AS far as bad weather goes the start of February was probably as extreme as us Brits can handle. A couple of inches of snow and the country ground to a standstill.
Not exactly the best time to collect the keys to our new long-termer – a rear-wheel drive Mazda MX-5 Roadster Coupe.
We only had an inch or so of snow in Peterborough but it was enough to give the MX-5 the wobbles. Most of the journey was in second gear. Any hint of moving into third and I was reminded that the power is channelled through the rear wheels. There were a couple of precarious back end quivers, but the car and I made it home in one piece.
But it’s not just rear-wheel drive which makes an MX-5 less appealing in bad weather – after all, an open-topped sports car isn’t an ideal companion when it’s close to freezing outside.
Or at least it didn’t used to be, until late last year when Mazda launched the MX-5 Roadster Coupe. As its name suggests, it’s both a roadster for the sunny days and a coupe for the rainy days. So while slithering home in the snow I was cosy inside the snug cabin with the composite roof in place.
With this new addition to the range, Mazda essentially has this niche all to itself. The demise of the MG TF and Toyota MR2 means there are no relatively affordable two-seat roadsters on the market, and certainly none with a folding hardtop.
It’s a logical extension for the car, which has won plaudits and massive sales since its launch in 1989. The original model is credited with revitalising sales of simple two-seaters thanks to its back-to-basics approach.
But now, with the vogue for folding hardtops appearing on all manner of vehicles, Mazda is once again in on the act early.
It’s also affordable, with prices starting at £18,210 for a 1.8-litre model. Our car, a top-of-the-range 2.0i Sport, costs £21,590. Or, to put it another way, around £7,000 less than the only other car which comes close to its offering – tiny Daihatsu Copen apart – the Mercedes-Benz SLK.
The Roadster Coupe costs £1,200 more than the equivalent Roadster but comes with extra standard equipment including climate control, alloy wheels and partial leather trim.
The interior is particularly stylish – a high gloss trim on the dash complemented by top quality materials, a leather steering wheel and seats, all in black, ooze class.
Although there’s fairly limited space in the cabin, Mazda has been clever with storage solutions. Four cup holders, a decent size glovebox and a cubby hole behind the seats large enough to fit a small handbag, map and a couple of CDs.
Then there’s the boot – all 150-litres of it. I’m guessing you could even fit a set of golf clubs in there. Even when the roof retracts it sits in front of the boot thanks to the way its two parts fold together, so you’re left with the full capacity.
The icing on the cake is the Bose sound system, which comes complete with an iPod connector neatly tucked in the glovebox.
With its electric folding roof the Roadster Coupe is 37kg heavier than the soft-top version. This hasn’t affected the handling which retains the nimbleness the MX-5 has become famous for, although other versions we have sampled on the international launch did feel underpowered.
It’s too early to tell how our car will fare because it has so few miles on the clock, but whatever the performance there’s one thing for certain – this car is cosy for the winter and I can’t wait to feel the wind in my hair during the summer.
THE MX-5 Roadster Coupe is expected to be in strong demand from user-choosers.
With a retractable hardtop derivative it is expected to appeal to companies which have previously not allowed open-top cars on their fleets.
Mazda has been particularly successful in growing fleet sales through its affordable philosophy, which sees sporty and hi-spec models proving attractive to company car drivers and user-choosers, while class-leading wholelife costs and residual values coupled with excellent reliability appeals to fleet operators.
James Hopkins, fleet and remarketing director, Mazda
Equipment and options
Metallic paint: £325
Price (OTR): £21,265
Total options: £325
Price as tested: £21,590
Price: £21,265 (£21,590 as tested)
CO2 emissions (g/km): 193
Company car tax bill (2007) 40% tax-payer: £173 per month
Insurance group: 13
Combined mpg: 34.5
Test mpg: 32.0
CAP Monitor RV: £8,750/42%
Contract hire rate: £385
Expenditure to date: Nil