Mazda motors on with a retractable MX-5

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LOTS of car companies are dull and predictable, but not Mazda.

LOTS of car companies are dull and predictable, but not Mazda.

If there is an obvious route to take, you can bet this bold and brave brand will find a slightly different approach.

Why else would it persevere with rotary engines when the rest of the world has moved on? And why would it have launched a two-seater roadster in 1990 when everyone else had given up on them?

The rotary engine decision is still up for debate but the roadster one was spot on. MG, Triumph and co must have wished they too could have caught the moment as well as their Japanese rivals did for MX-5 has earned that over-used phrase and become an iconic car.

It has sold a million and still doesn’t have a truly substantial rival. Audi TT is much more expensive and MINI Cooper isn’t really in the same league. Only Fiat 124 offers a proper threat.

Mazda now think we need an RF version - a retractable fastback with a motorised roof rather than the traditional folding fabric roof. It costs a couple of thousand pounds more and goes against the original MX-5’s simple basis.

So, have Mazda got it wrong? Don’t MX-5 fans want a plain and simple folding fabric roof?

Well, it’s easy to assume Mazda have got it wrong but their track record suggests otherwise. Company executives insist their is demand for the RF version and sales are doing well ahead of launch.

So, raised eyebrows or not, the MX-5 RF is here and it has plenty of factors in its favour. It is affordable (from £22,195) and it looks brilliant. It might be an exaggeration to say it has the beauty of a Ferrari or the classiness of a Porsche, but it really can hold sway in their company.

If only the cabin was a little bigger, then it would truly be an affordable supercar, especially in 2.0 litre version. The 1.5 is good but the 2.0 is markedly better.

So, what do you get for your money? Well, quite a lot actually. When the original MX-5 arrived in the UK in 1990 it cost many thousands more in real terms than today’s car.

Tested here is the 2.0 Sport Nav which comes with a fabulous engine which reaches 60mph in 8.6 seconds and a top speed of 126mph while managing a respectable 46.3mpg. So far, so good.

But the really brilliant thing about this car is the roof which folds away in less than 15 seconds with grace and poise. Do it in a public car park and you will hear cheers. It also folds away very neatly without taking up valuable boot space.

If you’re not convinced by now, then the specification list won’t convince you but for the record this car is well appointed.

As a Sport Nav model it has excellent seat heaters, 16in alloy wheels, parking sensors, keyless entry, rain sensing wipers and Bose sound system, plus a lane departure warning system.

Extra cost options included leather upholstery (£400).

The FR model is about £2,000 more than the equivalent soft-top model. And while the soft-top is good-looking, the RF is even smarter.

The colour of the test car - Machine Grey - is expected to be the most popular but I prefer the Soul Red.

The cabin is cool and neat, striking a good balanc between simple and well-equipped. The seats are comfortable and while the car isn’t built for six-footers, an extra inch or two in headroom would have been appreciated.

The powered roof opens and closes with the press of a button while moving at low speeds. Despite the sleek design, the MX-5 RF offers the same boot space as the soft-top model.

Mazda MX-5 RF 1.5 Sport Nav

THE CAR FACTS

Price: £24,795. Range from £22,195.

Engine: A 1,496cc four cylinder DOHC engine

Power: 131ps

Torque: 150Nm at 4,800rpm

Transmission: Six-speed automatic

Top speed: 126mph

0-62mph: 8.6 seconds

Economy: 46.3mpg on average

CO2 emissions: 142g/km

Insurance: Group 25E

Warranty: Three years, 60,000 miles

Summary: A quirky version of the astonishingly good MX-5. Does it need a retractable roof? No. Will it sell? Of course.

Rivals:

Audi TT: Nearly £30,000 and only comes with a soft-top roof. Great performance, good looks and fun to drive.

Fiat 124 Spider: Great-looking and compact but doesn’t have the poise or the hard-top roof. Still, well-priced at £20,995.

MINI Cooper Convertible: Fun, affordable at £18,765 but doesn’t have the ride and handling of the MX-5 or the hard-top

Daniel Brown.

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