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MX-5 fun for all seasons

Our first thought when we clapped eyes on the tin-top version of theMazda MX-5 was a very practical one. The heady charms of warm weatheropen-air motoring are a given, but how will this convertible with apower, folding hardtop fare against the freeze-unfreeze-refreeze of ourwinter climate? How good will this two-seater really be at keeping itsdriver and passenger warm?


Our first thought when we clapped eyes on the tin-top version of the Mazda MX-5 was a very practical one. The heady charms of warm weather open-air motoring are a given, but how will this convertible with a power, folding hardtop fare against the freeze-unfreeze-refreeze of our winter climate? How good will this two-seater really be at keeping its driver and passenger warm?

The answer is very well, as a matter of fact. All the wind-in-your-face fun is still there but even the tail end of one of the harshest winters in recent memory couldn’t dampen our enthusiasm for this little charmer.

Mazda has done something quite remarkable with the design of the MX-5 PRHT (Power Retractable Hard Top) by designing a fully powered retractable metal hardtop that stores away into the exact same space that the cloth roof would — without nibbling into precious cargo space. Oh, and the whole shebang only added 40 kilograms to the MX-5’s already slender waistline.

The two-piece top attaches with the same single latch as the standard MX-5’s cloth top, and two buttons now flank the emergency flashers on the dash to raise or lower the roof. The procedure is elegant and simple. Fast, too, as the whole operation takes about 12 seconds.

This brings the ham-handed soft top design of its main market rivals into even sharper focus; the Saturn Sky and its Pontiac Solstice corporate cousin still have the most frustrating convertible storage system, a 10-step program of frayed nerves, pinched fingers and silent curses.

Back to the MX-5 … the good news is the PRHT treatment is available right across the model range, from the base GX ($28,195) through the GS ($31,350) to the top-level GT ($34,500). The better news is that it costs a very reasonable $2,195 — a lot less than a good winter beater, safety inspection and extra insurance.

Plus, the PRHT adds some nice visual touches like chrome on the headlight bezels, front grille surround and the outer door handles.

Our loaded GT tester also had welcome extras like heated leather seats and, thanks to the $1,355 GT Performance Pack, a firmer ride, a limited slip differential and Directional Stability Control. A six-speed automatic transmission with paddle shifters (the GS gets a standard five-speed manual while the GX comes with a six-speed manual) is available for an additional $1,255.

On the road, the PRHT is a pure joy to drive. Power is good but not overwhelming. Handling is exceptional, the engine loves to be revved and the short-throw shifter is a pleasure to guide through the gears.

In either form, the MX-5 is still one of the world’s best handling cars; the PRHT simply allows you to enjoy its wonderful attributes and grin-generating dynamics year round … with proper winter tires, of course.


 

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