Why Mazda MX-5 RF is hard act to follow for iconic sports car
Mazda's new MX-5 RF with its clever, folding hard-top is stylish but is it better than the standard roadster? Motoring editor Andy Russell finds out.
My wife and I are great fans of Mazda’s two-seater sports car, dreaming of owning one now there’s just the two of us, but the latest version has split us… opinion-wise, not marriage.
With the new rigid-roofed MX-5 RF – that’s Retractable Fastback – joining the fabric-hooded roadster it’s now a hard option or soft choice. It’s a dilemma for us but great news for Mazda and its world best-selling two-seater sports car which has double the draw.
I’ve always been a softie but my wife was smitten with the svelte new RF. One thing we did agree on is that, regardless of roof choice, the MX-5 is great to drive.
Looks and image
The soft-top roadster is smart but the MX-5 RF wins in the styling stakes, an even sharper dresser. It’s a real looker and the flowing lines of the roof and rear buttresses add to the character… and price at £1,800 more than the soft-top.
It gives open-air motoring but with an added sense of security from the roof’s rear section remaining in place. The concept reminded me of the old Toyota MR2 T-bar of the early 1990s but without the hassle of having to remove the roof panels and stow them by hand.
How does the roof work?
It’s as much a work of art as a feat of engineering in the way the fully-automatic roof, complete with powered latch, comes apart and folds down and up at the press of a button in 13 seconds and at up to six miles per hour – you can watch progress on a dashboard display.
The rear section flips back, the glass screen drops out of sight and the two roof panels fold away before the buttresses pop back into position with a clear wind deflector to minimise air turbulence.
It looks great, and is very clever, but it’s as much wind in the ears as wind in the hair motoring. It’s not too bad with the roof in place, thanks to lots of sound insulation, but, without the roof, wind noise around the buttresses and rubber seals gets wearing over 55-60mph, and at 70mph you’re raising your voice to have a conversation or cranking the audio volume up.
Under the bonnet
The MX-5 RF shares the 131PS 1.5 and 160PS 2.0-litre petrol engines but the latter is now also offered with automatic transmission as well as the snappy, short-throw six-speed manual.
In real-world driving, the flexible 2.0 engine doesn’t seem quicker than the rev-happy 1.5 which feels more responsive and livelier and is more economical although the bigger engine regularly returned MPG in the high 30s.
How it drives
The 2.0-litre models ride firmer too with 17in, rather than 16in, wheels while the bigger-engined Sport Nav model also gets Bilstein sport suspension and a strut brace for a more dynamic drive.
The chassis and suspension has been tweaked for the MX-5 RF, which gains up to 45kg, but it still handles well, holding the road with awesome precision and grip, but the 2.0 Sport Nav’s ride is too jarring over bumps and lumps for my liking, and there’s a lot of tyre roar. If comfort is your thing look at SE-L Nav or 1.5 Sport Nav.
Space and comfort
The two-seater cockpit is snug, with a low-slung driving position behind the user-friendly fascia dominated by a big rev counter, but there’s enough seat travel for six-footers to stretch their legs.
Lockers between the front seats and in the rear bulkhead give good storage and make up for the lack of glovebox or doorbins and the dark cockpit would feel sombre without red stitching and brightwork highlights.
The RF’s more complicated roof hasn’t sacrificed boot space – it’s only 127 litres but deep with good access so surprisingly accommodating for soft bags.
The Mazda MX-5 RF brings a new dimension to the iconic sports car. Its styling and clever roof will win over many people, but I’m still a big softie for the MX-5.
SPEC AND TECH
Price: Mazda MX-5 RF 2.0 Sport Nav £25,695 (range from £22,195)
Engine: 1,998cc, 160PS, four-cylinder petrol with six-speed manual gearbox
Performance: 0-62mph 7.4 seconds; top speed 134mph
MPG: Urban 30.1; extra urban 51.4; combined 40.9
CO2 emissions: 161g/km
Benefit-in-kind tax rate: 29%
Insurance group: 28E (out of 50)
Warranty: Three years or 60,000 miles
Will it fit in the garage? L 3,915mm; W 1,735mm; H 1,236mm