Mazda’s new Re­tractable Fast­back (RF) and old Road­ster Coupe (RC) have a hard-top con­nec­tion that puts a spin on the convertible con­cept of the MX-5.

Torque (Singapore) - - CONTENTS -

AAH, the Mazda MX-5, through the gen­er­a­tions the very def­i­ni­tion of driv­ing plea­sure, dis­tilled. It is the rap­tur­ous laughter of your best buddy, the ra­di­ant beam of your sweet­heart’s time­less smile.

It is the essence of joy, the rea­son the sky was formed and roads were built. How do I know this? I bought one! A stan­dard soft-top ver­sion, as the gods of motoring in­tended. Min­i­mum fuss, max­i­mum plea­sure.

Now though, there is a hard­top ver­sion called Re­tractable Fast­back (RF). At the cost of 45kg added to the MX-5’s ob­ses­sively achieved su­per-light con­struc­tion, Mazda has af­fixed a piece of metal origami atop the plat­form that, in the­ory, trans­forms the dinky, noisy lit­tle sports car to a weather-proof and knifewield­ing-thief-proof ma­chine for the ma­ture sun­seeker.

To get the big ques­tion out of the way first and fore­most: No, the MX-5 is still as ju­bi­lant to toss around. There is no penalty what­so­ever to its eu­phoric dy­namic per­son­al­ity. It is still a hy­per-caf­feinated puppy at heart. Now that we know Mazda is per­fectly ca­pa­ble of en­gi­neer­ing a hard-top into a reg­u­lar convertible with­out com­pro­mis­ing the dy­nam­ics, it is worth re­mem­ber­ing that we have been here be­fore. A jet-black ex­am­ple of the


pre­vi­ous NC-gen­er­a­tion MX-5 Road­ster Coupe (RC) joins us for a frolic.

That car is a lot eas­ier to ex­plain. It is a reg­u­lar MX-5, ex­cept with a mo­torised roof that takes 12 sec­onds to open or close, and just hap­pens to be solid.

Marvel­lously, nei­ther hard-top so­lu­tion re­duces cabin or boot space one iota, though that is a bit like say­ing an ac­tor is no shorter than Tom Cruise. No won­der, then, that the RC ver­sion ac­counted for more of that model gen­er­a­tion’s sales de­spite a 37kg weight gain. Be­cause, why not?

But the en­gi­neer­ing re­al­ity for the new RF is a bit more com­plex than sim­ply bolt­ing the fold­ing mech­a­nism where the soft-top used to live. Chief amongst the chal­lenges Mazda faced was con­cep­tu­al­i­sa­tion. Their en­gi­neers are a fa­nat­i­cal, ob­ses­sive bunch, and the MX-5 is their mas­ter­piece. The basic ND MX-5 plat­form is there­fore such a marvel of ef­fi­cient pack­ag­ing that it was im­pos­si­ble to cre­ate a hard roof that folded away com­pletely like it did in the pre­vi­ous gen­er­a­tion. There is sim­ply no room to do so.

I be­lieve there must have been many long meet­ings in rooms full of draw­ings and fan­tas­ti­cal ren­der­ings that would have sent any hard­core MX-5 fan into seizures of rap­ture. Do we make a fixed-roof coupe for a more fo­cused bent on the de­cid­edly play­ful MX-5 theme? Do we leave well alone? Do we make a Mi­ata pickup truck? The pos­si­bil­i­ties were prob­a­bly end­less.

Then a mar­ket­ing ex­ec­u­tive must have knocked on the door, bowed, and re­minded the en­gi­neers po­litely, please, that some peo­ple just will not buy a convertible with­out a hard-top. And hence the de­ci­sion was made – a targa it shall be.

Ne­ces­sity, then, of­fered an op­por­tu­nity to ex­pand the MX5’s brief and broaden its ap­peal. Given li­cence to cre­ate a new form, the de­sign­ers have penned a jaw-drop­ping sil­hou­ette.

With the hard-top up, it is ev­ery­thing you would hope an MX-5 coupe would look like, ex­cept with even more imag­i­na­tion. Just check out those ir­re­sistibly chic but­tresses. No other vol­ume-pro­duc­tion car

since the Jaguar XJS has had the ca­chet to at­tempt such a styling flour­ish, let alone the grace to pull it off. Black-painted pan­els to mimic rear three-quar­ter win­dows beau­ti­fully com­plete the look. It makes sense that the RF is stun­ning, of course. The ND model is the first MX-5 to ap­pear de­lib­er­ately styled – all pre­ced­ing gen­er­a­tions have al­most been wil­fully anti-fash­ion. The two-sec­tion canopy of yes­ter­day’s RC there­fore looks purely func­tional – the oc­cu­pants need shel­ter; there you go.

Even the con­trols in­side to­day’s RF re­flect this new­found aes­thetic am­bi­tion. Flick the sil­ver-trimmed rocker switch to op­er­ate the roof and it is ac­com­pa­nied by a full-colour rep­re­sen­ta­tion of the act in your in­stru­ment bin­na­cle. The RC makes do with noth­ing more flam­boy­ant than two plas­tic but­tons (open, close) and a red-lit icon along­side.

The Sin­ga­pore sun fi­nally sneaks be­hind a fat cloud, giv­ing me an op­por­tu­nity to drop the


top of the RF. The but­tresses lever up­wards, two roof pan­els and the rear glass fold away, and the but­tresses re­take their place, con­nected by a plas­tic hoop.

Drop­ping or de­ploy­ing the top takes 12 sec­onds and can be per­formed at speeds of up to 10km/h. So much as go near the throt­tle pedal at that speed, and a bong will sound to tell you you’ve ex­ceeded the limit, freez­ing the roof ac­tion part­way. The RC takes the same length of time to do its Road­ster-Coupe con­ver­sion, but it can only be done when sta­tion­ary.

Un­like the RC, whose roof com­pletely disappears to of­fer the full 360 de­grees of a convertible’s won­der­ful open­ness, the RF’s B-pil­lars re­main present. De­spite not get­ting in the way of check­ing your blind spot prior to lane changes, those up­right pil­lars still hover in your pe­riph­eral vi­sion like the greasy head of that tall gen­tle­man who just had to sit in front of you at the movies. That might be an ac­cept­able com­pro­mise if it meant bet­ter cabin iso­la­tion at speed. Un­for­tu­nately, de­spite the rear wind­screen re­tract­ing and leav­ing a hole for air to pass through, the re­main­ing struc­tures still kick up a swirling vor­tex be­hind your head at speeds above 100km/h.

An MX-5’s cabin with the roof down is, of course, never less than blus­tery – this is not a Bentley Con­ti­nen­tal Convertible. How­ever, far from be­ing merely windy, the re­sult­ing per­cus­sive beat­ing of air against your eardrums in the RF is par­tic­u­larly ob­tru­sive. The RC doesn’t have this prob­lem.

Mazda’s first mo­torised solidroof MX-5 does not stray far from the orig­i­nal for­mula, with the NC RC pro­vid­ing more pro­tec­tion and a smidgen more re­fine­ment for those who need or want it. The new ND RF has un­der­gone a big­ger evo­lu­tion, be­ing a bit more “coupe”, a bit less “convertible” and a lot more gor­geous, but also a bit more com­pro­mised.

Both MX-5s take 12 sec­onds to drop/de­ploy the top, but RF can do it on the move, doesn’t need a man­ual latch any­more and is much more the­atri­cal while con­vert­ing.

New RF is more en­joy­able than old RC (far right) when the roofs are up, but less al­fresco when the roofs are down.



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