Hardtop MX-5 a higher-flier for NZ?

As expected, Mazda has hardened up the MX-5’s roof, with a retractable solid top – a move that should also increase the car’s popularity here, the distributor believes.


CALL it purist versus realist – that’s the scenario with the MX-5 now that an edition with a retractable, now targa-style hardtop has been revealed and confirmed for entry to New Zealand.

Expectation aired today by Mazda New Zealand is that the roadster edition, despite having made a stunning sales start here with 18-20 deliveries per month and the distributor still working to clear a back order, will ultimately run second in sales count to the new MX-5 RF – for retractable fastback - that was internationally unveiled overnight.

Says a brand spokesman: “I think it (the RF) will lend itself to a broader buyer group.”

Greater volume would therefore make sense: “I guess there are more buyers for this car in this segment than there are for soft-tops.”

The brand’s Auckland-based distributor has also expressed thought that the new option, which has the same engines and basic equipment options as the roadster, will very likely run with a different buyer crowd – one more urban-orientated – and will also have a different expectation of the car than the following for the fourth-generation ND from which it is spun.

This is also a primary reason why Mazda New Zealand has already decided to bypass the 1.5-litre entry RF derived from the $40,995 base roadster and instead focus attention purely on a higher-specification 2.0-litre in manual and automatic, with identical 118kW/200Nm output to that in the $46,990 soft-top, though it will offer two equipment grades.

Glenn Harris, general manager of vehicle sales and marketing, says that while his brand is extremely delighted by the reception meted the soft top editions, there is thought that the RF might be the version with even better potential.

This comment comes when Mazda NZ is still working through the exact specification likely to be seen here. The model will obviously have a premium over the soft-top – the local operation has not expressed how much that will be, but other markets are putting it at around $NZ6000.

Also, it’s uncertain yet if the car here will be to the same optimum grade shown on the car here, revealed at the New York motor show. This brings Nappa leather, a suite of i-ACTIVSENSE driver assist systems and potentially some personalisation features, such as having the rooftop in a piano black finish.

“They (the leather and the driver assist systems) are both available to us but whether or not there is a market in New Zealand ... they are not just individually available,” Harris explained.

“They are sort of bundled together with other items so we need to look at the demand for all those items in their entirety.”

How the car provisions will reflect on how it prices, he agreed, “Well, they do (come at a price) but, again, it’s not just that. We cannot just have Nappa leather – the price of that is expanded when you add the other items.”

The decision to go with only the more powerful engine might also seem to be designed to ensure there are no performance concerns due to the extra weight that assuredly comes from the first-time employment of a fastback design that means the styling flows over the windscreen and down the rear in an unbroken line missing only a segment overhead when the top is off. 

Previous hardtop iterations of the car would fully collapse into the space between seats and the boot, so the back was flat from the headrests to the tail.

Mazda’s designers had to create some new bodywork to achieve the targa. The RF has different side and rear profiles to the roadster.

The roof design is similar to that Porsche uses with its latest 911 Targa. It’s made of four parts – with the rear roof rising up and back to swallow the front and middle roof, as well as the rear window, then easing back into place to retain the fastback shape.

A switch on the dashboard operates electric motors that engage a process said to take around 12 seconds. The roof can retract and resume position with the car on the move, albeit barely – Mazda cites a maximum operating speed of 10kmh.

Despite the intricate construction, boot capacity remains the same as the regular MX-5’s, at 130 litres. The rear glass can also be lowered with the roof in place, allowing more air into the cabin in conditions where a fully opened top would not be desirable.

While a kerbside kilo count has not been officially confirmed, it is understood to be very similar to the old third-generation NC ‘roadster coupe’ that weighed in at 1142kg. The new roadster, meantime, clocks the scales at as little as 1009kg.

Harris says the weight difference is not really a consideration here.

“It’s more to do with the specification grade and transmission variants that come with the 2.0-litre. It’s auto and manual. Both will come with this new model.”

Kept in mind is that the roadster and RF buyer profiles here are very likely to be entirely different. In fact, Harris argues, the same could be said about the cars.

“I don’t think they are the same car. It’s different from what we have seen previously when the retractable hardtop car was offered as an option to the roadster. Whereas the previous generation was (developed) from the ground up, this is more from the top down, in terms of engineering.

“I think it will appeal to a different buyer. My sense is that it will have more of an urban appeal to it. It brings about a different flexibility not only in terms of security but also in respect to daily drive-ability and use over the ‘weekend warrior’ that perhaps the soft-top is.

“I think it will lend itself to a broader buyer group that what the roadster does … so, yeah, I think there is a bigger volume opportunity for this car.”

Mazda's MX-5 moment at New York became all the more important with the announcement at the show that the roadster has been named the latest recipient of the World Car of the Year Award. It was also cited as World Design Car of the Year. It is the first time in the history of the awards that a single title has taken both titles.