LONG, sweeping, wonderfully scenic and quiet roads are a welcome treat for anyone who enjoys an exhilarating drive.
And the 14-mile stretch from Laghy in the Republic of Ireland to the village of Pettigo, which marks the border between Donegal in the republic and County Fermanagh in Northern Ireland, is one of those roads.
Known locally as the Pettigo Mountain Road, it cuts through moorland and hills taking in undulations and tight switchbacks – exactly the environment in which a car like the Mazda MX-5 should be driven.
The MX-5 isn’t just the world’s best selling sports car because of its value for money, but also down to the way it drives.
Simplicity is key to the Mazda. It’s light, focused, hugely nimble and, a few stowage issues apart, a car pretty much without fault. In fact when you look at what’s out there costing from below £19k it can’t be beaten.
Criticising the MX-5 can seem harsh, but there has been a quibble among some of the sports car purists who feel it could do with a bit more wallop.
Well that’s exactly what those with an even greater need for speed are going to get with the new 2019 versions of both the higher powered Convertible and RF folding hard-top variant, plus some cabin enhancements and extra safety gear for good measure.
Leading the technical upgrade is a more powerful and higher-revving version of the 2.0-litre SKYACTIV-G engine, now up from 160PS to 184PS.
The upshot is that 0-62mph performance improves by 0.8 of a second to 6.5seconds on the convertible, while manual and automatic RF models see a 0.6 and 0.5 second increase.
It may not appear much on paper but when you show the car some heavy manners, that more efficient combustion allied to an increase in torque across the rev range makes a palpable difference.
And to enhance the sense of theatre, some extra tuning of the main silencer delivers a cleaner more powerful engine note too.
In addition, the arrival of Mazda’s i-ELOOP and i-stop kinetic recovery and stop-start technology on 2.0-litre models means all 184PS cars have a lower C02 output than the outgoing 160PS car.
As for fuel consumption, our own return over a 130-mile trip in the Convertible manual was a healthy 39.7 miles per gallon – which compares exceptionally well with the official Combined figure of 40.9mpg. The return for the RF variant was 36mpg.
Our test route, heading west from Belfast and taking in some spectacular mountain scenery and seaside vistas along the coast of Donegal, featured an equal split between MX-5 Convertible and RF variants.
Rarely have test drives on public roads proved so exhilarating – testament to the dynamic qualities of this terrific sports car.
Of the two, the Convertible was marginally the more rewarding to drive, feeling both agile and stable.
That’s partly down to Mazda’s weight saving ‘gram strategy’ which played a big part in the chassis development of a car that’s actually the lightest MX-5 since the first-generation – and that was 28 years ago.
And the range also now has telescopic steering and improved seat sliding operation to boost driver comfort and improve what they call the Jinba Ittai – car-and-driver as one – ethos that sits at the heart of the MX-5 philosophy.
New active safety features included from Sport Nav+ trim upwards include front and rear Smart City Brake Support, Traffic Sign Recognition and Driver Attention Alert.
An £800 option on 184PS Sport Nav+ cars is a Safety Pack which adds Blind Spot Monitoring with Rear Cross Traffic Alert, Adaptive LED headlights and a reversing camera, though all is standard on the range-topping GT Sport Nav+.
Otherwise Mazda has left the MX-5’s styling alone, bar a new design of 16 and 17-inch alloy wheels.
Prices start from £18,995 for the 1.5-litre Convertible model, available in SE+, SE-L Nav+, Sport Nav+ and new GT Sport Nav+ trim.
The RF is from £22,595 in SE-L Nav+, Sport Nav+, and GT Sport Nav+, with the higher two trims available with an automatic gearbox.