Four panels and five motors make the MX-5’s folding roof a showpiece
ANOTHER day, another MX-5. The latest addition to the new generation line-up has a retractable hardtop in lieu of the canvas roof on the roadster.
Mazda had a hardtop version in the last generation but that was old-school origami, doing a concertina job to fold flat and away for the full sunshine experience.
The new model still opens up to let the elements in, but it’s more like a targa-roof coupe as the central panel slides back and the glass behind the cabin drops away for maximum airtime.
There are four roof pieces and five electric motors and it does the job in just 13 seconds, although you must be moving at less than 10km/h. The weight penalty over the roadster is 45kg, 9kg more than the previous Retractable Hardtop model, and it takes a second longer to transform.
The starting price is $38,500, up by about $4000 over the fourth-generation roadster but about $8500 cheaper than the previous folding hardtop. It’s due here early next year.
In Australia, the RF (for retractable fastback) will come only with the MX-5’s biggerbore 2.0-litre engine — to compensate for the roof ’s weight — and there is a GT from $43,890 with nappa leather trim. Mazda Australia is not taking a sport package that includes Bilstein dampers, Recaro seats, BBS wheels and Brembo brakes.
Buyers wanting a reversing camera will have to get one fitted as it’s still not standard.
“We have it as a dealer retrofit. It costs $498. It’s plug-and-play and fits straight into the wiring loom and infotainment display,” says Mazda Australia marketing director Alastair Doak. He predicts the RF will outsell the classic roadster. “We’re predicting a 60-40 split, in favour of the RF. Around 30 per cent will be automatic.” he says.
Doak says Mazda deleted the soft-top a couple of years before the changeover to the fourth-generation car. “Nobody wanted the roadster,” he says.
ON THE ROAD
It’s raining in Tokyo as I jump into the RF but there is no choice. The roof must come down.
It takes 13 seconds, as advertised, in a wonderful piece of engineering theatre. When it’s finished, I feel exposed and protected at the same time.
The cabin is much more enclosed than the roadster, with the roof lurking behind my shoulder.
Our car has the Bilstein-and-BBS package that Doak currently dismisses.
“It’s something to look at in the future,” he says. “We’ve not locked in and it’s not going to happen a month after the RF, but it’s available to us.”
For me, it should be fitted today. The car is more composed on the classier suspension and looks better with the wheels. The Recaro seat, with soft suede covering, gives more support and comfort.
The experience with the RF is going to be short and sweet, as we only have about 100km in Tokyo traffic on a Friday night.
So I’m away and running to the redline on the sprints between traffic lights, with a Japanese engineer sitting next to me as my personal satnav.
The rain eases to a few drops and it’s no drama in any case as the cabin is warm and cozy, with protection to head height and heated seats.
As I wind up to 110km/h there is barely any buffeting. Just a ruffle over my hair.
But I get the sports car experience, feeling the wind and hearing the exhaust through the open rear window.
The Sport package helps absorb freeway bumps and road joints and the car has great grip, a little more than I recall from the regular roadster, when I push through a series of corners near the Yokohama docklands.
On the way home, I’m in a regular RF but with the automatic gearbox.
It shifts quickly and cleanly, and the small plastic paddleshifters behind the wheel endow good control of the six-speed.
There is a brief burst with the top up and I feel as if there is more headroom. The car is also much quieter than the previous model, something helped by the well integrated headliner that doubles as sound deadening.
As I return the car after a too-short tease, I foresee that the RF will be big in Australia. The slick and successful roof conversion makes the car look very different from the rear.
My disappointments are that the boot is no bigger and that I need to drop to 10km/h — virtually stopping — for the roof to work. I also wonder how much the extra 45kg impedes the 0-100km/h sprint.
For now, the RF ticks all the boxes and definitely expands the MX-5’s appeal.