The hard-topped, quasi-Targa RF (for Retractable Fastback) version adds 45kg, most of which is located high up, but chassis adjustments are said by Mazda to have preserved the roadster’s entertaining dynamics. Top-down thrills and closed-cockpit comfort in a pint-sized package, then, and all for £25,695 if you go for the 2.0-litre Sport Nav version. But similar money can also command a plusher alternative in a used Mercedes SLK – the car that brought folding hard-tops to the compact roadster segment in 1996, when combat trousers were en vogue.
At this price point, you can take your pick of current-generation 1.8-litre SLK 200s, such as the Palladium Silver AMG Sport model featured here. Less than two years old with an inconsequential 3700 miles covered, it’s a snip at £21,000 – nearly £16,000 below its list price. It’s for sale with 15 months of warranty remaining at Mercedes-Benz of Portsmouth (02392 656565), which kindly let us liberate it for a day.
If the additional 45kg added to the Mazda’s weight by a metal roof raised eyebrows, the Merc’s 350kg handicap over its Japanese rival calls for Botox injections. However, the SLK is 23bhp and 51lb ft to the good versus the naturally aspirated, 158bhp MX-5 RF, and is both quicker to 62mph (7.0sec against 7.4sec) and more frugal (43.5mpg beats 40.9mpg).
Inside, the SLK is unsurprisingly ritzier. Soft-touch and satin-effect surfaces abound, complementing the leather upholstery and solid, precise switchgear. Ergonomics are equally hard to fault, with firm, enveloping seats that can be set low enough to leave sufficient cranial clearance for a tall driver when the roof is up. A boot divider must be in place before the SLK’s lid can be lowered. It slashes the load capacity from 335 litres to 225, but either configuration easily trumps the MX-5’s meagre 127.
Efforts to suppress cost and weight define the Mazda’s cabin. The stripped-back feel suits the car’s intentions, but you can’t ignore the shortfalls in tactility, adjustability and robustness compared to the SLK. Its seats match the Merc’s for support, but minimal vertical adjustment leaves me a little high, with bonce brushing roof. The steering wheel won’t adjust for reach, there’s no glovebox and the centre console’s infotainment dials are sited too far back to be easy to reach.