Now in its third generation, Mazda's neo-retro roadster continues to meld the feel and flair of classic British two-seaters from a bygone era with the features, build quality and handling prowess they could only dream about. To help celebrate its 20th anniversary, Mazda treated the 2009 version of its petite sunrunner to a host of cosmetic changes and mechanical upgrades that further broaden its appeal. We recently spent time checking out an MX-5 Grand Touring Power Retractable Hardtop model. While the very thought of such an entity may smack of heresy to purists, we found the three-piece power lid a near-perfect way to bump the MX-5's cold-weather charm index as well as to add a measure of real security, no matter what the temperature might be.

Available only in top-line Touring and Grand Touring trims and made from fiber reinforced polycarbonate, the retractable hardtop adds $1,840 to the MX-5's pricetag and just over 80 pounds to its curb weight. Pop a center headliner release and push/hold a dash button and it raises/lowers in a mere 12 seconds. While it does cost some behind-the-seat storage, the top's foldaway design lets it tuck neatly into a dedicated well that maintains the same modest 5.3-cu ft of trunk volume as standard soft-top versions. With the top raised, the hardtop's marginally larger back glass actually improves rear sightlines.

Regardless of its top configuration, the MX-5 delivers even more of what real sports car fans crave for 2009. Tasteful revisions to the front and rear fascias plus new alloy wheels give it a more aggressive character while inside, the trim has been upgraded and its well-formed sport buckets redesigned to hold you even more snugly than before. Underhood, the MX-5's gutty 2.0-liter twin-cam four gains a load of forged-steel internal components, an oil cooler and stiffer valve springs that help lift its redline to from 6700 to 7200 rpm. While pony count only rises from 166 to 167, fully 90 percent of its 140 lb-ft of peak torque is present from 2500 revs. Choosing a manual transmission also nets a new induction sound enhancer (ISE) that brings a bit more of the engine's raspy induction note into the cabin. The synchronizers in its do-it-yourself six-speed gearbox have been coated and/or enlarged to make shifting quicker and slicker while a revised top ratio helps increase highway fuel economy from 27 to 28 mpg.

As a fitting complement to the powertrain revisions, Mazda also gave its already superb-handling sportster a series of focused chassis tweaks for the new season. A lower front roll center, retuned shocks in both standard and sport suspension plus a dialed-back Dynamic Stability Control threshold makes the car more comfortable in town and even more fun to toss about on your favorite bit of twisty back road. While it still may not be for everyone, those who can appreciate its well-mannered charms will find that the 2009 MX-5 definitely delivers on its promise.

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