Mazda's (MZDAY) decision in the late 1980s to build the first Miata roadster (later dubbed MX-5) was one of those brave, insightful and groundbreaking product moves that look better and better as time goes on.
With the introduction of the fourth-generation Miata in 2015, the two-seater marked its evolution from simply a slick, brilliantly engineered reimagination of British roadsters like the Triumph Spitfire and Austin-Healey 3000 to an eye-catching avatar for the Mazda brand that can stand on its own.
To help absorb the development cost of Gen4, Mazda decided to collaborate with Fiat Chrysler (FCAU) - Get Fiat Chrysler Automobiles N.V. Report and build a Fiat 124 Spyder based on MX-5, which quickly became known, cheekily, as "Fiata."
Now, to further extend the franchise and maintain the already high interest in the model, Mazda this week debuted the MX-5 RF, the latest version Miata, featuring a retractable hardtop. The mechanism works with the push of a single button, deploying and retracting in 13 seconds, and is able to do so at low speeds.
The joy of a two-seat roadster that channels the British idiom of the 1950s and 1960s lies in great handling on twisty roads, the feel of the wind, and the snug oneness with machine -- not necessarily high speeds. The two-liter engine puts out 155 horsepower with 148 ft-lbs of torque. Observed zero to 60 mph is just over 6 seconds. A six-speed automatic or a six-speed manual transmission is available.
Rather than design a roof that vanishes entirely, Mazda engineers came up with a system that leaves fastback panels in sight whether the roof is up or down. The concept is a very good-looking and smart solution to the difficulties inherent in preserving just a bit of trunk room in a very small car when the trunk is retracted. (A much better design than the awkward convertible top that General Motors conjured up in 2007 for the eventually discontinued Pontiac Solstice and Saturn Sky).
Pricing and driving impressions from reviewers are under embargo in the U.S. until later this month. But the RF (for retractable fastback) should sell in the neighborhood of $30,000, making it relatively affordable in a world of higher-powered Porsche Caymans, Audi TTs and other small, sporty cars.
In England, where the U.S. embargoes evidently don't apply, AOL said this: "The MX-5 is a fantastic car for those who really like driving. The 2.0-liter engine is perfectly content to sit in gear and cruise along, but will jump to attention if you want to have some fun on a good driving road."
I enjoyed driving the first three generations of Miata, especially because of the homage it paid to its automotive predecessors. I would be shocked if the fourth generation, bolstered by the new RF, is anything but a big hit for Mazda.
Doron Levin is the host of "In the Driver Seat," broadcast on SiriusXM Insight 121, Saturday at noon, encore Sunday at 9 a.m.
This article is commentary by an independent contributor. At the time of publication, the author held no positions in the stocks mentioned.