Stretch­ing suc­cess

Mazda strives to cater to a wider sports-car au­di­ence through a hard­top MX-5

Top Gear (Philippines) - - Shakedown - Words by Ja­son dela Cruz Pho­tog­ra­phy by Vin­cent Coscol­luela

You can al­ways ex­pect a spin-off from some­thing highly suc­cess­ful—TV shows, movies, com­pa­nies, and even cars. In the case of the Mazda Mi­ata (mar­keted as the MX- 5 be­gin­ning with the third-gen­er­a­tion NC), it’s the most suc­cess­ful two-seater road­ster in his­tory, and has sold over a mil­lion units glob­ally as of April of last year.

But the rea­son this road­ster is so suc­cess­ful is the same rea­son there are skep­ti­cisms about it—the soft top and the as­so­ci­ated safety con­cerns ow­ing to its lack of struc­tural rigid­ity. Which is why the NC is at­trac­tive in its own right: It’s heav­ier be­cause of the fold­ing roof, and feels more planted. Even former lens­man/writer Mikko David, now press and cus­tomer re­la­tions man­ager for Mazda Philip­pines, points out it’s more fun to drive be­cause it feels GT-ish.

While there were ini­tial talks of an MX- 5 coupe (with eye-catching ren­der­ings all over the In­ter­net at one point, and con­tribut­ing ed­i­tor Niky Ta­mayo com­ing up with his own), the idea seemed to veer too far away from what the name­plate is all about. The re­sult? A targa-in­spired model Mazda has dubbed the MX- 5 RF—as in ‘re­tractable fast­back.’ For those who pre­fer a hard­top sports car but can’t get the MX- 5 out of their heads, this may be the best an­swer.

The roof and the but­tresses give this ver­sion a coupe-like pro­file, mak­ing it a con­vinc­ing option for those who are par­tial to this body style. Mind you, op­er­at­ing the roof will at­tract at­ten­tion. At the touch of a but­ton, the but­tresses lift up for the roof and the rear wind­screen to fold down be­neath, then lower back in place. The process takes 13sec.

The in­con­ve­nience is that this can only be done at speeds un­der 10kph.

Once you’ve left your park­ing spot, that’s it—but we’re in the Philip­pines, and you’ll be driv­ing with the roof up 90% of the time, any­way. Com­pare this with the soft-top MX- 5, where you have to loosen a hook and push down the fab­ric canopy to se­cure it, or re­lease a latch, pull the roof back up, and lock the hook in place if you’ve had enough of top-down mo­tor­ing.

The Ma­chine Gray paint ex­clu­sive to the RF lends a men­ac­ing look to the road­ster’s otherwise cute ap­pear­ance. In­side, the cabin is decked in brown nappa leather and comes with a Bose sound sys­tem. There’s a tad more head­room, some­thing tall guys like me will al­ways ap­pre­ci­ate.

The hard­top roof and its power mech­a­nism con­trib­ute to mak­ing the RF 45.5kg heav­ier than the reg­u­lar MX- 5. But does it ham­per the essence of the lit­tle road­ster?

No, I actually pre­fer the han­dling of this one. The ad­di­tional weight may have al­tered the cen­ter of grav­ity, but the sus­pen­sion has been stiff­ened to man­age the ex­tra mass. The chas­sis still has a pointy front end and dances on cor­ner en­try, but there’s no­tice­ably less body roll and a more planted feel ver­sus the soft-top—a suit­able en­hance­ment for those who fa­vor the stiffer ride of a coupe. It’s still softer than the Toy­ota

but di­rec­tion changes are much bet­ter. Steer­ing has also been ad­justed to pro­vide less as­sis­tance and bet­ter tac­til­ity.

While you’d ex­pect the RF to be a frac­tion slower, there doesn’t seem to be any dis­ad­van­tage to the 2.0- liter Sky­ac­tiv mill’s per­for­mance. That said, you’ll have to man­age your ex­pec­ta­tions if you want the six-speed man­ual ’box avail­able in the soft-top, be­cause the RF only comes with an au­to­matic. Can’t blame the local dis­trib­u­tor, though—about nine out of 10 MX- 5s sold here come with the slush­box, so bring­ing in only the au­to­matic sim­pli­fies ev­ery­thing. It’s actually a good sys­tem, and you have pad­dle shifters and a Sport mode to aug­ment that sporty feel. Be­sides, with our wors­en­ing traf­fic sit­u­a­tion, the two-pedal vari­ant is sound­ing more prac­ti­cal.

Much has been said about the RF’s wind buf­fet­ing by our peer Ol­lie Kew in the UK—that it’s “se­vere once you ap­proach 90kph, from a faint tap­ping to an over­bear­ing drum­ming as tur­bu­lence clat­ters behind you.” Dur­ing my week­long loan, however, only two days were dry, al­low­ing me but a brief sam­ple of open-top mo­tor­ing around the metro late one evening.

My drive to and around Ta­gay­tay with the wife was hit by stormy weather, giv­ing us no chance of putting the top down where it’s more suit­able. The down­pour was so strong, I didn’t even no­tice any buf­fet­ing with the roof up. One thing I do like is the added in­su­la­tion, which gives the RF more NVH re­fine­ment.

Even if you are par­tial to coupes, you can’t deny the at­trac­tion of the MX- 5 RF. Even I thought I pre­ferred the soft-top hands down—it’s sim­pler and lighter with less mov­ing parts, and it’s the orig­i­nal. But the RF makes it tougher to choose be­tween the two, par­tic­u­larly be­cause of its rigid roof and im­proved ride. It’s a com­pro­mise that will give those who pre­fer sports coupes some­thing to think about.

Those par­tial to coupes will give it some thought

Mazda knows the mean­ing of good qual­ity

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