Here's the deal: the MX-5 has an anniversary, its 20th, and you get the pressies. As if that weren't incentive enough, the goodies come wrapped in the best MX-5 ever.

Now, that may seem a bit of a stretch, considering the MX-5 has been the world's most successful affordable sports car from day one, 20 years ago.

However, you have only to lower the roof, turn the heater up and thread the latest MX-5 through a winding road on a crisp, clear autumn morning to appreciate that this second edition of the third generation is the so-more-ish icing on an already tasty cake.

Although relatively subtle, the latest changes demonstrably reinforce and refine the MX-5's ingrained sportiness.

External revisions include new tail-lights and rear bumper, together with a nose job that sees different headlights, sculpted front fog lamp bezels and the return of Mazda's five-point grille.

The cabin's most noticeable change is the dashboard fascia panel's switch to matt dark grey, eliminating the previous glossy piano black's reflections. Most comfortable change is the seats' more widely splayed side bolsters. Driver's seat height adjustment is a welcome addition.

The instruments have revised graphics, and attention has been given to the HVAC knobs, the armrests and (to lessen contact with occupants' knees) the doors' drink holders.

The manual's tachometer red band now starts at 7200rpm, a bit farther up the rev scale than previously, because while the engine still cites 118kW maximum power and 188Nm maximum torque, it has found an extra 500rpm to play with. It feels enthusiastically livelier and sportier all the way to its 7500rpm cut-out.

The engine also sounds nicely throatier, thanks in part to the intake system's newly developed ISE system, or Induction Sound Enhancer. And there's a meatier exhaust burble.

Happily, the cabin is noticeably quieter than the outgoing version, even in the soft-top model, and especially in the Roadster Coupe.

Internally, the manual's engine has a new forged crankshaft, fully floating pistons with more robust gudgeons, different valve springs for high-speed bounce resistance, and tougher connecting rods.

All good stuff, and the more impressive because drive-cycle fuel consumption of the manual and automatic alike is trimmed to 8.1L/100km. That's a 0.4L/100km reduction for the manual and 0.7L/100km for the auto.

While both transmissions exploit the MX-5's sportiness to the utmost, the six-speed Activematic auto continues with the previous engine. It makes the same 118kW and 188Nm outputs, but delivers maximum power at 6700rpm (rather than at 7000rpm like the manual). The auto's engine doesn't spin quite as freely as the manual's. However, it still performs sportily while offering the ease of driving expected to help account for 38 percent of MX-5 local sales.

Thanks to improved synchromesh mechanisms, the DIY six-speed gearbox has light and rifle-bolt shift quality, with the bonus of delightfully crisp, wrist-flicking throws from slot to slot.

Only the manual models get a limited-slip (torque-sensing) diff. However, there's no discrimination where further improved driving dynamics are concerned.

Just when you possibly thought the MX-5's traditional benchmark grip, balance, predictability, controllability and driver-involvement was about as good as it gets, the latest model lifts the bar, again. Through corners, it just goes and flows while generating a rare affinity with the road and the driver.

The overall suspension design remains as before, but the springs and dampers are lightly revised, while the front cross-member is stiffened, and the front-end geometry adjusted to lower the front roll centre (by 26mm).

The steering weighting feels to have been lightened somewhat, but it still points like a homing beacon. Fine-tuning of the car's turn-in, roll-control and yaw characteristics bring a richer shade of rosy glow to the whole handling experience.

So, with 20 years of great predecessors in mind, is this really the best-ever MX-5? Without doubt.

Mazda MX-5
Engine 1998cc, in-line 4, dohc, 16v
Max Power 118kW @ 7000rpm
Max Torque 188Nm @ 5000rpm
Transmission 6-speed manual
1-100km/h 7.6sec (manual, claimed)
Price from $43,850
On sale Now

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