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2008 Mazda MX-5 PRHT Review

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by Annabelle Frankl
Southern Calfornia Bureau
The Auto Channel

Living in Southern California, it’s always a fun week when something with the ability to go topless arrives on your doorstep. With 20 years of top-down motoring chops under it’s familiar ‘soap bar’ shape, espying the bright red, ‘Power Retractable Hard Top’ MX-5 brings a smile to one’s face.

Re-designed 2 years ago, this 3rd generation MX-5 now boasts a robust, slightly more aggressive look, with pronounced fender flares, dual exhaust tips and, standard on the Grand Touring package, 17-inch alloys. With the top up, the PRHT gives the car a slightly bulbous look, but top down, the MX-5 retains its clean long-nose, compact-rear profile.

If you’re worried about the hard top being akin to a super-sized passenger in the middle seat next to you, don’t be: unless you’re headed to a track day, you’re unlikely to notice the 80-lb addition. Top operation is easy, and fast! Simply unlatch the header, keep your finger on the button and see the sky appear in just 12 seconds. The top stows in a compartment behind the seats, but doesn’t interfere with the trunk, so the MX-5 remains one of the more useful drop-tops of it’s kind, offering 5.3 cu ft of space, plenty of room for a couple of overnight bags.

Mazda’s 2.0-liter inline 4 with VVT kicks out 166 horsepower and 140 ft-lbs of torque and, matched to a short-throw 6-speed tranny, offers plenty of power throughout the rev range. The car is wonderfully nimble and happy to pull away, even at sub-3000 revs, in most gears. With so many super-computer-laden cars around, the MX-5 is a great reminder of how much fun it is to drive without all the high-tech stuff interfering. That said, ABS, dynamic stability control and traction control are on hand if one gets a bit too enthusiastic.

The car’s suspension’s been beefed up to accompany the arrival of the PRHT but also utilizes lightweight aluminum to keep off any unnecessary poundage and reduce unsprung weight. Rear suspension bits are borrowed from the RX-8. The engine sits almost entirely behind the front axle, giving the car excellent mass centralization and, combined with a rigid unibody structure and wide track, the MX-5 is very neutral on the road, with great balance and a confidence-inspiring (and heavy, right-foot-inducing) drive.

11.4 inch ventilated discs up front, 11-inchers out back and single piston calipers all round do a sterling job of slowing your progress. Other safety features include the aforementioned ABS, DSC, traction control, plus a tire pressure monitoring system, and dual front and side airbags.

The top-of-the-line Grand Touring model is very comfy inside with good, firm, heated leather seats, plus leather shift knob and steering wheel that also features audio and cruise controls. As ever, Mazda’s been sure to provide excellent ear-blasting possibilities in the form of a BOSE 7-speaker AM/FM/6-CD system with optional Sirius satellite. Well, it’s not really top-down driving until you’ve got a thumping soundtrack mixing with the wind in your hair and the sun on your face. The Interior Trim package on my MX-5 adds a brushed aluminum look to some surfaces, including the easy-to-read instrument panel. A Premium Package includes an anti-theft immobilizer, keyless entry, Xenon HID headlights and the DSC with traction control. Storage is rather limited because with the PRHT you lose the storage compartments behind the seats.

There are few vehicles on the market that offer the convenience and enjoyment of a retractable hardtop and generally, they’re in a price bracket far above that of the MX-5. While the car is still small, it offers more usable space than some of it’s direct competitors and does so in a well-mannered and fun-to-drive package.

MSRP: 	$27,860
As Tested:	$30,650 (incl: $595 delivery charge)

Engine:			2.0L aluminum alloy DOHC I-4 with VVT
Horsepower:			166 @ 6700 rpm
Torque (lb-ft):		140 @ 5000 rpm
Transmission:		6-speed manual
Wheelbase / Length:		91.7 in. / 157.3 in.
Curb Weight:			2,573 lbs.
Fuel Requirement:		91 octane premium unleaded gasoline
Brakes, front/rear:		vented disc / solid disc, ABS standard
Suspension, front/rear:	independent double wishbone /
				independent multilink
EPA Fuel economy:		city: 20 / highway: 27

Optional Equipment:
Sirius:				$430
Interior Trim pack:		$515
Premium Pack:		$1,250