Car reviews - Mazda - MX-5 - Roadster Coupe
Quick, easy roof operation, more snug interior, quieter, still drives as an MX-5 should
Room for improvement
Steering wheel adjusts one way only, some driveline clatter
5 Sep 2006
By TIM BRITTEN
PURISTS might question the validity of a retractable hardtop version of the Mazda MX-5, but realists should come to recognise it as a hard-to-ignore option.
For a start, it is not ridiculously more expensive than the regular soft-top roadster, is not a lot heavier, and doesn’t ask for any compromises when it comes to luggage loading. This is one hardtop convertible that makes absolutely no impact on boot space, whether the roof is up or down.
Not that the boot is all that huge, but with a capacity of 150 litres – made possible through the deletion of a spare wheel – it proves to be quite well-shaped and handy, particularly when loading soft luggage. It’s exactly the same capacity and dimensions as the soft-top MX-5.
Doing the sums shows an MX-5 Roadster Coupe will cost you exactly $2930 above a soft-top version equipped with the leather trim and Bose sound system pack that comes standard on the retractable hardtop.
That’s not a huge impost, and is offset by the fact that while the hardtop gives you a quieter, cosier, roof-up ride experience, it also promises a longer shelf life. The roof also raises and lowers hydraulically in about 12 seconds, the only aberration being the fact you have to latch or unlatch it manually via a lever above the windscreen.
But it offers exactly the same facilities as the soft-top and looks ok with the roof up too - apart from being a little short-roofed, which changes the proportions a bit.
And, with a weight penalty less than 40kg, the retractable hardtop does not noticeably affect the MX-5’s brisk 2.0-litre performance and handling. The quoted average fuel economy is exactly the same as the soft-top – 8.5L/100km in six-speed manual form.
The bottom line is that the Roadster Coupe gives you the full MX-5 experience, but with a little more convenience and a noticeably higher sense of security.
When Mazda first announced the Roadster Coupe, the general question was why? Diehard resistance aside, the answer is why not?
Convertible hardtops are amazingly numerous today and each new introduction seems to take the technology a step or two further. BMW’s new 3 series convertible is a classic case because, like the Mazda, it suffers none of the uplifted-rump styling compromises that are evident, in varying degrees, in just about every other offering – even Mercedes-Benz SLK and SL-class.
The BMW’s flat-roof, flat-boot profile is a remarkable departure from what once seemed like the unavoidable packaging downside of having to find space to store the bulky metal roof.
The MX-5 is pretty much the same, apart from the aforementioned abruptly-curtailed roofline. Mazda says some styling revisions made for the hardtop have given the car bolder rear wheel arches (although it is hard to see that), and some reprofiling of the upper rear edges of cockpit itself.
The shorter roofline makes the boot appear longer although in reality the lid appears to be the same as the soft-top.
Otherwise, driving the Coupe provides the opportunity to revisit a favourite car.
The cockpit, bigger in the latest, third-generation iteration – but still pretty tight because this is, after all, a compact, minimalist two-seater sportscar – proves fine for even tall drivers and passengers and there’s a slightly greater sense of quality than MX-5s past.
The piano-black dash moulding runs the full width of the car and the instrument pod contains speedo, tacho, fuel, oil and water temperature gauges. The three-spoke wheel adjusts up and down only – a demerit point – and contains switches for radio and cruise control.
Also, remember that Mazda gave the latest MX-5 more space for driver and passenger (10mm more legroom and 17mm more headroom) as well as a wider cab.
One thing you will notice is that vision to the rear is better in the Coupe, largely because the smaller roof means a narrower gap between the (identical) side windows and the rear glass. The perfectly placed gearshift and handbrake remain in the same, instantly-accessed location.
The Coupe has the side airbags introduced in the current series, with profiling that provides head, as well as thorax protection, and dual front airbags. There is still a dearth of storage spaces inside though – no door bins and no useable centre console bin. A fair-size lidded and lockable storage area between the seatbacks partly compensates.
Like the soft-top, the Coupe is in constant, intimate conversation with the driver. The gearshift snicks swiftly between ratios – although there is some driveline clatter in intermediate-gear on-off throttle situations – and the engine emits a tuneful rasp that gets progressively throatier with the rising of revs.
In this new form, the MX-5 remains a balanced, responsive sportscar that relies less on sheer engine performance than a combination of more-than-adequate power great cooperation between the steering and suspension, and strong brakes.
Like other MX-5s now, the Coupe has standard, switchable electronic stability control to raise the level of dynamic safety to even higher levels, as well as traction control and, in manual form, a limited-slip differential.
On the road, the coupe is marginally quieter than the soft-top, but a fair bit of road noise still comes through, and there’s a touch of wind roar from the side windows. It is undoubtedly a better freeway car, although there’s still some question about seat comfort after a long spell at the wheel.
Have no worries about the joys of the little Mazda sportscar somehow being subjugated to the practical benefits of the retractable hardtop. It’s all still there in full measure and with the roof down you’d be struggling to identify it as the cushy version of the MX-5.
Like we said earlier, when asking why Mazda built a separate version of the world’s most successful sportscar – it was developed simultaneously with the soft-top – and answering a question with a question why not?
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