Ready road­sters

The soft-tops to be seen in this sea­son

Herald Sun - Motoring - - FRONT PAGE - JOSHUA DOWL­ING NA­TIONAL MO­TOR­ING EDITOR joshua.dowl­ing@news.com.au

SPRING is per­fect for con­vert­ibles; sum­mer’s too hot and win­ter is too cold.

As we come out of hi­ber­na­tion there are three new ar­rivals to tempt us: the new Mazda MX-5, Holden Cas­cada and the cheap­est BMW drop­top ever sold in Aus­tralia.

They may not be di­rect ri­vals but they demon­strate what’s avail­able in the $30,000, $40,000 and $50,000 price brack­ets.

MAZDA MX-5

Start­ing at $31,990 plus on-road costs, this is cur­rently the cheap­est ticket to open-top mo­tor­ing. It also hap­pens to be the most fun to drive.

That’s be­cause Mazda has gone back to ba­sics and made the MX-5 al­most the same size as the diminu­tive orig­i­nal 25 years ago.

Mazda was so ob­sessed with sav­ing weight that there are only four nuts hold­ing the wheels on (in­stead of five). In place of a 12V power socket and glove­box, there’s one USB port and a small cubby be­tween the seats.

Cabin space was at such a pre­mium that cup hold­ers are an add-on (de­manded by US buy­ers. They take a bot­tle of wa­ter, un­til you take a cor­ner — stow a phone there in­stead.

The fold­ing me­tal roof is gone, re­placed by a fab­ric top which you can raise or lower as fast as your flex­i­bil­ity al­lows. We did it with­out in­struc­tion in less than 20 sec­onds. With fa­mil­iar­ity, own­ers would trim that time con­sid­er­ably.

On the road, the MX-5 re­minds you that mo­tor­ing can still be fun at mod­est pace.

Sit­ting so close to the ground en­hances the sen­sa­tion of speed but can also add to the feel­ing of vul­ner­a­bil­ity.

Pull up at the lights and you’re level with SUVs’ wheel nuts. There’s not much me­tal around you, though in the event of an ac­ci­dent the MX-5 has the pro­tec­tion of two front and two side airbags.

The tiny 1.5-litre four- cylin­der en­gine, a free-revving sweetie, is more than ad­e­quate for pro­pel­ling the road­ster’s 1009kg.

The man­ual gearshift is rel­a­tively sharp (if not as pre­cise as in the orig­i­nal MX-5) and if you pre­fer to pose there’s a sixspeed auto op­tion.

Join­ing the line-up later in the year is a 2.0-litre with more power and torque than the 1.5 but not as free-revving.

As this is not a back-to-back test, we can de­clare each of these a win­ner in its own right

Bor­rowed from the Mazda3, it was added to ac­com­mo­date US mar­ket tastes.

Purists and pun­dits are di­vided on en­gines: some say more power is al­ways bet­ter but oth­ers main­tain the 1.5 was de­signed specif­i­cally for the new MX-5, bet­ter match­ing the char­ac­ter of the car.

This is the automotive equiv­a­lent of the con­tentious iPhone 6 ver­sus iPhone 6 Plus de­bate. Our take? The 1.5 is fine. Pocket the change.

HOLDEN CAS­CADA

The suc­ces­sor to the As­tra con­vert­ible has a new name and a more at­trac­tive price, start­ing at $41,990 plus on-road costs.

The Cas­cada, Span­ish for wa­ter­fall (an un­usual choice — surely it’s meant to be wa­ter­tight) comes to Holden deal­ers via Gen­eral Mo­tors’ Euro­pean di­vi­sion Opel.

In many re­spects it’s the op­po­site of the light and nim­ble Mazda MX-5 yet it still oozes peal De­signed to fit four in

com­fort the Cas­cada is about cruis­ing and pos­ing.

It’s more suited to soak­ing up bumps on beach­side boule­vards than set­ting lap records on a track.

The Cas­cada is quite big to ma­noeu­vre and not just rel­a­tive to the MX-5. It’s al­most as long as a Com­modore yet com­pared with the pre­vi­ous As­tra con­vert­ible the boot is sig­nif­i­cantly smaller. The rear seats flip for stow­ing long items.

Its long, heavy doors also can make park­ing in tight spots tricky.

The 1.6-litre turbo en­gine is a bit noisy but has enough oomph for this type of trans­port.

The large au­dio dis­play in the mid­dle of the dash is not a touch­screen, the but­tons are fid­dly but a rear cam­era is stan­dard (it’s op­tional on the MX-5).

You can switch to open-top mo­tor­ing (at up to 50km/h) in 17 au­to­mated sec­onds.

BMW 2 SE­RIES

If the MX-5 is about hug­ging corners and the Cas­cada is about cruis­ing beach sub­urbs, then the 2 Se­ries con­vert­ible is the best of both worlds.

It starts from $54,900 plus on-road costs so you pay for the priv­i­lege of hav­ing two cars in one. It’s worth not­ing this is the cheap­est ticket ever into a BMW drop-top in Aus­tralia.

The sharp price ex­plains why there is al­ready an or­derly queue. Driv­ing it un­der­scores the ap­peal — if you’re in line, be pa­tient, this car is worth the wait.

It has a smaller foot­print than the Cas­cada but is as roomy in­side. The 2 Se­ries uses space more ef­fi­ciently, start­ing with the mas­sive door pock­ets and larger con­sole and glove­box, while the boot is gen­er­ously sized.

A rear cam­era is stan­dard. By our stop­watch, the roof takes 21 sec­onds to op­er­ate.

As the most ex­pen­sive car here it should come as no sur­prise that the BMW is the most pleas­ant to live with dayto-day while still pro­vid­ing driver en­joy­ment.

It gets off the line smartly, thanks to the driv­e­train of 2.0-litre turbo en­gine and eight­speed au­to­matic trans­mis­sion. There is more than enough power to get you into and out of trou­ble.

BMWs pre­vi­ously have been crit­i­cised for the ride be­ing too sharp over bumps, in part due to the stiffer run­flat tyres.

Im­prove­ments in tyre tech­nol­ogy mean that is no longer a trade-off. But these tyres are about 50 per cent dearer than reg­u­lar rub­ber and can’t legally be re­paired with a plug.

The cost of me­tal­lic paint is also ob­scene: $1142. For­tu­nately it looks good in white.

VER­DICT

As this is not a back-to-back test we can de­clare each of these a win­ner in its own right.

The MX-5 is the cheap­est way to com­bine gen­uine driver en­joy­ment with open-top mo­tor­ing and is a favourite to take out nu­mer­ous Car of the Year awards.

The Cas­cada is the most af­ford­able ticket into a char­iot to pose in. If the bud­get stretches, the BMW aces the lot with its unique abil­ity to com­bine com­fort, style and driv­ing fun.

Pic­tures: Joshua Dowl­ing

Drop those tops: The MX-5 roof comes

down in 20 sec­onds or less, the Cas­cada’s au­to­mated job takes 17 and the BMW a leisurely 21.

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