Either Goodwood’s marshalls have forgotten I’m on the circuit or they’re happy for me to continue circulating as droplets of fresh rain grow larger on the windscreen. The car’s balance remains predictable and ABS adds welcome reassurance on the damp asphalt without spoiling pedal feel. The third-gear Woodcote corner is the trickiest, with understeer on turn-in and oversteer as you squeeze the throttle, but this malleability is what makes the first two generations of MX-5 such a joy – and such appropriate tools in which to learn rear-wheel-drive behaviour.
The same couldn’t be said of the Mk3 MX-5 upon its 2005 debut. evo’s first drive of the car revealed stark shortcomings in its balance and ability to telegraph useful information to the driver, and when a 2-litre car found itself against such luminaries as the Renaultsport Clio Trophy, BMW M3 CS and Caterham Seven CSR in evo Car of the Year 2005, it was first to exit the test, lacking the feel, delicacy and vitality that made its predecessors so endearing.
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To its credit, Mazda worked tirelessly to improve the car, and by the time the facelifted ‘Mk3.5’ model arrived in 2009 many of our criticisms were rendered moot. It’s more liveable with on the road than the earlier cars, if not quite as tactile. At Goodwood, the extra grip, improved body control and improved torsional rigidity prove confidence-inspiring, particularly on a drying track.
Along with the extra power – 158bhp at 6700rpm from the 2.0 – it’s the best track car by a margin. Not as talkative as earlier MX-5s perhaps, but reduced slack in the car’s responses and the extra grip at both ends give you impetus to push harder. You need correspondingly higher speeds to really work the chassis, which can be a drawback on the road, depending on your propensity for playing with the rear axle, but as a tool for learning to drive on track, it’s the best car here.
As the dappled grey blanket over West Sussex finally makes way for patches of blue, the roof comes down. Each generation of MX-5 has its faults, but until a rival matches this simple formula, none will feel quite as jovial on a summer’s day.