It’s no secret that the Mazda MX-5 is always a welcome visitor in the Car-Revs-Daily offices.
We have sampled the roadster in many locales, and even had seat time behind the wheel of its Italian cousin the Fiat 124 Spider. In short, the MX-5 (in either guise) has become an iconic example in how to make a proper two seat roadster. However, we also like the idea of adding something new to this proven recipe, and we were quite excited when Mazda unveiled the RF version.
But does the addition of a folding hardtop roof add a bit more pep to the overall formula, or does this move from the Porsche playbook ruin a perfectly good thing?
The exterior styling of our Machine Gray tester checks all the typical MX-5 boxes when it comes to overall presentation. The design still retains its crisp lines, and continues to embody the simple organic themes that helped define the roadster. However, the RF’s gorgeous fastback roof line serves as a figurative exclamation point, and transforms the car into a gorgeous coupe with the roof up.
The RF’s power-folding targa top operates in a manner that is very similar to the Porsche 911 Targa’s roof. However, unlike the pricier Porsche, the RF sheds some of the rooftop origami, and is much simpler in function. The process takes 12 seconds, and can be performed at speeds up to 6 mph. It also draws a crowd thanks to the intricate folding and delicate movements that take place in the transition from coupe to open top motoring. A key feature is the flying buttress supports that wrap around the conventional trunk, and enhance the fastback illusion, while also making it vaguely resemble the Jaguar F-Type in appearance. The lone flaw here is the stand up style rear window which delivers mediocre rear visibility, and looks cheap.
The interior of the MX-5 RF also follows the base MX-5 formula, and while it is still very cramped, it also continues to deliver the intimate feel and driver oriented ergonomics that we have come to expect from this svelte two seater. The seats are still a balanced mixture of comfort and support, and there is commendable levels of leg and headroom. The latter item gets cleaved when the roof is raised, which might irk taller occupants, though shorter passengers will not really notice on long drives. The one thing that occupants of all heights will notice is the split personality that has been introduced thanks to the trick folding top. When the roof is closed, the RF is much quieter than the roadster with less wind and road noise entering the cabin. This new-found silence allows the stereo to truly standout, and keeps inclement weather out of the cabin.
However, things take a much more raucous turn when the roof and rear window are retracted. There is a higher amount of wind buffeting, and the way the air swirls into the cabin does impede with things such as listening to the radio, as well as having conversations with your occupants. This quirk is tolerable when taking the RF down a winding road, but freeway speeds pretty much amplifies the problem ten fold. Thankfully, this complaint is partially remedied by raising the side windows, but aerodynamic tweaks to the side mirrors, as well as a windshield mounted deflector would help mediate this annoying problem further.
Thankfully the driving experience still retains all the fun that the roadster version brings to the table. The familiar 155 horsepower 2.0 liter four cylinder engine still revs easily, and gives the MX-5 RF deceptively good acceleration, though buyers expecting neck snapping behavior are best served elsewhere.
A six speed manual gearbox delivers crisp shifts and is a very easy gearbox to master. A six speed automatic is also available, but it simply does not deliver the same driving experience and emotion that the manual provides in daily commuting.
However, the RF’s biggest selling point can be found when it is taken through twisty roads. The MX-5 roadster is already a potent handler, but once all of the suspension travel is used up, the car can become a very squirrely beast.
The simple solution to all this is added stiffness, and thanks to the slightly heavier fastback roof, Mazda engineers were forced to think outside the box when it came to managing the weight. What they did, was change one of the suspension bushings, and even tweaked the bump stops.
The end result of all this hard work is a less abrupt transition to roll induced oversteer, which in turn gave our tester higher levels of control and poise even in the most challenging of corners.
Buyers looking to add an MX-5 RF to their garage will have to pay accordingly for the privilege. Unlike the roadster, the RF does not adopt the base Sport trim, and instead comes in only two flavors.
The base Club version starts at $31,555 and comes standard with goodies such as LED head/daytime running lights, manually operated climate control, Bluetooth, and a Bose nine speaker audio system.
Grand Touring models like our tester start at $32,260 and come equipped with automatic climate, heated leather seats, and navigation. Our tester also gains goodies such as auto high beams with road following technology, an alarm system, and blind spot monitoring.
This pricing allows it to be a budget friendly alternative to more expensive sports cars, and also puts it head to head with its key rival the Toyota 86. However, it also opens up the car to indirect cross shops including the 2017 Ford Mustang coupe which brings more power and cylinders to buyers for roughly the same price, though you have to buy a full convertible to embrace open air motoring.
With that said, the 2017 Mazda MX-5 RF is an interesting interpretation of performance.
While it will not be the brawniest sports car entry in the broader sports car market, it is an interesting take on what makes the MX-5 such a great car to drive, and the folding targa top helps the RF unlock more of its full potential which should please thrill seeking enthusiasts and sports car fans looking for true emotion in their drive.
Carl Malek has been an automotive journalist for over 10 years. First starting out as a freelance photographer before making the transition to writing during college, his work has appeared on numerous automotive forums as well as websites such as Autoshopper.com.
Carl is also a big fan of British vehicles with the bulk of his devotion going to the Morgan Motor Company as well as offerings from Lotus, MG, and Caterham. When he is not writing about automobiles, Carl enjoys spending time with his family and friends in the Metro Detroit area, as well as spending time with his adorable pets.