The soft-tops to be seen in this season
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.