The most in the ma­chine

Power, speed, tech, price ... they all yield in the sporty Mazda to the joy to the driver

The Courier-Mail - Motoring - - Road Test - BILL McKIN­NON

AUDI, BMW and Mercedes have been fix­ated for years on top­ping the kilo­watt count with ev­ery new sports car they make.

This is meat­head en­gi­neer­ing, but it sells.

How about an in­tel­li­gent al­ter­na­tive? A sports car where the driver comes first. A car en­gi­neered so you can use all of its per­for­mance, en­joy­ably and safely, com­ple­mented by su­perb han­dling that re­ally makes you feel part of the ma­chine, to­tally im­mersed in the joy of driv­ing it. That car costs just $38,550. It’s the Mazda MX-5 RF.

DE­SIGN

The MX-5 road­sters use a sim­ple folding soft-top. The RF has a targa-style hard roof and a but­tressed canopy be­hind the seats, with a fixed rear win­dow. When you push the blue-sky but­ton, the canopy lifts and the hard roof slides down and back, into a mil­lime­tre-pre­cise space. The whole op­er­a­tion takes less than 10 sec­onds in an amaz­ing dis­play of me­chan­i­cal origami.

You don’t lose any boot ca­pac­ity ei­ther. With 127L — 3L less than the soft-top — the RF will take the lug­gage for two if they pack light.

Weigh­ing in at 1080kg, the RF is a feath­er­weight, even with the hard roof adding 47kg.

It runs a 2.0-litre nat­u­rally as­pi­rated four, with 118kW/ 200Nm, matched in the test car with a close ra­tio six-speed man­ual. A six-speed au­to­matic adds $2000.

AROUND TOWN The seat­ing po­si­tion is higher than in most sports cars, there’s no driver’s seat height ad­just­ment and no reach ad­just­ment for the wheel ei­ther, so some tall driv­ers won’t fit.

It’s a reg­u­la­tion road­ster twin cock­pit, with a slim, min­i­mal­ist dash, ana­log speedo and tacho and cir­cu­lar air vents. Its 21stcen­tury tech in­cludes Mazda’s easy to use MZD Con­nect ro­tary con­troller/cur­sor (plus touch­screen func­tion­al­ity) in­fo­tain­ment with nav­i­ga­tion, re­spon­sive voice con­trol and seam­less Blue­tooth.

Fit and fin­ish qual­ity is as good as Made in Ja­pan gets, which is very good in­deed.

Closely spaced lower ra­tios and a smooth, pre­cise ac­tion make the man­ual easy to use around town and the en­gine has sur­pris­ing tractabil­ity for an atmo four, helped by a favourable power to weight ra­tio.

The RF eas­ily records sin­gle fig­ure con­sump­tion in traf­fic and 5L-6L/100km on the high­way. The ride is fid­gety and firm but rea­son­ably com­fort­able even on rough roads. It’s no bone­shaker.

ON THE ROAD

You can use ev­ery one of those 118kW. Beau­ti­fully re­spon­sive, par­tic­u­larly from 3000rpm, the en­gine kicks again just be­low 4000rpm, then pulls smoothly and ea­gerly to 6800rpm.

Mazda makes no 0-100km/h claim, but it’s about 7.5 sec­onds, which is re­spectable. It feels faster be­cause you’re al­ways hav­ing such a good time.

The RF has no push-but­ton modes, no adap­tive sus­pen­sion — in fact, no ad­justable any­thing, just a lim­ited-slip dif­fer­en­tial. This car has just one mode: Sorted.

Per­fectly bal­anced, the RF is al­most like a mo­tor­cy­cle in the way you feel ev­ery nu­ance of move­ment and it responds im­me­di­ately to your in­puts, es­pe­cially the su­per sharp, in­tensely tac­tile steer­ing. You don’t mus­cle this car along a wind­ing road, you ca­ress it.

R Roof f up, it’ it’s a quiet it as a coupe. Roof down, there’s some wind noise around the but­tresses.

Oc­cu­pants don’t have to yell at each other and with the side win­dows up the cabin is calm.

The driver’s seat head­rest has built-in speak­ers — the next best thing to head­phones — and the seat it­self, though small, is com­fort­able and sup­port­ive.

VER­DICT

The MX-5 RF is proof that a bril­liant sports car is not about more power, more speed, more tech­nol­ogy or more money.

It’s about mak­ing you, the driver, feel joy in the ma­chine ev­ery time you jump in and turn the key.

And isn’t that why you buy a sports car in the first place?

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