Has the MX-5 gone soft? The ‘everyman’ Mazda, born in 1989 in the tradition of the compact British cloth-top convertibles of the post-war era from the likes of Triumph, Austin-Healey, MG and Lotus, was soon to become the best-selling sports car in the world and later became something of a cult.
The lightweight two-seater with front engine, rear-wheel drive, had minimal mechanical complexity, limited only by legal and safety requirements, while being technologically modern, reliable and cheap.
Since then, the MX-5, through a series of iterations, has maintained its spot at the top of the sports car sales charts. The latest to appear is the MX-5 RF (for retractable fastback), a sleek fastback with a smooth line joining the roof to the rear of the car – a far cry from the paired-back proportions of the original MX-5.
Available in two grades – RF and RF GT – and designed to complement the soft top MX-5 range, prices start at $38,550, for the RF six-speed manual with cloth upholstery, topping out at $46,890 for the RF GT automatic with black roof and black or tan Nappa leather upholstery.
On test was the RF GT manual with tan leather ($43,890). On road costs have to be added.
The new Mazda MX-5 RF bears little relation to the early models but that hasn’t prevented it from winning the ‘Red Dot: Best of the Best’ prize at the 2017 Red Dot product design awards.
The RF features the same front and centre as the soft-top model. Overall height has increased by just five mm. The RF’s retractable hardtop consists of a front, middle and rear roof, and back window glass. When the roof is open, the front and middle roof sections are stowed together with the back window glass in the space behind the seats.
An acrylic wind deflector helps prevent air from the rear blowing back into the cabin.
Black or tan leather upholstery and trim, or the choice of Nappa leather works nicely.Three-meter instrument cluster is interesting in that the display at the left of the cluster has a 4.6-inch colour TFT LCD screen that displays an animation of the roof when it is opening or shutting.
The button for operating the roof is positioned on the panel below the dials for the air-conditioning system.
Mazda’s MZD Connect, with its central-dash positioned screen and centre console control knob, makes for safe and easy access to functions. It has internet connectivity and access to social networking services. It offers hands-free phone operation, access to Twitter and other communication functions, as well as satellite navigation.
The RF is available with a standard equipment six-speaker audio system, with a nine-speaker Bose premium sound system on the GT, the same as on the soft-top. The premium Bose includes a pair of headrest speakers on the driver’s side.
ENGINES / TRANSMISSIONS
With significantly higher torque output (200 Nm) at rather high revs (4600 rpm) the Mazda’s 2.0 petrol engine is mated to a six-speed short-shift manual or six-speed automatic. Naturally it has rear-wheel-drive.
The Mazda MX-5 RF, with its retractable fastback hardtop, has joined its soft-top sibling MX-5 in gaining the maximum ANCAP safety rating.
According to ANCAP, the Mazda MX-5 offers more pedestrian protection than any vehicle tested. The bonnet pops up when a crash is detected, and the energy-absorbing foam in the front bumper beam combines with the lower stiffener within the bumper to prevent a pedestrian’s legs from sliding under the car.
There is blind spot monitoring and rear cross traffic alert. The RF GT also gains adaptive LED headlights that swivel up to 15 degrees to illuminate more of a bend in the road.
The MX-5 range also features front (driver and passenger) and side airbags, anti-lock braking, dynamic stability control, emergency brake assist, emergency stop signal, hill start assist and traction control.
Fans, and there are many, need not despair at the threat to retain the essence of their beloved MX-5. Three key features have been retained – the RF is compact and light in weight.
Let’s face it, poncing about in plush quarters is not for the MX-5 faithful. Tradition demands top-down cabin turbulence – roughed-up hair and bug spotted specs are de rigueur. Sorry, RF, you’re not up to it.
With the top stowed, wind deflector in place and the side windows wound up, there is a mere flutter of breeze around occupants’ heads. However, the resonant sound of the engine, when let loose, does go some way to making amends for the damped-down open sports car experience.
With the top up naturally it’s quieter, with the front and middle roof panels incorporating a sound-absorbing headliner. These, plus insulation materials selected specifically for the MX-5 RF have also been added inside the body and door trim.
Revised suspension settings, dampers and electric power assisted steering were tuned specifically for the RF.
Cleverly, there’s no significant sacrifice in boot space. The 127-litre capacity is almost the same as the soft-top model, even with the roof stowed. Two carry-on bags measuring 550 by 400 by 220 millimetres will fit.
For me, the planets did not align for the Mazda MX-5 RF GT test. Who would want to drive with the top down under the mid-summer sun in temperatures up to 36 degrees? And the MX-5 RF GT with the lid shut? It’s as if the young tearaway has been sent to finishing school.
AT A GLANCE
Mazda MX-5 RF: $38,550 (manual), $40,550 (automatic)
Mazda MX-5 RF GT with leather: $43,890 (manual), $45,890 (automatic)
Mazda MX-5 RF GT with Nappa leather: $44,890 (manual), $46,890 (automatic)
Soul Red or Machine Grey metallic paint: $300
Note: These prices do not include government or dealer delivery charges. Contact your local Mazda dealer for drive-away prices.
SPECIFICATIONS (Mazda MX-5 RF GT 2-litre Skyactiv-G petrol 6sp manual fastback)
Capacity: 1.998 litres
Configuration: Four cylinders in line
Maximum Power: 118 kW @ 6000 rpm
Maximum Torque: 200 Nm @ 4600 rpm
Fuel Type: Petrol 95RON
Combined Fuel Cycle (ADR 81/02): 7.0 L/100km
CO2 Emissions: Euro V
DRIVELINE: Six-speed manual, rear-wheel drive
DIMENSIONS, WEIGHT AND CAPACITIES:
Length: 3915 mm
Wheelbase: 2310 mm
Width: 1735 mm
Height: 1235 mm
Turning Circle: 9.4 metres
Kerb Mass: 1080 kg
Fuel Tank Capacity: 45 litres
Front: Ventilated disc
Rear: Ventilated disc
Three years / unlimited kilometres