I'm about to take delivery of a new Mazda Miata, because I think it's the best new car out there. My conclusion is based on the idea that it offers so much and asks so little (price, fuel, maintenance) in return.
Sports cars always were lean and lithe, with wind-in-the-hair, small dimensions and tossability. Then something happened and they got bigger, heavier, overaccessorized, and very expensive. Many became more an object to be seen in rather than to be enjoyed.
The Mazda redefined sports cars by incorporating all the good stuff in a bullet-proof, low-maintenance, long-life package. Its designers did everything right; more importantly, the car's greatness was determined by all those things they could have done, but didn't, in misguided efforts to make it "better".
The original Ferrari 166 Barchetta that won the 1949 Mille Miglia redefined things in 1949 terms. It occurred to me to compare my Mazda to two early Ferraris. Look at the table below, and you'll see a good definition of "automotive progress."
There's no denying the greatness of the Ferraris and the huge influence they had on the automotive world. That probably balances the joy that the Miata has brought to hundreds of thousands of owners.
So, on I.P.U.P, or influence-per-unit-produced, maybe the Ferraris win. But side-by-side in Del Monte Forest or Torrey Pines, I'll bet the Mazda would leave either Ferrari for dead!