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