Review and photos by
Paul Williams, CanadianDriver.com
Standard on the $39,995 2010 Mazda MX-5 GT, and a $2,295 option on the $33,495 GS model (both models add $1,595 freight), the power retractable hardtop (PRHT) is a must-have item for some buyers, an appreciated but not required feature for others, and perhaps an unnecessary expense for the balance.
Without a doubt, Mazda’s PRHT is a clever piece of kit. The top raises or retracts in twelve seconds, and doesn’t require a separate cover when retracted. Operation involves the use of a single latch, and the press of a button.
In the “down” position, the PRHT doesn’t require more space than the cloth top, so the 150-litre trunk capacity remains the same regardless. Consequently, there is no cargo-space trade-off required when specifying the PRHT, although it does add 10-millimetres to the height of the car, and overall weight is increased by 27 kilograms. In everyday driving, its impact on handling is minimal, if evident at all.
Normally, a power hardtop of this type is normally found on more expensive cars. BMW’s Z4 has one, as do the Mercedes-Benz SL and SLK classes. Volkswagen’s Eos has one (close in price to the MX-5), along with the BMW 3 Series coupe. The latter two vehicles are four-seaters.
So what are the pros and cons of Mazda’s retractable hardtop?
First the “cons,” and the obvious one is that it adds cost. As mentioned above, the PRHT is $2,295 as a stand-alone option on the GS model. And if you want the GT for its special features, you have to take the PRHT. The additional features of the GT model that you can’t order on the base GX or GS include xenon headlamps, heatable seats, leather upholstery and Bose audio. That being said, the top can’t be ordered for the base GX model.
Secondly, some people find its appearance ungainly. Comments I heard were that it makes the car taller, and is “bubble-like.” Indeed, the car does gain 10 mm in height, but it’s more the shape – rather than the height – that some don’t care for. Of course, if you’re in the car, you won’t see the top. Then again, many people find its appearance just fine; attractive, even.
A more tangible issue, and something of an inconvenience, is that the vehicle must be stopped, in neutral, and with the parking brake activated for the top to work. Even though it’s only a twelve-second operation, the reality is that it takes time to slow and stop at a red light, and then you have to shift, engage the parking brake, hit the button and wait. Green lights seem to cycle through mighty quickly while you’re raising or dropping your top in this situation, but fortunately, you can drive ahead if the operation isn’t complete (the top stays where it is, though, and an alarm sounds).
It would be better, in my view, if you could operate the top at speeds under, say, 20 km/h. In comparison, operating the excellent MX-5 soft top is a one-hand operation that can be effected almost instantly.
The “pros,” however, are fairly significant. First, the car and its contents are more secure. One only needs a knife to break into a car with a soft top; a hardtop presents more difficulty.
Second, the cabin will be quieter under a hardtop compared with a soft top. Road noise doesn’t intrude quite as much.
Third, it’s a well designed top, that doesn’t reduce visibility compared with the soft top (a friend noted that visibility to the side and rear is blocked by the top on his Z3; not so with the Mazda top).
Then there is the durability and longevity of the PRHT. You shouldn’t have to replace it, as soft-top owners sometimes have to do.
Finally, the PRHT really gives you two cars in one: a traditional roadster with the top down, and a coupe with it up. This last point should sell you, but does the top alter the character of the car too much? Does it make it too practical? Does it make you too practical?
Don’t worry about it. Earlier roadsters often had detachable hardtops, but what the heck do you do with them when they’re not on the car? Mazda’s PRHT is just about ideal.
Pricing: 2010 Mazda MX-5 GT PRHT
Crash test results
National Highway Traffic Safety Administration (NHTSA)
Insurance Institute for Highway Safety (IIHS)
Paul Williams is an Ottawa-based automotive writer and senior editor for CanadianDriver. He is a member of the Automobile Journalists Association of Canada (AJAC).
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