Targa-top Mazda MX-5 wows the Big Apple

Henry Payne
The Detroit News
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New York – Is it a Porsche Targa? A Ferrari 308? No, it’s a new Mazda MX-5 Miata hardtop convertible.

Tongues were wagging at the MX-5’s New York Auto Show unveil over how radically different Mazda has gone with its retractable hardtop. So different that Mazda now calls its hardtop Miata a “Retractable Fastback.” So different that it drew comparisons to some much-pricier European sports cars.

That’s intentional, says Mazda’s North American Design Director Julien Montousse. “We want the brand to become more emotional,” he says. “Every car lover will fall in love with that roofline.”

Officially called the MX-5 RF (for retractable fastback), the wee Mazda sports a more sophisticated look in the small convertible-sports segment it has defined for over a quarter century. If “Targa” were not a Porsche trademark, the new Miata would surely get the name. Unlike the previous generation hardtop — or the base, $25,735 soft-top Miata — the RF features sloping “flying buttress” B-pillars that taper to the rear deck and remain standing when the roof folds behind the front seats.

Though the hardtop folds into the same space as the softtop, the mechanism is triggered automatically with a toggle switch in the center console. Hold it down and the hard top retreats between the flying buttresses – out of sight – in just 12 seconds at speeds of up to 7 miles per hour.

The new Mazda MX-5 Miata hardtop convertible was unveiled at the New York Auto Show.

“We wanted to develop something completely different,” says Mazda’s Director of Brand Experience Jeremy Barnes.

Below the hardtop, the RF changes little from the popular fourth-generation MX-5 (other than gaining a new color called “Machine Gray”) that has received rave reviews from the motoring press. In the US, the RF will sport Mazda’s “SKYACTIV” 2.0-liter engine pushing out 155 horsepower. Automobile magazine named the car one of its “2016 Automobile All-Stars” Tuesday – the latest in a string of baubles that includes finalist for 2016 North American Car of the Year and a spot in Car & Driver’s Ten Best List.

HIS Senior Auto Analyst Stephanie Brinley says the RF is “very pretty,” though the dramatic new design could “risk alienating loyal customers who will find the B-pillars reduce visibility.” Wary of the RF’s larger blind spots, Montousse says the RF will come standard with blind spot assist.

Since Mazda introduced the hardtop option in 2005, it has made up a healthy 50 percent of sales. Why fix what ain’t broken?

Just as the Gen-4 design gave the MX-5 an edgier 21st-century look that distanced the car from its retro-Lotus Elan origins, the RF looks to break hardtop convention.

The new Mazda MX-5 Miata hardtop convertible.

Kelly Blue Book Managing Editor Matt Lorenzo says the RF is just what the market is looking for. “Styling is very important in this segment,” says the former Road & Track editor. “It gives the Miata a more mature look by picking up some Italian attitude.”

Though Mazda won’t release pricing until later this year, Brinley conjectures that the dramatically different RF might allow Mazda to fetch higher prices for the hardtop – increasing margins in a segment with stable sales numbers.

Henry Payne is auto critic for The Detroit News. Reach him at hpayne@detroitnews.com. Or Twitter: @HenryEPayne

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