In 1989 Mazda resuscitated the concept of the classic British roadster with the Chicago Auto Show introduction of a modern update that eliminated the shortcomings of beloved but crotchety cars like the old MGA and Triumph TR3.
Like those ancient Britons, the original Miata was simple, playful, and quick on its feet. But unlike the revered roadsters of old, it had actual windows rather than leaky side curtains; its folding top could be operated with one hand and actually sealed out the weather; its climate controls actually exerted some control over the interior environment; it started and ran without complaint in all weathers; it didn't overheat; and it didn't leave puddles of oil wherever it went.
Over the course of two-plus decades, worldwide sales have climbed past 900,000, making the Miata the best-selling roadster in history. It's also become a favorite with amateur and semi-professional racers.
Now in its third generation, the MX-5 is a classic front-engine, rear-drive design. Its most recent redesign included exterior styling inspired by the rotary-powered RX-8 (since departed), but it's still rooted in traditional sports car proportions - long hood, short rear deck, wide track, close to the ground.
That short rear decklid covers a very modest trunk - just 5.3 cubic feet - although the design of Mazda's folding hardtop, unlike many, doesn't compromise luggage space.
In addition to the annual Special Editions, the MX-5 is offered in three trim levels: Sport, Touring, and Grand Touring. All models are equipped with a 2.0-liter DOHC 16-valve naturally aspirated aluminum four-cylinder engine rated for 167 horsepower (158 with automatic transmission) and 140 lb-ft of torque.
A six-speed manual transmission is standard, a six-speed automatic optional. Front and side impact airbags are standard on all models, as is antilock braking. Stability and traction control became standard for all trim levels as of model year 2012.
Major standard features for the MX-5 Sport, priced from $24,265, include 16-inch aluminum alloy wheels, air conditioning, leather-wrapped three-spoke steering wheel, cloth upholstery, six-speaker AM/FM/CD/Aux audio, plus power windows and mirrors.
The Touring model adds a front shock tower brace, 17-inch aluminum alloy wheels, fog lights, cruise control, trip computer, leather shift knob, remote keyless entry, steering wheel audio and cruise controls, plus an in-dash six-disc CD changer (cutting-edge infotainment is not a Mazda hallmark).
Grand Touring adds automatic climate control, heated leather seats, seven-speaker Bose premium audio.
The power retractable hardtop, offered only on Touring and Grand Touring models, adds $1700.
> Interested in an even different take on a British roadster? Check out the 2012 Mini Cooper Roadster.
> To see how the Mini Roadster and Mazda MX-5 stack up, have a look at our Roadster Rumble.