Those with particularly long memories will recall our previous trip in Mazda’s best selling sports car: a rapid jaunt across the Moors of Devon in the then brand new folding hardtop RF.
Staggering scenery, twisting routes and enormous grins were to be found, as we were once again reminded that Mazda’s little roadster is quite possibly the most fun you can have on a £20,000 budget.
Thankfully, the team of restless engineers has decided to perfect the entertaining recipe for 2019, rather than alter it completely, with the addition of a higher-revving 184hp version of the 2.0-litre Skyactiv-G petrol engine.
Speak to anyone integral to the MX-5 operation and they’ll admit that a slight increase in power is often the most requested element by returning customers that want their diminutive sports cars to boast an extra element of poke.
But at the same time, these MX-5 purists don’t want to go down the route of turbocharging or supercharging in order to retain the exquisite balance of impeccable handling and manageable power.
Although not a massive hike in power (it’s just 24hp), the additional poke has the potential to fundamentally upset the aforementioned balance, so we packed our bags for Belfast in order to find out.
Destination Lough Finn
The journey out of Belfast towards our overnight location at the Finn Lough Resort (see boxout) on the west coast of Ireland is fairly dull and monotonous, with only the motorway network available to slice directly across country.
Loading the diminutive soft top MX-5 with two grown men, a large bag of camera gear and other general accoutrements is a task in itself, with the tiny rear boot only really allowing for a couple of small backpacks and a jacket.
It’s a stark reminder that owning an MX-5 does require some compromise in terms of practicality, as the interior isn’t exactly festooned with sensible storage space.
There’s nothing in the way of a glove box, just an awkwardly positioned cubbyhole that’s located in-between the driver and passenger seat, while the plastic cupholders have a tendency to bash knees or otherwise get in the way.
On top of this, the road noise in this convertible soft top makes polite conversation at motorway speeds particularly difficult.
The tyre roar and wind buffeting seems to echo around the sparse cockpit, making it a noise that’s very difficult to tune out of.
Luckily, the M1 soon turns leads onto the much smaller roads that twist and wind their way towards some of the lochs and lakes that promise drastically improved vistas and more entertaining routes.
It is here, on the rural roads that have a tendency to be blocked by an ambling tractor, that the additional horsepower comes into its own.
Although the peppy little unit still begs to be revved, the added power of this 2.0-litre engine makes overtaking easier, while dropping the snappy manual ‘box down a couple of gears is just as entertaining as ever.
There is simply more useable power throughout the rev range, yet the additional 24 horses don’t ever feel like they are overwhelming the rear wheels and making things tricky, even in the regular deluges that sweep over rural Ireland.
Where to stay
Finn Lough Resort
Located on the shores of Lower Lough Erne, Finn Lough Resort is made up of numerous waterfront apartments that offer stunning views of the local area, as well as access to fishing trips, kayaking and other water sports.
But arguably the most intriguing of all the accommodation are the Bubble Domes that sit in the wooded ground and give uninterrupted access to the stars above.
This is thanks, in part, to a distinct lack of light pollution in the area, but also because these inflatable hideaways are made essentially a clear plastic dome with all of the mod cons that any discerning traveller expects.
A huge bed sits in the middle of the room, while a desk, fridge, coffee machine and en suite shower are also present.
Those worried about privacy need not panic, as each Bubble Dome sits within its own grounds, protected by dense woodland, while electric blankets and powerful electric heaters keep things warm in the winter months.
Prices start at £250 a night for adventurous star-gazing folk, while the more traditional waterfront apartments and cottages start at around £300 for bed and breakfast in the cute but tasty on-site restaurant.
For more information on the Lough Finn Resort and to check latest prices and availability, visit the website by clicking here.
Narrow stretches of hedge-lined roads soon give way to some staggering scenery, with wide-open views allowing improved visibility and helping to increase the pace.
Threading together a number of sweeping bends becomes mesmerising, as the perfectly judged chassis on this latest MX-5 does its best remain flat through corners, urging the next one to be taken quicker.
Pretty much every detail of the road surface below is fed back to the driver and despite the power assisted steering perhaps not being as sharp as some might like, the suspension is so perfectly judged for the rutted surfaces of UK roads.
The MX-5 feels firm and racy, without ever sending spine-tingling thuds through the base of the seat.
Even in the wet, there’s plenty of grip and it’s highly unlikely anyone will attest to the extra power of this 2.0-litre version overwhelming those 17-inch alloy wheels through a corner.
But that’s not to say it isn’t fun and seasoned hooligans will be able to get this thing sliding at silly angles when the mood takes, but you really don’t have to drive like a maniac to get your kicks.
The beauty of an MX-5 has always been that the sensation of speed is somehow heightened by that tarmac-grazing ride height and low-down seating position.
Granted, tall folk will bitch and moan about heads banging on roofs and a lack of adjustability in the seating position, but the steering column now adjusts for reach and rake, while the soft-top can be dropped at almost any speed to free up some extra headroom.
Model: Mazda MX-5 2.0 184PS Sport Nav +
Engine: 1998cc, four-cylinder petrol
Power: 184hp and 205Nm of torque
0-62mph: 6.5 seconds
Top speed: 136mph
At £24,795 for the most expensive 2019 Sport Nav+, the latest MX-5 is still in a league of its own when it comes to bang for the buck, but we can’t help thinking that cheaper rivals offer a better infotainment system.
Ok, so we get that the majority of that budget is spent on honing ride and handling but the MZD-Connect system is clunky to use and the sat nav just isn’t on par with what’s available on smartphones today.
Specifying Apple CarPlay and Android Auto is also a £350 dealer option, which seems cheeky considering it involves a quick software update to get it up and running.
It is while grappling with the confusing nav layout that we decide to pull over, open up Google Maps on the trusty smartphone and start exploring the local area.
We’ve already taken in what Lough Melvin and Lower Lough Erne have to offer, their sparkling shorelines littered with enormous holiday homes and luxury retreats, but hunt for some more dramatic views in the form of the Wild Atlantic Way.
This popular tourist route starts at Malin Head, County Donegal, and winds its way down to the Old Head of Kinsale, County Cork, hugging the coast and offering some of the finest beaches and blustery photo opportunities.
There’s little time to admire the view, as we clamber back into the MX-5 just in time for the heavens to open for the umpteenth time that day and pick our way back to the beautiful Lough Finn Resort.
This final drive allows us to appreciate the little roadster for one last time, with desolate roads encouraging roundabouts be taken at silly speeds, just to feel the back end squirm and slide as the forces of gravity do their thing.
Finally, as the sun breaks through black clouds, we drop the roof and enjoy the revisions to the cam shafts and exhaust valves that team up to deliver a more vocal exhaust note.
Winding the rev needle round to the 7,000rpm mark and slotting through the slick manual gearbox reminds us why it’s so easy to fall in love with this car.
The added power and minor revisions to this 2.0-litre engine variant might not be the most momentous occasion in Mazda’s long and illustrious career but these small updates just seem to make the beloved MX-5 even more tempting.
There is nothing else out there that can sate the appetite for an engaging drive at this price point and the foibles we mentioned earlier are all but forgiven when treated to roads as good as this.