The­atri­cal re­trac­tion

Four pan­els and five mo­tors make the MX-5’s fold­ing roof a show­piece

Herald Sun - Motoring - - FIRST DRIVE - PAUL GOVER CHIEF RE­PORTER paul.gover@carsguide.com.au

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.

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