The summer has been and gone and as the leaves start change to their autumnal shades the mild late summer temperatures take a downward turn as we venture headlong into another great British tradition… Winter.
Yes the season of doom and gloom, wet and windy days, dark and dreary mornings and evenings. Hardly the ideal time of year to be testing a convertible roadster then and to make matters more interesting, Mazda have picked the northern most part of the UK as the location to launch this new variant of their best selling MX-5.
We first drove the new MX-5 Roadster Coupe in Austria earlier this year and were extremely impressed at how Mazda had managed to engineer this new electric folding hardtop into the already responsive 3rd generation roadster; without even slightly compromising the ride, balance and handling and if anything improving the ‘roof-up’ appearance of the car.
It was now time to see how this translated onto the UK roads and whether or not the success of the car worked in right hand drive as much as it seemed to, in the left hand drive version we drove in late summer.
We flew to Wick airport, which for those of you unfamiliar with the north east of Scotland is about 17 miles south of John O’Groats and approximately 105 miles north east of Inverness. Despite the obvious expectations of arctic-like weather we were greeted instead with bright winter sunshine and dry roads – admittedly the North Sea provided the more expected bracing winds and so it was a great comfort to jump inside the cabin and fire-up the ignition and them standard-fit, heated seats.
As we headed out from Wick the responsive and punchy 2.0L 4-cylinder, 16-valve, engine proved to be more than adequate to propel us along the scenic route towards John O’Groats.
The A99 is an interesting road, part coastal, part inland, at times poorly surfaced, though pretty well surfaced in the main – it takes in some spectacular scenery and as we found is nigh on empty of other traffic making for a great drive.
As we found when driving the left hand drive version, earlier in the year the steering of the MX-5 is response and turns in well even at higher speeds with good weight and balance and positive feedback at all times.
The overall chassis is set-up to be a little under-steery – which is probably the safer option. Although with rear wheel drive and an LSD the rear end can be coaxed out, even if it is a little more difficult given the grip levels of the 17” alloys fitted as standard to our 2.0L sport test model.
In general the roads of the UK are of a slightly lower standard when compared to those of our neighbours across the channel, this means tyre noise especially on A & B-roads with the roof up can make the cabin a little noisy at higher speeds. Despite this, from a handling perspective, the thicker front and rear roll bars and the lowered Bilstein suspension fitted to this hardtop variant gives a firm and rewarding ride even through some of the more tricky corners.
The cabin in general is as we’ve seen in all our encounters with this 3rd generation MX-5 a well-designed space with a high quality feel that you expect to see only in a more premium roadster model. The switchgear is well laid out and the instrument cluster and main console are functional yet not cluttered with un-necessary switches and buttons that some carmakers seem reluctant to do without. On this model the only additional switches are those for the electric roof up and down functions – which are situated clearly at the top of the centre console.
As with many of Mazda’s models the tuneful engine note of this sport model is accompanied by a BOSE® audio system and whether the roof is up or down there’s a good sound definition from the radio & CD unit, which includes another nice feature - a glove box mounted IPOD connector as standard.
Space, in this little roadster, is more than adequate for two large adults, with good leg and headroom even for those over 6ft tall. There’s plenty of storage space too, with a good sized glove box and several pockets situated around the space, including enough cup holders for even the most thirsty of drivers.
The behind-the-seat storage area that’s available on the soft-top model is gone, as this is where the new composite electric folding roof is stowed, the only downside of this (and it is only a small one) is that coats or smaller bags would be have to be stored either in the passenger foot well or in the boot.
The electric folding roof is an ingenious piece of technology – being only 20mm thick and constructed from 3 lightweight composite sections, it folds in a record 12 seconds and doesn’t affect the boot space which matches the standard model at 150 Litres. The roof and all it’s associated motors and wiring adds a mere 37kg to the overall weight of the car, not that this is an issue as the weight is kept within the cars wheelbase.
My only criticism over the functionality of the roof is that it can’t be folded up or down remotely from outside of the car or when the car is in gear or motion. Though this is hardly a major downfall of a car whose prices start at £18210.
Given the extras that this car comes with over the standard soft-top model, it seems only a matter of time before this roadster coupe, which is already available in the UK, becomes the 1st choice over the soft-top MX-5. Infact given the added security and subsequent lower insurance premiums that we’re sure this model will attract you’d be mad to pick the rag-top, Even if you are working to a tight budget I’d recommend this roadster as I’m sure it’ll fair much better against the sister car in terms of residual value.
For us, this car was a winner when we first drove it in Europe and we’re glad to see that back on UK soil this wining combination of a fun, affordable, roadster with rewarding driving dynamics and practicality hasn’t been lost in the translation to right hand drive. If anything driving this model in the more familiar settings of UK roads makes this car more enjoyable than we first thought.
It looks like Mazda have once again dealt an ace card with the Roadster Coupe which looks set to sit hard-top and shoulders above it’s competition.