DAVE MOORE: Fun driving comes in all shapes and sizes
Three cars in recent weeks reinforced to me how every taste can be catered for, and you can have as much fun on a small budget as you can on a large one - writes DAVE MOORE.
MERCEDES-BENZ C200 Cabriolet - Folding Fun
Few people would be less than satisfied with Mercedes-Benz’s C-class Cabriolet, which starts here with the 135kW C200 turbo 4 and moves through the twice as powerful C43 AMG turbo V6 at $135,900 and tops out with the 375kW C43 AMG turbo V8 for $100,000 more than the base car.
But I’d have all the fun I need with the base 200 which still has sufficient stonk to waft you about town and suburb with unmistakable visual grace and mechanical urgency. Not only that, despite being fitted with all manner of wind-blockers we’re not really supposed to drive at speeds that would make them necessary in New Zealand. I loved the upper front-seat mounted air-scarf however, which warmly breathes around your neck, while heated and fan-vented seats can can be switched for our tender areas. It cruises superbly and the level of cosseting comfort was such that in a black car with white hide upholstery, it must be like reclining in a giant silver starred dish of Guinness. But its tour de force is the hood which works with such gentle power-folding style, it was met with a standing ovation when I allowed the roof to stow itself outside my favourite coffee stop - now THAT was FUN and no amount of grunt or torque could do it better!
MAZDA MX-5 RF-S Roadster Coupe - A virtue of being second-best
Mazda hasn’t made a bad car in decades, and I fee churlish to even think that way of the new folding metal roofed targa-type version of its latest roadster. I called it ‘Rufus’ as the car is the RF-S according to the badgework. This power-folding variant of Mazda’s MX-5 is magificent in many ways. It’s moderately prettier, and quieter inside than the cloth-capped car, so its a better place to listen to Mazda’s ear-bursting standard stereo set-up and when the roof is folded you don’t have to raise your voice to anyone on the bluetooth phone link . But in every other way, the cheaper car - by up to $10,500 - is superior to the tin-top. The roof’s quicker for a start, by reaching behind with your left hand, and hauling forward (not everyone will manage it first time) it can be snugly clamped to the headrail in three seconds, while the power roof takes closer to 15 seconds. The roof and its mechanism gives the RF-S a taller centre of gravity too, not to mention the fact that it adds quite a few kilos to the model’s over all weight. For all that, the Mazda MX-5 RF-S (try and say that quickly) is the second best affordable roadster money can buy. And the best? That remains the standard rag-top MX-5 from $40,995. The third best affordable roadster is the Fiat-Abarth 124 Spyder, and that’s an Hiroshima-built MX-5 with an Italian engine, anyway!
SUZUKI IGNIS - The baby SUV that isn’t, really
The recently-launched Ignis is the cheapest here and arguably the most fun of all. Its sticker starts at $18,990 in base manual GLX form adds 1510 for a CVT automatic and tops-out with the Limited auto at $22,500 which comes with two-tone paint for another $490. The boxy, but attractive - in a whimsical sort of way - Ignis has a smart, bandit-marks like front end and three little angled creases in its rear pillar in homage to the Suzuki Cervo and Fronte from the 70s. With some great colours - particularly its orange, red and blue choices a carpark full of Ignises would look like a spilled tube of smarties. Inside it doesn’t let up either with white and grey-black plastics, and a dash-centre control panel in the form of a tablet-sized touch screen, which as well as sound, phone and comfort settings, offers a big reversing screen, which is just as well as the rear pillars are darn thick. The high-rise Ignis offers uncommon space in this segment, the tall-hip point of the rear seats creating enough room for a 1.90m rear passenger to sit behind a similarly-sized driver. The chassis is a delight. The car rides well - if a little noisily - and it feels as chuckable as anything out there! You sit somewhere between sedan and light truck height in the Suzy and with its well-sorted CVT and busy but bountiful 1.2-litre four revelling on hard work, the Ignis is a joy, delivering more than you expect in every driving situation and few drivers have as wide a grin as the one this car can give them. On a fun per dollar rating, this car is unbeatable. It’s classy and yet classless, suits all types and I can think of no car save for the original Mini that scratches so many motoring itches for so little outlay.