There’s not notably more chatter than my own ‘assisted’ car relays, but the precision is still there and there’s enough feedback to detect the front wheels pushing. The rear also slides – more easily at high speeds on a damp track than on a dry road – but the car’s balance is such that you can quickly account for slip at either axle, adjusting the car’s line with the throttle as much as the steering.
There isn’t the precision of newer cars – the Mk1 takes time to settle on its springs and there’s flex in the body too. In this respect it’s more like a classic car, and further incentive to drive smoothly rather than attempting to hustle it like you would a modern hot hatch.
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Throttle response is a different story. The engine reacts instantly, eliciting a sporty parp from the exhaust and a hint of induction bark from the engine bay. It’s eager too. The four-pot is almost masochistic in its desire for revs, while the tactile gearshift rewards every change. The 132bhp 1.8 isn’t notably quicker than the earlier, less powerful 1.6 – extra weight and taller gearing sees to that – but you don’t feel too short-changed by the lack of pace.
Surprisingly, the same applies even to the 1.6-engined Mk2 car waiting in the pitlane. These cars – of which this particular one is an ‘Arizona’ special edition – produced more power than the detuned final run of Mk1s, but with just 108bhp they still played second-fiddle to the 138bhp Mk2 1.8. Not only less potent, 1.6s also lacked the limited-slip differential of the 1.8s, and performance was offset further by the extra weight of the Mk2 body.
Proponents of the MX-5 will tell you that Mazda had begun to cut costs by the time the Mk2 arrived, in 1998, and while the cabin is more cosseting than its forebear’s, the curvy 1990s plastic does feel a little downmarket. After the Mk1, the leather-bound driver’s seat also seems to be mounted about half a foot too high.