Thanks to the Indian summer we’ve been enjoying until recently, I’ve had the chance to appreciate the joys of open-top motoring in the MX-5 Roadster Coupe.
One of its major merits, as far as I’m concerned, is the simplicity and speed of the folding roof mechanism.
This must be one of the niftiest hardtops around.
It takes just 12 seconds to smoothly open up to the sunshine, leaving onlookers impressed and envious, while some of its bigger rivals take aeons to jigsaw themselves laboriously into position, reminiscent in their complexity of one of those Transformers toys (remember, Robots in Disguise?).
Back to winter, however, and severe weather could show up the rear-wheel drive Mazda’s shortcomings.
One tester was wary after a light layer of snow forced her to complete her journey in second gear as moving into third sent its rear-end all a-quiver.
As for me, despite admiring the MX-5’s cutely chic looks, I find “back to basics” makes it just a little too firm to be a comfortable ride – but that’s probably down to age as our long-termer has proved very popular with younger members of staff.
Despite its diminutive size, it has also been much admired by male testers. Previous road tests by Fleet News lamented a lack of performance and power in both 1.8 and 2.0-litre engines but its biggest fans would take them to task on that.
Obviously, as a two-seater there’s not a lot of room inside, though storage space has been provided through well-sited cubby-holes and compartments and the boot is surprisingly capacious.
But the elegance of the low lines makes it awkward to get into and out of, possibly limiting its market to the more agile – I haven’t even tried to get my elderly father into the passenger seat and anyone with back troubles might have a problem.
The demise of the MG TF and Toyota MR2 makes the MX-5 one of very few relatively affordable two-seat roadsters on the market and certainly the only one with a folding hardtop (prices start at £18,210 for a 1.8-litre model, just £1,200 more than the equivalent soft-top version and with extra standard equipment including climate control, alloy wheels and partial leather trim).
The original model, launched in 1989, is credited with revitalising sales of simple two-seaters and Mazda says it has enjoyed huge sales, partly due to the growing appeal of convertibles in this country.
Fuel economy (34.5mpg claimed, low 30s achieved) is not great for a small car, which might count against it as fleet managers are now listing that as the biggest factor in their choice of vehicles.
Not so for Tony Leigh, fleet manager at PricewaterhouseCoopers.
He has 400 MX-5s on his fleet, which allows employees to run a company car from a list of any vehicle except for pick-up trucks, and has ordered 94 new MX-5s this year.
A typical comment from one of his user-choosers: “If the MX-5 was not on the company car list, I would not have joined the scheme.”
Music to Mazda’s ears.
Price: £21,265 (£21,590 as tested)
CO2 emissions: 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: £8,325/40%
Contract hire rate : £385
Expenditure to date: £515 (body repair following vandalism)