Just in case The Car Formerly Known As The Miata is about to get lost in the glare of the spotlight on the Pontiac Solstice, Mazda is coming out with a version to one-up its competition.

The MX-5 Miata, as the two-seat sports car is now known, will have a retractable hard top option for the 2007 model year. At a demonstration outside a Chicago restaurant, Mazda P.R. folks showed how the roof and rear panel do a clamshell operation to fit into the same amount of space as the soft top, so no more of the scarce trunk space is taken away.

The MX-5 is being outsold nearly 3-to-1 this year by the Pontiac Solstice, another two-seater that’s very similar to MX-5 in size and price. MX-5 sales are running neck-and-neck with the Saturn Sky, Saturn’s racier-looking version of the Solstice, even though Sky didn’t hit the market until April.

The retractable hard top – and, for that matter, the presence of any trunk space at all with the top down – will give MX-5 a feature that Solstice and Sky don’t offer. Some enthusiasts also prefer the performance of the MX-5, but I have driven all three cars and feel that it’s actually a matter of personal preference.

Although there are more than a dozen convertible models on the market, only a handful of them have retractable hard tops. Mazda’s will become the new low-price leader in that category, entering the market at $24,300, nearly $5,000 less than the Pontiac G6 with a retractable hard top.

Mazda plans to make 20 percent of its MX-5s with the retractable hard top option. Spokesman Jeremy Barnes said he expects demand to be higher than that, but that production availability is capped at 20 percent.

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