MX-5 RF is more than a seasonal hardtop convertible
Forty-six degrees is not convertible weather. Unless the sun is out in March in the Midwest. Such a bright appearance after such a gray season provokes people to wear shorts, drink early and smile. Or to put the top down at 70 mph with the heat on low and cozy up in the new hardtop Mazda Miata. The MX-5 RF is more than just cozy; it is an evolution of the world’s best-selling roadster that is as welcome as the spring sun.
Since 1989, the beloved two-seater has charmed drivers with its direct feel, peerless handling and perfect balance of fun and affordability. Prior to the fourth generation launched for model year 2016, the Miata was also noisy, could be rough depending on the road and lacked technological conveniences. It was a seasonal car, not quite refined enough to hang with the dressier, more expensive roadsters. Until the black-tie affair known as the MX-5 RF.
Mazda channeled Porsche with the latest iteration of its hardtop RF, which stands for retractable fastback. The Targa-style roof is made of four parts. The rear part, which maintains the roof line sloping down into the trunk, raises up to swallow the first and second parts of the roof, as well as the rear window, which all collapse into the convertible well; then the rear part resumes its position, so that the air flows more smoothly over the windshield and down the tail. Previous hardtops used to fold into the space between the headrests and trunk, so the rear was flat.
There is less wind noise with the top down, and less road noise with it up. The top goes down in about 13 seconds at speeds under 6 mph. The low speed is probably a good thing, because we and our passengers were compelled to watch the mechanical shuffling of the deck. Despite the wizardry, the trunk houses the same 4.6 cubic feet as the soft top, enough for two carry-ons for the weekend getaway.
More importantly, it is the most gorgeous Miata ever, looking far richer than its fully loaded $33,050 tag. Miata has always been cute, but in soul-red paint with 17-inch black wheels, the MX-5 RF is especially sharp.
Most importantly, performance is not sacrificed by the use of the RF. It’s 5 mm taller, but maintains the perfect 50-50 weight balance and low stance that makes the handling so lovely. It’s only about 100 pounds heavier than the soft top, staying under that 2,500-pound threshold that makes its small 155 horsepower four-cylinder engine so potent.
Then there is the six-speed manual transmission; with its short throws, smooth notching and balanced clutch pedal it is the perfect manual to teach the kids, and also to rip away the confines of the office on the return commute home. It’s a car that brightens any day, and the RF in colder temps under overcast skies was almost as fun as with the top down.
The Miata is still a tight fit, especially for the passenger; removing the knee-banging cup holder doesn’t help much. The upside of that tight fit for the driver is everything is within reach. A small knob in the center console controls the audio, phone, navigation and vehicle info settings on the clear 7-inch touch screen. There is no need to actually touch the screen. Mazda Connect is one of the best nonpremium infotainment systems for functionality, and the voice commands in the roadster are superlative.
The MX-5 RF has evolved technologically as well. The instrument cluster houses a 4.6-inch display for trip odometer, roof status and a compass. Down by the driver’s left knee are the buttons for blips and blings of advanced safety features such as lane departure warning, blind spot monitoring and other tech that comes standard on the top Grand Touring trim. The MX-5 RF also comes in Club trim.
Oddly, the test model didn’t have a backup camera, which will be mandated on all 2018 models.
Other Miatas could be dismissed as crisis cars by those unfamiliar with their charms. Not so with the RF. It expands the Miata’s options for driving in three of the four seasons and for feeling great on the road and looking good around town. The 9-year old wanted one, the 10-year old wanted one, I want one, most onlookers want one, and the RF makes that want justifiable.
2017 Mazda MX-5 RF
Vehicle type: 2-seat convertible
Base price: $32,360
As tested: $33,050 (excluding $835 delivery)
Mpg: 26 city, 33 highway
Engine: 2-liter 4-cylinder
Transmission: Six-speed manual
Parting shot: The world’s best roadster just got better.