Manual showdown: BMW M2 vs Honda Civic Type R vs Mazda MX-5

But in the Mazda, the car’s six-speed manual gearbox somehow occupies centre stage. The brilliance of it allows you to get even more from an engine that makes ‘only ’ 181bhp, and from a simple rear-drive chassis that needn’t offer too much mechanical grip to the road, or take it self too seriously, to really absorb and enthral.

Pick your gear and revs wisely: to balance the chassis, enliven the driven wheels and help the car on its way into, through and out of t he corner you are looking at. Engage your brain and observe what’s coming. Think the car down the road; don’t just steer it.

A great manual gearbox makes it worth your while reading the road ahead like a snooker player planning a century break. And a Mazda MX-5 makes it more worthwhile than most.

Winner: Mazda MX-5 2.0 Exclusive-Line

Mazda MX-5 front cornering

Eight years young and still a shining example of how to make a sports car entertaining. Manual driveline is phenomenally good.

Price £29,765 Engine 4 cyls in line, 1998cc, petrol Power 181bhp at 7000rpm Torque 151lb ft at 4000rpm Gearbox 6-spd manual, RWD Kerb weight 1051kg 0-62mph 6.5sec Top speed 136mph Economy 40.9mpg CO2, tax band 155g/km, 36%

Second place: BMW M2 Coupé

BMW M2 front cornering

Superb engine and chassis are made more rewarding by a gearbox of a classic BMW feel. Offset pedals a potential irritation, though.

Price £67,030 Engine 6 cyls in line, 2993cc, twin-turbocharged, petrol Power 453bhp at 6250rpm Torque 406lb ft at 2650-5870rpm Gearbox 6-spd manual, RWD Kerb weight 1700kg 0-62mph 4.3sec Top speed 155mph Economy 29.1mpg CO2, tax band 220-228g/km, 37%

Third place: Honda Civic Type R Limited Edition

Honda Civic Type R front cornering

Slick, detailed shift feel brings you closer to a firecracker turbo engine, but the driving experience it amounts to isn’t quite in the Mazda or BMW’s league. 3rd

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