It’s hard to top

Its re­tractable metal roof makes the RF vis­ually im­pres­sive and vis­cer­ally en­ter­tain­ing

Herald Sun - Motoring - - FIRST DRIVE - CRAIG DUFF craig.duff@news.com.au

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.

VER­DICT

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.

Newspapers in English

Newspapers from Australia

© PressReader. All rights reserved.