A drop-top for all sea­sons

Mazda im­proves yet again on its MX-5 recipe with the re­tractable fast­back ver­sion

The Advertiser - Motoring - - THE TICK -

THIS is the ideal time of year to talk about the Mazda MX-5 RF. Au­tumn is my favourite time for top-down driv­ing.

Mel­bourne in June and July is no fun for a full con­vert­ible, Can­berra is way too cold and even Syd­ney can be a bit tricky.

But the RF is not a full-scale fresh-air road­ster and that means it can be an MX-5 with ben­e­fits through the colder parts of the year.

I learned it my­self dur­ing a win­try pre­view drive in Tokyo on a day that was cold, over­cast and oc­ca­sion­ally rainy. The new-age MX-5 was great with its coupe-style pro­tec­tion, or more breezy with just the roof panel open, or ev­ery­thing ex­posed for a few min­utes dur­ing breaks in the driz­zle.

To re­cap, the RF — the “re­tractable fast­back” ver­sion of the new MX-5 — is more like a new coupe than just a con­vert­ible with a se­cure com­pos­ite top. Pre­vi­ous MX-5 hard­tops have ei­ther had a bolton roof piece or a fold­ing com­pos­ite clamshell on top.

This one is a very dif­fer­ent and very classy con­ver­sion that lifts rear pan­els at an an­gle to al­low the roof to slide back and down, re­veal­ing a roof space that’s a lot like the Targa-top ver­sion of early Porsche 911s. There is also a drop-down glass panel be­hind the seats for more of the open-air ex­pe­ri­ence.

The pieces are light­weight steel, alu­minium and car­bon­fi­bre and the weight penalty is only 45kg.

When I first saw the RF in Japan I ar­gued heartily with the lat­est MX-5 am­bas­sador, Nobuhiro Ya­mamoto, the car was not a true MX-5 be­cause it was not a sports car but a coupe.

He de­fended the car and it’s true that it drives al­most iden­ti­cally to the MX-5 road­ster.

But the car has a to­tally se­cure roof, not just a fold­ing fab­ric panel, and the look is quite dif­fer­ent with the “fly­ing but­tress” pan­els flow­ing back from the door pil­lar on the car.

Ya­mamoto also reck­oned the RF would be the favourite model with MX-5 buy­ers and was likely to lure buy­ers across from cars such as the Toy­ota 86.

Since then the head of the lat­est MX-5 project has changed jobs, and is now in charge of a spe­cial divi­sion in Japan that is do­ing born-again MX-5 restora­tion work. It’s a full fac­tory project to refet­tle MX-5s that are as good as new.

ON THE ROAD

The RF landed in Aus­tralia in Jan­uary and since then — as Ya­mamoto pre­dicted — it has been the pop­u­lar choice with MX-5 buy­ers, ac­count­ing for nearly 60 per cent of de­liv­er­ies.

In a far big­ger sur­prise, about 60 per cent of those have the op­tional six-speed auto gear­box.

Sports car fans don’t mind pay­ing about $4000 ex­tra over the con­vert­ible MX-5 for the se­cure roof, and more again for the auto, and the RF’s lead over the reg­u­lar MX-5 can only in­crease as we roll through win­ter.

My favourite thing about the RF is the se­cu­rity and quiet­ness that comes with the new roof.

It’s not like the slightly rip­pling sound and feel of the reg­u­lar MX-5 with the top up, or the un­fin­ished look and drum­ming of the pre­vi­ous gen­er­a­tion MX-5 hard­top.

It’s gen­uinely like an MX-5 coupe and sev­eral peo­ple asked me what I was driv­ing dur­ing my time with the RF.

The roof works very well and the de­sign and fin­ish­ing are very im­pres­sive. It’s slightly com­plex but noth­ing like the wor­ry­ingly over-com­pli­cated work­ings of the now de­parted Volk­swa­gen Eos.

The whole rear sec­tion lifts, the roof panel slides back and down, and the job is done in 13 sec­onds in a won­der­ful piece of mo­tor­ing the­atre.

It would be bet­ter if it could hap­pen at more than 10km/h, with many other con­vert­ibles now do­ing this at 40 or more.

The RF is just as sharp as the MX-5 road­ster, which means it’s a great drive. Ev­ery touch on the con­trols brings an in­stant re­sponse and that’s been the over­whelm­ing ap­peal of the MX-5 since its launch in 1989.

I’m dis­ap­pointed that the RF con­ver­sion does not bring any ex­tra boot space but at least none has been lost.

It per­forms as I re­mem­ber from the 2.0-litre road­ster, al­though I’m not driv­ing the au­to­matic that is so pop­u­lar with buy­ers and which worked well enough when I tried it dur­ing the Ja­panese pre­view.

The RF comes only with the “big bore” 2.0 rather than the slightly sweeter 1.6 in the price­lead­ing vari­ant, but it’s still a well-balanced pack­age.

THE TICK

A drive in an MX-5 is al­ways good, even with things get­ting cooler now.

The RF main­tains all the good­ness of the lat­est MX-5 and adds a level of prac­ti­cal­ity it has never had in the past.

Newspapers in English

Newspapers from Australia

© PressReader. All rights reserved.