July 24, 2008
2008 Mazda MX-5 PRHT. Click image to enlarge
Manufacturer’s web site
Review and photos by Michael Clark
2008 Mazda MX-5 PRHT
Is the soft-top officially a flop?
One has to wonder, especially with the return of the retractable hardtop convertible. The concept has distinct advantages over the traditional canvas topping, such as superior weather sealing, HVAC retention year-round, and the removal of the slash-and-grab theft factor. Unfortunately, many competing makes continue to believe that this feat of engineering involves the elimination of trunk space, or clunky partitions to allow a cavity large enough for a deflated beachball and your board shorts.
The MX-5′s snug cockpit (top); the remote trunk release. Click image to enlarge
If you’re not an engineer, you probably won’t have any interest in viewing the mechanisms for top-drop, as well as exposed wiring and naked servos. That’s where the Mazda MX-5 has a distinct advantage, when ordered with the power retractable hardtop. (PRHT) This week, Inside Story lets in the summer glory with the top-line GT PHRT version of this venerable roadster, priced at $38,050 as tested. (Pricing shown does not include freight or regional incentives.)
It’s fair to say that the MX-5 has been more of a car that you wear since its 1989 debut. While snug, the current edition never feels inhibiting for spirited driving inputs. The column gets a manual tilt, with simply no need to telescope. The three-spoke wheel includes audio and cruise control tabs. The headlamp switch on the turn signal stalk has yet to benefit from an Auto setting, and the wiper controls dispense with an intermittent sweep without a fine tuning delay adjustment. An oil pressure sweep gauge is prominently placed, at the top of the IP cluster.
Window lifts are full-Auto for descent/ascent, with switches placed to the rear of the smooth-shifting six-speed stick. That leaves lock controls for the doors, with power mirror controls on the driver’s side. The traction control can be defeated with a switch to the left of the driver, which also houses the keyed enable/disable control for the passenger side airbag. The key for this operation slides out of the think-fob, which provides keyless entry, locking, and engine start. A power trunk release switch is found to the left of the hood release.
2008 Mazda MX-5 PRHT. Click image to enlarge
The Bose stereo upgrade includes a built-in six-CD stacker, though an auxiliary audio jack continues to be missed. HVAC controls require you to touch that dial; three of them to be exact. There is one 12-volt DC powerpoint, with a properly-hinged plastic door cover. Power top switches are found at the top of the stack.
If you’re a current or past top-dropper, you are already aware of the need for secure storage, while retaining the image of your devil-may-care top-down lifestyle for all to see. It starts with a locking glovebox, which barely swallows the Book of List’s-sized owner’s literature. Between the seats is a sizable locker, which hides the fuel door release. The driver’s seatback has the only storage pocket, while a small mesh basket is found on the inner wall of the passenger-side footwell. A sliding cover reveals the two centre cupholders, without cinchers, but of good depth. The doors prove that a bottle holder can be tastefully incorporated into minimal door panel real estate, without snagging pantaloons or whacking your ankles. They also actually work.
The folding top is contained separately from the trunk (top); a flip-down wind deflector is found between the seatbacks (middle); the trunk cavity seems to have grown with each generation of MX-5. Click image to enlarge
As my broad hints in the first paragraph suggested, the PRHT keeps the top operation and containment separate from the trunk compartment. It’s a ten-second operation at best. Simply release the centre overhead catch, and hit the dash-mount switch. There are no weird clunks or thunks throughout the articulation. The operation requires the MX-5 to be in neutral, and stationary. A flip-down wind deflector fills the cavity between the front seatbacks. Ahead of the windshield catch is an overhead courtesy light, and a manual day/night rearview mirror. The visors are hard plastic, with dual vanity mirrors hidden by clippable covers.
There’s little room for servos in this real estate, so that means manual bucket seats, with a driver’s side height control lever. Seat heat is one-step, with the switches found below the HVAC dials.
The trunk cavity seems larger than my long-sold First Gen model. There is a backlight, as well as a trunk opener cancel switch on the rear wall. There are no tie-down points or tethers. Mind you, how far could anything actually slide around?
My first thoughts about that zippered black bag at the rear of the trunk wall was a First Aid kit, until I figured out that the MX-5′s back country abilities with a mountain bike on the roof would be somewhat limiting. Inside the bag is an emergency tire inflation kit, with a 12-volt DC compressor and proprietary sealing goo, designed to get you to the next point of service. Mazda will fiddle with it for you, for the first 3 years or 80,000 kilometres of ownership. Jack stowage is located on the right-hand side of the trunk wall.
Things are getting crowded in the MX-5 engine bay, now home to a 166-horsepower 2.0-litre inline four. Lean towards Mazda technicians with long, slender fingers. The battery, once a trunk monkey, is accessed by a removable cover. All fluid levels and fill points are easily accessed, with some actual thought behind them. For instance; the clutch slave cylinder feeds its fluid from the master cylinder reservoir.
The only thing that the MX-5 PRHT is lacking would be an extra dollop of styling. In the simple analysis of practicality and driveability, this is the only two-seat roadster worth considering in the sub-$40,000 bracket. The only thing that is hurting the MX-5′s impact amongst Joe and Jane Tirekicker is the ultra-styled/under-engineered flanks of the Pontiac Solstice/Saturn Sky. Simply use the MX-5 as the metre-stick by which all road-hungry two-seat retractable drop-tops should be judged. You’ll thank me when you pass it on to your kid at graduation in ten years. Five well-fed stars, with gravy on the side.
Next week: 2008 Porsche Cayman
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