It’s hard to top
Its retractable metal roof makes the RF visually impressive and viscerally entertaining
STYLE plays a bigger part in sports car purchases than the sticker price, which explains why the Mazda MX-5 RF is expected to account for 60 per cent of the model’s sales in Australia.
The RF swaps the simplicity of the manually operated softtop for an electrically powered hardtop that costs about $4000 more than the regular MX-5. It also bulks up the lightweight two-seater by 45kg, which seems to violate the less-ismore ethos of the MX-5. Then you see the car in the metal and all is forgiven.
The RF (it stands for retractable fastback) is a marginally better-looking bus than its stablemate, courtesy of the flying buttresses behind the seats that give the Mazda a mini-supercar shape from the sides and rear.
For many, those looks and the convenience of pushing a button to deploy the roof will override the financial impost.
The roof is a clever piece of engineering that somehow stows into a recess between the seats and boot without sacrificing any of the limited boot space in the car. It takes about 13 seconds to operate, at up to 10km/h.
Roof apart, the RF drives like a soft-top MX-5 and enjoys an identical cabin layout.
It also shares the 2.0-litre four-cylinder engine and sixspeed manual and auto transmissions with the top end soft-tops. Outputs of 118kW and 200Nm aren’t going to register on the seismograph but are more than enough to make the MX-5 an entertaining and exhilarating drive.
The range starts with the RF at $38,550 plus on-road costs. That money buys 17-inch alloy wheels, LED headlamps, seveninch infotainment screen with satnav, rear cross-traffic alert and blind-spot monitoring. The auto adds $2000 across the line-up but loses the limitedslip differential that’s standard in the manual cars.
Black mirror caps are the easiest way to identify the RF at a distance.
The RF GT kicks off at $43,890 in manual guise and adds auto headlights with cornering beams, auto wipers, body coloured mirror caps, your choice of a body coloured or contrast roof, Bose audio, keyless entry, heated front seats and black or tan leather trim.
Spend another $1000 and the “RF GT with Black Roof ” can be yours with premium nappa leather and, as you’d expect, a black roof.
ON THE ROAD
The MX-5 RF is a genuine sports car without being a straight-line slingshot. A claimed sprint time of 7.4 seconds is solid without being any indication of just how good the Mazda is to drive. The naturally aspirated engine needs to rev to deliver its best and the gear ratios in the manual and automatic alike are consequently closely spaced to stop upshifts from dropping you too far down the tachometer.
It means more gear changes are needed to keep the Mazda motivated but the precise throws in the manual — which is expected to account for 70 per cent of sales — make this a pleasure rather than a chore. Unless you’re stuck in peakhour metropolitan traffic, of course.
If outright pace isn’t the MX-5’s party trick, cornering sure is. The seat and steering wheel transmit all the information a driver can absorb in terms of how the car is sitting
on the road, what the wheels are running over and how much grip is left before the Mazda starts to slide.
Enthusiasts will wish for stiffer suspension but the standard package hangs on in the turns while handling most bumps around town.
The impression of speed intensifies with the top down; sadly so does wind noise — it’s possible to have a conversation at 100km/h but it won’t be in normal tones. Below 80km/h it isn’t an issue, though at any speed
I’d appreciate more accompaniment from the exhaust. The RF ought to have an aural character that matches its performance.
The cupholders won’t hang on to a bottle through the twisties — are that is about the harshest criticism the RF warrants.
The hardtop MX-5 is visually impressive and viscerally entertaining.
The Subaru BRZ and Toyota 86 twins are the only other mainstream sports cars to focus on the driving thrills rather than outright power … but they can’t drop their tops.