WESTLAKE VILLAGE, Calif. – Auto designers can’t help themselves. Each succeeding generation of a car model tends to be longer, fatter and, yes, more powerful.

But Mazda takes a delightful step back with its new 2016 Mazda MX-5 Miata. For its fourth generation, the little sports car is about three inches shorter and an inch narrower than the outgoing one. More important for a car that’s all about being nimble, this one comes billed as weighing about 150 pounds less.

As such, Mazda says the new Miata hews closer to the 1989 pioneer, a hit that changed the world by combining English roadster spirit with Japanese dependability. The goal was “to get us as close to the original as possible,” says Robert Davis, a Mazda senior vice president in the U.S. “It gets us back to what made Miata, Miata.”

Of course, for as much fun as that early car was, there’s something to be said for having modern everything – especially a load of safety features like lane-departure warning, blind-spot monitoring and rear cross-traffic alert that show up in the new one. Believe me, in a car as small as Miata, you appreciate every little safety edge.

We took a Miata for a spin in the hills near this rural enclave west of Los Angeles. The last time we packed our six-foot, two-inch frame into a Miata was two years ago, and we had nothing but affection for the outgoing version.

The new Miata, however, is a tad better. Both the outgoing 2015 and the new 2016 have precise steering, tight turning radii and peppy engines. But the new one seemed a little more crisp, helped along by a 155-horsepower four-cylinder 2-liter Skyactiv engine.

The Skyactiv engine gives Miata a high compression ratio as well as other improvements good for a substantial 25% boost in fuel economy compared with the outgoing model. It is paired with either a manual or automatic transmission. The manual that we tried was an easy short-throw number with just the right amount of travel in the clutch. The Miata commands an absurdly large base of fans for the manual version, so it made sense that Mazda would pay extra attention to it.

Miata is rated at 27 miles per gallon in the city in either the manual or automatic transmission versions. The automatic has a 2 mpg edge in highway driving at 36 mpg. (But don’t assume the slightly higher numbers for the automatic will help sales much. Miata is one of the few models where manual transmissions make up a hefty proportion of sales.)

Though those numbers are respectable, you don’t buy a Miata to save on gas. Rather, you buy one to boost your ego, to magically transport yourself back to your carefree 20s and remind yourself how much fun a roadster can be.

Plus, it’s affordable for most buyers, midlife crisis or not. The Miata starts at $25,735, including shipping, up nearly $1,000 from the outgoing model. It comes standard with push-button start, LED headlights and taillights and 17-inch wheels.

What we appreciated most was what we didn’t see: a lot of the dashboard clutter found on many new models as automakers pile on features and gizmos. Miata’s dashboard is relatively sparse. While cupholders have become standard fare in even the lowliest of cars, Miata supplies only a clip-on extra. As a European-style sports car, a cupholder becomes an afterthought.

The simplicity also applies, thankfully, to the convertible roof. We grew up with a droptop-loving dad, so we know what a hassle some of them can be to raise and lower. Not so with Miata. Without benefit of a motor, raising and lowering the top was simpler and easier than we have seen. It was basically about a five-second operation.

The ease of the top is in keeping with the philosophy on the whole car. Davis puts his finger on what it is about the Miata that makes the car so special. It’s about simple pleasures, the essence of driving, making more with less. “The love of the car is based on the purity,” he says.

And so it is.

What stands out

Size: It’s three inches shorter

Heft: At 2,332 pounds, Miata is a bantamweight again

Fun: Throw open the top and find a windy road

2016 Mazda MX-5 Miata

What? A two-seat roadster in the British tradition – only it’s not British

When? Shipments have arrived but demand could be tight

Where? Made in Japan

How much? $24,915 plus $820 in delivery charges to start. Add $1,075 for an automatic transmission

What makes it go? A 2-liter four-cylinder Skyactiv engine developing 155 horsepower

How big: 12.8 feet long, about three inches less than the third generation

How thirsty: 27 miles per gallon in the city for the manual transmission model, 34 mpg on the highway.