With spring in top bloom and summer just around the corner, this is the time of the year you take out the notepad. Why? Because you have to dot down which car you’d be undertaking your next road trip with! In this instance the choice was simple. Find a drop-top convertible, take a drive up South Africa’s West Coast, soak in the spring atmosphere, and cruise on back to Cape Town.
Sounds simple enough, right? Of course it is!
How much luggage?
If like me, you have a thing for the Mazda MX-5, then you’d know that practicality is not high on the priority list. The car is made for two people, entry and exit can be somewhat uncomfortable, and boot space is scarcer than water in Beaufort Wes. Okay, that last point I’m exaggerating a bit, but you know what I mean.
Mazda claims a total luggage area of only 127L. Goodness gracious, where do I put my bags? At 280L, the Mazda2 has a bigger than the MX-5, but you can’t hold it against the roadster for staying true to its roots. The MX-5 is not designed for those week-long trips in mind, but rather for you to enjoy a weekend break away with just the bare essentials. The boot can take up a fair amount of your luggage, but be careful not to exert the space available to your disposal.
Regardless, the necessary clothes for the weekend are all loaded and now all that awaits is dropping the roof and hitting the open road.
Is that… rain?!
Heading out of Cape Town via the backroads around Stellenbosch is not too much of an issue. Traffic is not too dense and there’s no need to rush. As soon as the road opens up, the MX-5 can explore the allowed maximum speeds.
You really do sit low in this car and the rawness from behind the steering wheel has very little to be compared with. It’s a great experience and the elongated bonnet stretched out in front of you is a nice touch. Just as the trip hits a nice stride, the heavens open up and a quick but harsh downpour makes its presence felt.
Now, I was never one for mathematics, but driving at 120km/h the rain is literally shooting over the cabin. This is because the air that’s flowing over the car sweeps the rain with it. If I have to pull over and put the roof up, it’s going to take another 20 seconds for the cabin to be enclosed. It’s settled, we’ll keep driving until the next town and then erect the roof. Thanks to a quick scientific sum and properly good aerodynamic traits from the MX-5, the interior was almost as dry as the Kalahari on a summer’s day.
Bit of wind noise
Heading up the N7 towards Clanwilliam and then taking the R364 to Lamberts Bay, the Mazda MX-5 kept its cool. Along the way, we’ve erected the roof and was cocooned inside the small roadster. This is the RF model – Retractable Fastback – and is the only model in the range. The soft top? Nah, that ship has sailed.
But even with the cabin sealed, a fair amount of road noise enters the cabin. On the one hand, you can understand why it is like that, but on the other, you want that ‘sealed in’ effect. In Mazda’s defense, this is part of the MX-5’s success recipe and it has been for the last few decades. It’s what’s made the car the best-selling roadster of all time. In that regard, then, you don’t mind the imperfections. At least the car is not another soulless machine.
Power to the rear
Perhaps the two biggest traits to the MX-5 is its low weight and rear-wheel-drive configuration. This gifts the roadster with a sure-footedness on the open road and confidence-inspiring driving dynamics. The 2.0-litre petrol engine is quite underpowered at 118kW and 200Nm, but the car makes due and holds its own.
It picks up speed quite nicely and clears the 0-100km/h sprint in just under nine seconds. Top speed? A bit underwhelming at 194km/h. Of course one would like to have had more thrust and impact under your right foot, but once you understand the psyche of the MX-5 then more power becomes an afterthought. Here’s a car that is damn rewarding to drive and it evokes a smile as few cars can.
The purist inside will prefer the six-speed manual gearbox, but this automatic unit will not rub you the wrong way.
The Mazda MX-5 RF auto is not as exciting of the now-discontinued soft-top in manual guise, but it has quite a few redeemable features. It still drives as an MX-5 should and it is still fitted with all the credentials that made the MX-5 a hit over the years.
As a road trip companion, it will probably not be your first choice, but few cars will offer such fun on the open road. Even if practicality is not its strongest trait, you’ll always clamber out with a fat smile on your face.
Price: R538 200