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First look: The hard line on MX-5!

Say CC: MX-5 Roadster Coupe goes on sale here in October.

Questions surface as Mazda ditches MX-5 roadster’s fabric roof for a folding hardtop

21 Jun 2006

SO, IS it an MX-5 or not? Mazda has lifted the veil off its new "Roadster Coupe" – which scraps the classic roadster’s fabric roof for a folding hardtop.

The purists will doubtless call it an abomination. The pragmatists will call it a sensible move. In Japan, Mazda will call it Roadster Power Retractable Hardtop. Mazda Australia will call it the MX-5 Roadster Coupe. Let the debate begin.

To be launched at the British International Motor Show in London next month ahead of an Australian debut in October, the two-door coupe-convertible has a three-piece electric folding roof made from a lightweight, composite material that folds into space behind the rear seats, thus not sacrificing boot space.

Pricing is expected to be a premium over the $44,800 soft-top but Mazda Australia spokesman Alastair Doak confirmed to GoAuto last night that it would be priced "under $50,000".

Mazda hopes the hardtop will appeal to a broad range of buyers, particularly women and urban owners who prefer the security of a hardtop roof.

The car is expected to be powered by the same 118kW/188Nm 2.0-litre S-VT four-cylinder engine as found in the soft-top.

22 center imageSince it debuted in 1989, the MX-5 – now just nine months into its third generation in Australia – has come with a manual-only folding fabric roof. A detachable hardtop roof is available in the current car for $2940 but its take-up among buyers is less than 10 per cent.

So far this year Mazda has sold 668 MX-5s – up from 146 for the same period last year – and demand for the new car has been strong, particularly for the six-speed auto, which accounts for about 25 per cent of sales.

Already, the Roadster Coupe has attracted criticism in Europe. Overseas reports this week indicate that dealers were shown the car in a pre-London reveal, with many asking questions about its relevance.

An analyst with market intelligence company Global Insight, Colin Couchman, told Automotive News that its arrival so early in the car’s model cycle was confusing.

"It is strange to do this so early in the model’s life cycle," he said. "They’ll have the market to themselves, after the MG TF, Smart Roadster and Toyota MR2 are gone. I don’t see the need for it." Several European dealers also said customers had not demanded a retractable hardtop convertible, saying that the arrival of retractable hardtop coupe cabriolets such as the Peugeot 206 CC, Peugeot 307 CC and Nissan Micra C+C had had a minimal effect on MX-5 sales.

"It is difficult to say that we have lost sales because we did not have a retractable hardtop so far," said Peter Shell, a salesman at Solent Mazda in Portsmouth, England. "The MX-5 is unique as a two-seat roadster anyway."

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