers quick steering and it's nimble on the road, too. Plus, it won't leave your wallet feeling too empty.

Plus, the powerful Mazda MX-5 BBR was recently released - it produces 110bhp more than the standard 2.0-litre MX-5, so it manages the 0-62mph sprint in 4.9 seconds.

Reliability

The latest-generation Mazda MX-5 hasn't yet been subjected to the rigours of the Euro NCAP crash safety tests. 

Having said that, the old model was tested back in 2002, and received a four-star rating. It gave a well-balanced performance, but questions were raised concerning passenger safety, especially from frontal impacts.

The entry-level model doesn't come with electronic stability control (ESP) as standard, either.

Mazda came on leaps and bounds in our 2013 Driver Power manufacturer rankings, finishing fourth out of 32, beating the likes of Mercedes, Volkswagen and BMW. The Mazda MX-5 also finished 47th out of 150 in our 2013 Driver Power customer satisfaction survey, which isn't bad at all.

Practicality

The Mazda MX-5 isn't designed for practicality; it's about performance and style, so you shouldn't be disappointed with the 150 litres of boot space. It'll still hold a couple of backpacks or some shopping, but not much more.

There's a decent amount of storage in the form of cubbies and compartments, while you'll also get four cup-holders - more than enough, considering it's only a two-seater. 

The interior wasn't exactly designed with tall drivers in mind, though, and it can be a bit of a squeeze at times. Adjusting the steering wheel can be a bit problematic, too, as it doesn't adjust for reach. 

Running Costs

The Mazda MX-5 doesn't offer much in the way of fuel-saving technology, but the 1.8-litre model can return a combined fuel economy of 40mpg, which isn't too bad. 

The 2.0-litre Sport Tech, meanwhile, returns 36.2mpg and emits 181g/km of CO2 - so it's quite expensive to tax

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