Pedro Arrais review: MX-5 a fountain of youth with four wheels

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Spring has sprung. If you have always harboured a desire to drive with feel of the sun on your face and wind in your hair, the 2019 Mazda MX-5 RF is waiting for you.

Convertibles have always represented a sense of freedom and adventure. Typically, they have an aura of youth, as their compact sizes and two seats always suggest a life free of children.

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Mazda tapped into that carefree vibe 30 years ago, when it first introduced the MX-5 (then called the Miata in North America).

It has been a resounding success, with more than one million sold. Guinness World Records lists it as the bestselling two-seater sports car. Commendably, it received the title in 2000 and no manufacturer has challenged Mazda for it since.

It has been updated over the years, and the 2019 model represents the fourth-generation car, which was initially introduced in 2015.

While the MX-5 is best known as a traditional soft-top convertible, Mazda started offering a retractable-solid-roof variant at the end of 2016. Mazda calls the model a Retractable Fastback or RF.

The RF starts with a GS-P model at $39,900. I drove a 2019 MX-5 RF GT model, with a list price of $42,900.

Traditionalists will definitely prefer the traditional convertible, where nothing comes between you and the sky.

The RF came about from demand from a group that loved the MX-5 for its driveability, but may have felt uncomfortable with just a few millimetres of fabric protecting them (some just love the lines of a fastback coupe).

In the RF you get the best of both worlds — the open-top feeling, and an extra sense of security.

When parked, a traditional soft-top is vulnerable to a thief simply slashing the top to gain access to the car. At speed, in the unlikely instance of a rollover, there is nothing to protect the occupants.

The RF solves both of these fears — gracefully.

The power top takes 12 seconds to lift the centre section (the one above your head) and stow it in its own compartment behind the driver. What is left is a rear section (with buttresses) that serves as a rollover bar and gives the MX-5 a Targa look.

The hard top has an added advantage — to cabin noise. When up, the cabin feels like a regular car. When down, there is less wind buffeting.

The choice of top aside, most people are attracted to the MX-5 for what it is: a happy, playful car that appeals to driving enthusiasts looking for a back-to-the basics sports car.

The biggest news for 2019 revolves around the continued updates to the in-line four-cylinder engine. The naturally aspirated 2.0-litre engine now produces 181 horsepower (up from 155) with an increased redline of 7,500 rpm. Torque has been modestly increased to 151 (from 148).

You can row your own gears with one of the best six-speed manual transmissions around, or opt for an automatic guilt-free.

The extra zip is appreciated, but keep in mind the RF’s hardtop mechanism adds an extra 53 kilograms of weight to the car. If you were looking for a convertible with power, the Ford Mustang would be a better bet.

The real reason most enthusiasts prefer the MX-5 is how the car still evokes memories of classic 60s British cars — the low-slung, affordable roadster.

With a communicative steering wheel, a low centre of gravity, a sport suspension with Bilstein shocks and a limited-slip differential, driving along back roads (even at low speeds) will surely bring a smile to your face.

Sharp-eyed MX-5 fans will probably notice that this particular tester was equipped with the optional Grand Sport package, which features black BBS wheels, red Brembo front brakes and Nappa leather seats.

Although it evokes memories of a bygone motoring era, the MX-5 is brimming with the latest safety and convenience technology.

There is smart city braking, blind-spot monitoring, rear cross-traffic alert, lane-departure warning and traffic sign recognition.

A seven-inch touchscreen for the infotainment system sits atop the centre console in the cosy cabin. Space is at a premium — to give the passenger more legroom, the glovebox has been located to a cubby on the rear bulkhead between the two seats.

The MX-5 is not for everybody. You don’t really just sit in a MX-5: You tend to wear the car.

If you are still interested, prepare to pack light if you are planning a road trip, as the trunk holds a mere 127 litres of cargo.

The sun is shining, the birds are singing and the open road beckons. If you yearn of having fun in the sun, few new cars will deliver that feeling more than the 2019 Mazda MX-5.

THE SPEC SHEET

Type: Compact two-door roadster, front engine, rear-wheel-drive

Engine: 2.0-litre, four-cylinder 181 hp at 7,000 r.p.m., 151 lb.-ft. of torque at 4,000 r.p.m.

Transmission: Six speed manual

Dimensions (mm): Length, 3,914; width, 1,735; height, 1,245; wheelbase, 2,309

Curb weight (kg): 1,065

Price (base/as tested): $42,900/ $48595 (includes $1,795 freight and PDI and $100 AC tax)

Options: Grand Sport package $3,600, metallic paint $200

Tires: 205/45 R17 on alloy wheels

Fuel type: Premium

Fuel economy (L/100km): 9.0 city/ 7.0 highway

Warranty: Three years/unlimited km new car, five years/unlimited km powertrain and roadside assistance

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