This year's Spa Classic trip will live long in the memory for a variety of reasons. For being my first trip out for the weekend, of course, but also for the privilege of seeing some wonderful racing cars, eating some great chips and, rather shamefully, becoming totally infatuated with this Mazda MX-5.
There's nothing special to explain this - cars that you undertake for significant journeys do always linger a little longer in the affection than others. But given it took place with its return to Mazda imminent, with a few months of MX-5 life coming to an end and with this 1.5 engine's stock only rising in my eyes, it only made the journey feel more emotional. Soppy old sod.
The Thursday evening after getting up at 4am to drive the Audi S6, the Mazda whisked me back to Ipswich in what felt like the dead of night (even if it was only about 11pm). Despite its diminutive size in every regard, it never feels overwhelmed by this sort of treatment, which sadly does happen far more regularly than the fun drives. The next day, after a busy few hours shuttling grandparents around for a family occasion, the MX-5 and I set off for Spa. At 6pm. On a Friday evening. To return on Sunday lunchtime. Well, when you really love old racing cars...
It was fabulous company, too; sure, a Continental GT would have been more cossetting, but that wouldn't have eagerly zipped onto the tunnel with what felt like metres to spare. A 320d would have been more economical (the MX-5 averaging 47mpg at an 80mph-ish cruise), but that doesn't zing out to 7,500rpm when you're bored of a constant engine speed. A GT86 would have provided the obvious benefits a fixed roof provides on a long journey, but you'd be amazed how well insulated the MX-5 feels given its size and weight.
In all honesty, it was a bit of a silly journey; boarding a 21:20 (UK time) train, with 200 miles to cover at the other end, was when the reality really became apparent. But with a flawless Bluetooth connection for the best energising music I could think of (plus a phone call to my girlfriend as she was nearly sleep, which was certainly appreciated), cup holders that adapt to any size of drinking vessel (so narrow cans of Red Bull fit as well as chunky coffees), and seats that are comfier than you'd give them credit for, the MX-5 made the journey less taxing that it might have been. It still felt like a ruddy great trek, don't misunderstand, but tackled with far greater maturity than a tiny roadster would probably be credited with.
The full-on crush was confirmed at the circuit, when an NA MX-5 from Belgium arrived as I was parking up. We exchanged knowing smiles, aware that we probably both love the cars for the same reasons. That the current car stays to true to that original format means there's a real tangible link through them, too - not something that could be said about an M3, for example, or even a Golf GTI, given the huge gulf in performance between old and new ones despite a similar layout.
And that's where I think the love has really stemmed from. Because this MX-5, to me at least, is a brand-new old car. It has all the modern amenities we've come to expect in the 21st century, with a traditional driving experience: the engine needs revs, the gearbox needs using, the grip isn't all that high and the speed not all that great. But because you're exposed to it, because the balance of the car can be felt more easily than most, it makes more sense to be slow. Honestly, if you're sick to the back teeth of cars that needs setting up for every drive - and the sneaking suspicion of development corners being cut as a result - then you must try an MX-5. It just works. Plus, this one even threw an old roadster reliability wobble, by locking out the volume control for a while on the journey to Spa. Worked fine after it was turned off and on again.
So yep, the MX-5 and I are damn near inseparable at the moment, which is quite an achievement for someone not all that keen on them before living with one. I think they make a more convincing case for the platform than the 124, too. Sadly it's going back to Mazda fairly soon, and its departure really should be marked with something meaningful. A Spa track day would be cool, come to think of it, though I worry about it making up Eau Rouge without rolling back down...
Car: 2018 Mazda MX-5 1.5 Skyactiv-G SE-L Nav +
On fleet since: February 2019
Run by: Matt
List price new: £20,795 (as standard; price as tested £21,585 comprised of £790 for Soul Red Crystal Metallic)
Last month at a glance: Belgium or bust