Mazda's MX-5 roadster has plenty to write home about, finds Liz Dobson
Growing up watching Wacky Races, it's no surprise that Penelope Pitstop is one of my motoring role models.
There she was the "glamour gal of the gas pedal" in the Compact Pussycat 5, trying to outwit and out-drive the likes of Peter Perfect in his Turbo Terrific 9, the Ant Hill Mob in the Bulletproof Bomb 7 and, of course, that cheating pair of Dick Dastardly and his dog sidekick, Muttley (though I secretly liked that pooch).
It wasn't just the fact that Penelope was the sole female in the race, or that the Compact Pussycat was a beauty parlour on wheels with such accessories as hair spray, a hair dryer and makeup that could be applied mid-race.
No, it was Penelope's pink convertible (with the dinky umbrella overhead) that I coveted as a kid.
As an adult, this week I was able to channel my inner-Pitstop thanks to the 2013 Mazda MX-5 roadster.
Although it was white, not pink, my six-speed manual two-seater came with a retractable hard-roof (no umbrella needed) and a price tag of $55,190.
Since it was introduced in 1989 at the Chicago Auto Show, more than 900,000 MX-5s have been sold around the world, making it the best-selling two-seater convertible sports car in history.
The second generation, and the first version of the car I drove, was launched in 1998, with generation three in production since 2005.
But now comes the new-look version of the car - and the MX-5's redesign offers a more aggressive look than previous models.
The bonnet benefits from a more rounded form, the wheel arches gain bulk and a brake light is integrated onto the top of the rear, with the fold-away roof tucked underneath it.
The effect gives the MX-5 a more prominent road presence - and even on a sunny Auckland day with plenty of older model MX-5s around, my test model turned heads.
The roadster maintains its 2-litre in-line four cylinder 16-valve engine, giving it 118kW and 188 Nm of torque. Coupled with the new six-speed manual gearbox, the MX-5 demanded a swift move through the gears for optimum performance. It preferred to corner in third and demanded sixth gear once you hit the 100km/h mark, with the car dictating that 3000rpm was the time to change gears and not a moment later, thank you very much.
With the double-wishbone suspension, a weight of an automotive anorexic 1129kgs, and sitting on 17-inch wheels (with my version modelling extremely stylish black alloys) this new-look MX-5 again handled like a go-kart for grown-ups. It loved weaving between lines of traffic, maneuvering with ease with just the lightest of touch on the accelerator.
There was no denying the MX-5 its kudos as an affordable, fun and extremely stylish roadster - although as a sports car, it now faces competition from Toyota's 86 ($41,986) in the engine and exterior categories. But come summer, topless is best.
The interior of the MX-5 remains simple. No complicated stereo system that you need a nuclear physics degree to use. I was also pleased to see the addition of air vents for the knees - useful for cool days when you need extra heat, especially as I drive with the roof off as often as I can. Little bit of drizzle? Harden up, passenger.
The MX-5 has a small gear knob, excellent for making quick moves through to top speed. I was pleased to see Mazda remained "old school" with a hand brake rather than the increasing number of foot pedals or fancy electronic brakes.
Yep, Penelope would have approved of the latest MX-5. If she could get it in pink.