2007 Mazda MX-5

Mazda's MX-5 Power Retractable Hardtop sidesteps the faults of other tumbling tin tops by sticking close to the simple philosophy of light weight and lithe handling.

SAN FRANCISCO, California — Try as they might, it seems no other automaker can unravel the mystery behind Mazda’s oh-so-sweet MX-5 roadster. Truth be told, it’s elemental, my dear Watson.

You see, since the drop top’s launch in 1989, it’s followed the unequivocal KISS formula as in “Keep It Simple, Stupid.”

Through three generations, the two-seater has remained a light, uncomplicated, usable and insanely “chuckable” soft-top roadster at a great price.

That’s why when a new abbreviation, PRHT, came into the MX-5’s nomenclature recently, there was cause for concern. PRHT stands for Power Retractable Hardtop, the latest wave in open-air motoring.

I’ve never fully understood the benefits of the tumbling tin top. Yes, you get a more rigid, hushed and cold-weather-friendly car, but the roof’s bulbous weight and cumbersome size often inflate curb weights and eat up valuable trunk space.

Had this same fate befallen the beloved MX-5? A swift run from San Francisco, to sunny Monterrey, California provided the answer: jinba ittai had saved the day.

No, jinba ittai, is not some mystical Jedi knight, but rather Mazda’s overriding philosophy behind the MX-5: “the synergy of a rider and horse moving as one.”

It dictated that Mazda develop, “a retractable hardtop model in which the essence of a lightweight sports car would not be diluted in any way.”

The MX-5 PRHT model was launched at the 2006 British International Motor Show about a year after the third generation soft-top bowed in. The Japanese automaker admits the recent trend towards folding hardtops spurred the decision, along with a desire for a quieter interior and more all-weather usability.

The physical top is a three-piece design, constructed largely of plastic and developed in co-operation with German supplier Webasto, the same Teutonic talent that aided Volvo with the folding roof on the new C70.

Key to its design is low weight, which allows the PRHT to tip the scales at just 36 kilograms (79.4 lbs.) more than the cloth top model. (The stowage space for the hardtop is actually larger than the soft top’s, but the structure of both models is equally stiff, thanks to lightweight bracing on the PRHT.)

’Porkiest’ is the six-speed automatic with A/C, at just 1,183 kg (2,608 lbs.), compared to the VW Eos (1,618 kg/3,567 lbs.) and Pontiac G6 Convertible (1,749 kg/3,855 lbs.), though admittedly, they’re both four-seaters.

Release the central lock, hold the centre stack switch, and the roof tips and tumbles neatly into a space behind the seats, under a hard tonneau cover, in 12 seconds — the fastest of any electric top on the market, says Mazda. (Note: Though still not as quick as flopping back the roof by hand on soft-top models.)

It’s somewhat of an engineering marvel that the roof design has no impact on the MX-5’s trunk space, which remains 150 litres (5.3 cu-ft). It’s not exactly spacious, but still way ahead of the 56 litres (2.0 cu-ft) the Saturn Sky/Pontiac Solstice twins afford with their tops tumbled.

Aside from the new roof, the MX-5 PRHT’s exterior is only subtly changed. The trunk lid sits 40 mm (1.6 in.) higher, the rear fenders are re-sculpted and the high-mount stoplight is repositioned, with a new, white lens. A chrome trim package is standard, including bright door handles and polished trim on the headlamps and grille.

The only notable change inside is the top’s open and close buttons on top of the centre stack. A few drivers north of six-foot complained that the hardtop limits headroom, but the solid roof also proved much more quiet and cold climate-friendly than the cloth top.

Because the roof folds and stows within the MX-5’s existing wheelbase, Mazda says it doesn’t affect the car’s weight distribution, at 52/48. The roof does change the car’s centre of gravity though and the stiffness of the body front-to-rear.

To compensate, engineers retuned the car’s suspension, slightly increasing the rear spring rate, damping rates and front anti-roll bar diameter. Ride height is up by 10 mm (0.3 in.), but otherwise the PRHT is mechanically identical to the MX-5 soft-top.

The sole powerplant remains the wonderfully revvy 2.0-litre DOHC inline four, making 166 hp at 6,700 rpm and 140 lb-ft of torque at 5,000 rpm. Mazda says, mated to the six-speed manual, the PRHT runs 0-100 km/h in 7.2 seconds.

The extra heft of the hardtop is indeed a non-event for the MX-5, which retains all the poise and athletics of the soft-top version. What some folks fail to grasp about Mazda’s two-seater, known previously as Miata, is its balance, poise, and, well, its jinba ittai, are what make the car such a thrill to drive.

It should be noted, though, that this generation has again grown away from the no-frills approach of the original. We only remind Mazda to stick close to it principals and avoid getting sucked into the overweight, gadget-laden vortex other roadsters now occupy. The MX-5 is singular proof that ultimate power and price do not mean ultimate enjoyment.

The Power Retractable Hardtop is actually a $2,195 option on all three models of MX-5. At $30,290 for the base GX, it’s also the cheapest tumbling tin roof in Canada (G6 — $35,960, Eos — $36,900). Icing on an already charming cake.

  • 2007 Mazda MX-5
  • 2007 Mazda MX-5

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