Car of the Free, Roads for the Brave

Convertible -- unique breed of vehicles built to represent freedom, love of driving, and ultimate way to relieve stress. A roadster will always be a fighter, a rebel in a car world dominated by utilitarian minivans and obnoxious SUV's trying to define practicality.

Driving with top town takes you away from realities of hazards of civilized society and connects you to the environment, the car, and the road you are taking.

You see more, you hear more, you feel the air that car is going through and this experience cannot be replaced by any other sort of vehicle.

Perhaps that's the reason why best driver's cars have always been the convertibles and Mazda MX5 Miata is the most well known of them all.

Fueled by previous experiences I've always fancied cruising with top down, but for various reasons owning one is completely out of the question. So today was a special occasion as Mazda have thrown me the keys to a "Soul Red Metallic" Roadster "S Special Package" for entire day!  The Cinderella agreement said I had to have it back by 6PM. I expected that it would be difficult to accomplish as I knew that this is was going to be good, but little did I know it was going to be THIS good.

First things first, 3 pedals and this golf-ball looking thing in the middle mean that I finally got to drive a real car. While it may seem like a lot of uncompromising fun, there was a 2 hours of nerve crunching bumper to bumper traffic, which seemed to have paralyzed entire greater Tokyo was separating me from the driving heaven of Boso Peninsula.  I will be honest, I am spoiled rotten by my luxurious BMW with its sound insulation, comfortable leather seats, and silky smooth automatic transmission so being stuck for 2 hours in a tiny little manual car with a soft top and  almost no sound proofing was nothing short of a torture.

After longest 2 hours of my life, I was finally moving, crossing the Aqua Line into the piece of land just North of Tokyo that is for some reason virtually uninhabited, at least by Japanese standards.  There are no sky scrapers or bullet trains, there are not traffic jams, or men in suits rushing to the office.  Instead they have farms, laid back towns, and many, many awesome roads.

As I finally dropped that top and smelled the clean air breezing from Tokyo Bay I knew that I have finally made it! I was finally free!

To be honest, my manual skills became a bit rusty over all those AT years, but as I was driving through these awesome roads searching for places to have fun, it all started to come back as I got the feel for the little car; starts became seamless, rev matches - perfect, and steering to the spot.   After a few hours I felt right at home, almost as if that car was tailored for me.  The feeling was absolutely exuberant, but could any other 2 seater convertible make me feel that away or is the ND Roadster that good?

Well, Let's have a look at the Roadster ND and find out.  The car has a very responsive and precise steering with absolutely no play.  The moment you twitch the steering wheel the car throws itself into that direction.  Suspension felt very linear and on a firm side, but I felt that they could have tweaked the dampening and reduced excess travel to make highway cruising a bit more comfortable.  I would also suggest a longer 6th gear as cruising at just over 100 kph should be at lower RPM for fuel efficiency and comfort.

Now the, the design:  I have to admit, I personally find the car very pretty, but unlike its predecessors it also very cool.

Mazda designers have definitely done their homework as final product is proportionally perfect and has its own design and style

The lines blend in perfectly with the layout of the front and tail lights, giving it a sporty look, however it is difficult to ignore that gaping black hole between fender and wheel.

The thin headlights add the aggressive tone to the front fascia, which Mazda keeps consistent throughout entire line-up.

At the back Mazda's tail light design is a lot more simple, yet very modern, something that many other Japanese brands tend to over-do and still get wrong

But for some reason Mazda engineers chose not to install LED blinkers at all corners.  Given that Japanese manufacturers were the first to adopt HID technology in their non-luxury line-ups, failure to embrace the LEDs seems a bit odd

Oh well, nothing that can't be upgraded.

But if you are going to upgrade your little Roadster, consider starting with a set of rims.  16 inch? Seriously Mazda?

Upgrades, you say? Well, what about the engine?

This is where I do have mixed feelings.   The 1.5L inline-4 P5-VP... well, just look at it! This is the prettiest engine bay I've seen in a non-modified modern mass-produced car.

I hope that other makers will take note and get rid of the ugly, pointless, heavy, cheap looking plastic engine covers and reveal the beauty of the block.

Performance-wise, while very light and responsive, there isn't much to write home about.  Accompanied by a mediocre exhaust noise it is not as exciting as I would hope for. I am not asking for a 5L V8 (although that would be kinda awesome), but there are many other four-bangers that can bring around plenty of excitement and performance.  With that being said, I can't wait to see what Fiat 124 Spider would be like as it is essentially an ND Roadster with engine from 500 Abarth, and we all know how awesome that thing sounds.

Mazda engineers went conservative here but reality is that they didn't have to.  Perhaps Tokyo Auto Salon will show us what can be done to address the need to upgrade.

As for interior, I felt that it was perfectly right for the price range.  Of course I haven't seen the leather option yet, but even at medium trim, the interior felt ergonomic, modern, and generously equipped

Some of the plastics felt cheap, while the infotainment screen size and resolution felt a bit basic and dated,  but this is not something that should put anyone off from buying this car.

After all, this car is a toy, not a utility, and this is where it all starts to make sense.

As if the engineers built this car for the real enthusiasts; those who don't care about plastics or Nav screen, because they are too busy shifting gears and choosing the right exhaust system or set of wheels for their beloved little Roadster!

So there we have it! From the bottom of my heart, I say "Thank you" to Mazda for delivering us the exact car that true gear-heads desire - an ideal project car!

Mazda Roadster is available from Mazda dealers across Japan starting at 2,494,800 Yen, while the S Special package that I drove is priced at 2,700,000.  S Leather Packages sits further on top with luxury leather seats and price of 3.03,400, while Roadster RS completes the lineup by swapping the leather seats for a pair of Recaro's along with other light weight and sporty options at 3.196,000




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