Rear-wheel drive, convertible, naturally aspirated and making a noise like a Supermarine Spitfire, you might expect the Mazda MX-5 to be bags of fun â€“ and youâ€™d be right.
Mazda MX-5 RF Sport Nav
Price: Â£24,895 (Â£25,445 as tested)
Engine: 1.5-litre petrol, four-cylinder
Transmission: Six-speed manual
Top speed: 126mph
0 to 62 mph: 8.6 seconds
Economy: 46.3 mpg
CO2 emissions: 142 g/km
You probably wouldnâ€™t expect it to be particularly refined, however. Firstlly, itâ€™s Japanese â€“ and as weâ€™ve all been conditioned to believe, the Germans and the Swedes have a monopoly on refinement. Secondly, itâ€™s low, with big wheels and little tyres and, third, itâ€™s a convertible.
Youâ€™d be wrong though. Not only is the Mazda MX-5 RF (it stands for Retractable Fastback) great fun, but itâ€™s also comfortable, entirely civilised and, unless you give it the beans, quiet. Thatâ€™s thanks to a noise absorption headliner integrated with the folding metal roof as well as additional sound insulation material in the rear wheel housing, Further sound-proofing has been added to the front of the transmission tunnel, dashboard and around the gear lever.
The roof is fully automated and controlled from a button on the dash and takes just 13 seconds to lower or raise â€“ although I must admit I didnâ€™t get the stopwatch out, testing the car as I was over Christmas while the mercury struggled to reach positive figures.
Itâ€™s a pain to get in and out of, but once your arms and legs are stowed, the heated seats with their optional Nappa leather are nice and supportive. The dash is well laid out and there are colour-
coded inserts dotted around the facia. Head room is pretty poor though, and taller-than-average drivers will likely find the Mazda hard to live with.
Our top-spec Sport Nav trim test car came with the 1.5-litre engine as opposed to the larger 2.0-litre option. Itâ€™s a powerplant found in more vanilla cars from Mazdaâ€™s range, such as the Mazda2 and Mazda3, but with a lighter and more compact intake and exhaust system which delivers heightened performance, revised cam timing and a custom steel crankshaft. As a result the 1.5-litre SKYACTIV-Gâ€™s redline is raised to 7,000rpm and power output is improved to 129bhp.
It might be the slower of the two engines on offer, but the 8.6 second nought to 60 time feels more than adequate and itâ€™s one of those cars that feels like itâ€™s going faster than it is.
Since its launch in the UK in 1990 the MX-5 has been revered for the way it handles and, despite slightly increased weight and height on the soft-top version, the RF doesnâ€™t disappoint.
Retaining the same front double wishbone and rear multi-link suspension arrangement and 50:50 weight distribution as the convertible, the RF has been tuned for comfort but not at the expense of the MX-5â€™s characteristic grip and balance. Iâ€™ve truly never driven a car that changes direction as quickly as the little two-seater, at least not while remaining in control.
As well as being an absolute hoot, the fourth generation MX-5 is packed with safety kit and across all models features front and side airbags, and the side airbags use special brackets on the outside shoulder of the seat to protect occupantsâ€™ heads, even with the roof down.
The seats provide improved head and upper body support during a rear impact, and along with the door panels, they have been optimised to enhance side impact protection. The passenger seat has anchors and a top tether for ISOFIX child seats â€“ as if youâ€™re going to use them.
The seven-inch colour touch-screen MZD-Display infotainment system and sat nav is best controlled from the rotary dial on the centre console, being poorly designed as a touchscreen interface. The rotary controls are pretty good though and navigating the various menus a breeze once youâ€™re used to it.
Our test car came packing a premium Bose sound system complete with headrest-mounted speakers and a subwoofer. Not that I spent much time listening to music. The sound of the naturally aspirated, four-cylinder engine was far more soothing than the Radio Forth festive playlist.
Because, while Mazda have spent a lot of time and effort on making it quieter, when you put your foot down the MX-5 RF still makes all the right noises.