Fast­back to the fu­ture as Mazda rein­vents MX-5 from top down

Yorkshire Post - Motoring - - MOTORING - Fred­eric Manby Road test RE­GIONAL AU­TO­MO­TIVE JOUR­NAL­IST OF THE YEAR

MAZDA’S MX-5 road­ster, a mas­ter­piece in sports car de­sign, needs no fur­ther praise, so that’s all it’s get­ting for the mo­ment.

The sharper cur­rent shape, from 2015, did not please every en­thu­si­ast of the two-seater from Hiroshima. The curves were re­placed by harder edges, bring­ing the styling into step with its ri­vals from Ger­many.

Some crit­ics pre­fer the look of Fiat’s ver­sion, the 124 Spi­der, made by Mazda with Fiat en­gines.

Now there’s a vari­a­tion on the MX-5, the RF, which stands for Re­tractable Fast­back. In some clever fold­ing, the steel, alu­minium and com­pos­ite struc­ture ca­vorts, stor­ing the top of the roof and rear win­dow out of sight and leav­ing the side pan­els in place. Lug­gage space is un­al­tered. It looks a per­fect de­vel­op­ment of the two-seater.

The conversion adds 45kg (around half a man) to the weight and in the­ory this higher cen­tre of grav­ity will cause more body roll. You can dis­cuss that over nib­bles in the Small­bore & Sporran Bar. Phissiks and ki­netic en­ergy, in­nit. And choose be­tween Soul Red and Ma­chine Grey paint.

But seen from the pub car park, pave­ment edge or in our case on a rol­lick­ing drive over Mazda’s Dart­moor launch pad, this car looks ace.

Ex­tra sound­proof­ing is fit­ted and the sus­pen­sion and steer­ing re-set to give a more re­fined ride to fit with the as­pi­ra­tions of the stylists. Body rigid­ity re­mains stiff and from mem­ory the RF feels just as ex­cit­ing as the soft top model.

Jeremy Thomp­son, who grew up on Dart­moor and is now MD of Mazda UK, ex­pects the RF to take 75 per cent of MX-5 sales.

It costs £2,000 more than the soft top, with the 129bhp 1.5 SE-L Nav open­ing the book at £22,195. The Sport Nav model is £24,795. The 158bhp 2.0 SE-L Nav is £23,095 and the Sport Nav is £25,695. The lat­ter is avail­able with au­to­matic gears at £27,095.

De­liv­er­ies be­gin in March for the 2.0 model, with the 1.5 en­gine join­ing in May. We tried each ver­sion with six speed man­ual gear­boxes.

The 1.5 felt as punchy as the 2.0 but on pa­per it falls short in per­for­mance and, for its ex­tra £900 the 2.0 RF has a lim­ited slip dif­fer­en­tial (use­ful in snow as well as for hus­tling through bends), larger 17 inch gun­metal fin­ish al­loys and a “pi­ano” black fin­ish on the door mir­ror cas­ings on the SE-L Nav. Bil­stein dampers, a strut brace

OPEN AND SHUT: un­der the bon­net, bright al­loys and body-coloured mir­ror cas­ings are added on the 2.0 Sport Nav ver­sion.

It’s no larger in­side than the Road­ster, a de­ter­rent to the well-up­hol­stered driver who will find the fully open soft top car eas­ier to get in and out of. Cabin lay­out is the same – a locker in the rear bulkhead, two mov­able cuphold­ers, no door pock­ets.

All ver­sions have cli­mate con­trol, LED head­lamps, cruise con­trol, a touch screen, nav­i­ga­tion, DAB ra­dio, Blue­tooth, Sport Nav adds heated black leather seats, auto lights and wipers and dim­ming mir­ror, adap­tive front lights, key­less en­try, rear park­ing sen­sor and Bose au­dio – though you’ll have to keep the speed down to ap­pre­ci­ate the qual­ity.

Spe­cial paint fin­ishes cost from £550. A safety pack of au­to­matic head­lamp dip­ping, blind spot alert and rear cross­ing traf­fic warn­ing is a rea­son­able £400 but is only avail­able with the 2.0 Sport

Nav – a cu­ri­ous de­ci­sion. As is the con­fus­ing swap around of mir­ror cas­ing colours. the 1.6 SE-L Nav has the body colour door mir­rors specced on the more ex­pen­sive 2.0 Sport Nav while the 1.5 Sport Nav gets the pi­ano black mir­ror pods fit­ted to the 2.0 SE-L Nav. I won­der who came up with that cu­ri­ous bit of cos­metic shuf­fling.

This car will sell on its looks. There’s noth­ing like it any­where near these prices and while you can have fast­back two seaters, the only one with an open­ing sec­tion which comes to mind is the £90,240 Porsche 911 Targa 4. You can have al­most as much le­gal fun in the Mazda.

Soft top or Fast­back? The soft top is cheaper and you can get an en­try 1.5 SE model for £18,495. It be­comes a fully open car whereas the RF is al­ways cowled at the back.

With the roof open the RF re­mains snug even on an early morn­ing win­ter drive.

At mo­tor­way speeds with the roof open the wind ham­mers nois­ily on the cowl struc­ture, louder than you get on the road­ster.

In nasty weather you’ll prob­a­bly pre­fer the RF’s co­cooned cosi­ness. The roof opens rapidly so you can dip in and out of bright spells.

It’s all very us­able, en­joy­able, ac­ces­si­ble, ex­cit­ing too.

Fiat is ru­moured to be bring­ing out a 124 fixed roof coupe – a ru­mour dis­counted by a Fiat spokes­woman.

Ver­dict: Yes.

Mazda’s MX-5 two-seater sports car is now avail­able as a RF or Re­tractable Fast­back ver­sion.

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