MAZDA MX-5 ND RF vs MAZDA MX-5 NC RC
Mazda’s new Retractable Fastback (RF) and old Roadster Coupe (RC) have a hard-top connection that puts a spin on the convertible concept of the MX-5.
AAH, the Mazda MX-5, through the generations the very definition of driving pleasure, distilled. It is the rapturous laughter of your best buddy, the radiant beam of your sweetheart’s timeless smile.
It is the essence of joy, the reason the sky was formed and roads were built. How do I know this? I bought one! A standard soft-top version, as the gods of motoring intended. Minimum fuss, maximum pleasure.
Now though, there is a hardtop version called Retractable Fastback (RF). At the cost of 45kg added to the MX-5’s obsessively achieved super-light construction, Mazda has affixed a piece of metal origami atop the platform that, in theory, transforms the dinky, noisy little sports car to a weather-proof and knifewielding-thief-proof machine for the mature sunseeker.
To get the big question out of the way first and foremost: No, the MX-5 is still as jubilant to toss around. There is no penalty whatsoever to its euphoric dynamic personality. It is still a hyper-caffeinated puppy at heart. Now that we know Mazda is perfectly capable of engineering a hard-top into a regular convertible without compromising the dynamics, it is worth remembering that we have been here before. A jet-black example of the
THE RC’S ROOF COMPLETELY DISAPPEARS, WHEREAS THE RF’S B-PILLARS REMAIN PRESENT.
previous NC-generation MX-5 Roadster Coupe (RC) joins us for a frolic.
That car is a lot easier to explain. It is a regular MX-5, except with a motorised roof that takes 12 seconds to open or close, and just happens to be solid.
Marvellously, neither hard-top solution reduces cabin or boot space one iota, though that is a bit like saying an actor is no shorter than Tom Cruise. No wonder, then, that the RC version accounted for more of that model generation’s sales despite a 37kg weight gain. Because, why not?
But the engineering reality for the new RF is a bit more complex than simply bolting the folding mechanism where the soft-top used to live. Chief amongst the challenges Mazda faced was conceptualisation. Their engineers are a fanatical, obsessive bunch, and the MX-5 is their masterpiece. The basic ND MX-5 platform is therefore such a marvel of efficient packaging that it was impossible to create a hard roof that folded away completely like it did in the previous generation. There is simply no room to do so.
I believe there must have been many long meetings in rooms full of drawings and fantastical renderings that would have sent any hardcore MX-5 fan into seizures of rapture. Do we make a fixed-roof coupe for a more focused bent on the decidedly playful MX-5 theme? Do we leave well alone? Do we make a Miata pickup truck? The possibilities were probably endless.
Then a marketing executive must have knocked on the door, bowed, and reminded the engineers politely, please, that some people just will not buy a convertible without a hard-top. And hence the decision was made – a targa it shall be.
Necessity, then, offered an opportunity to expand the MX5’s brief and broaden its appeal. Given licence to create a new form, the designers have penned a jaw-dropping silhouette.
With the hard-top up, it is everything you would hope an MX-5 coupe would look like, except with even more imagination. Just check out those irresistibly chic buttresses. No other volume-production car
since the Jaguar XJS has had the cachet to attempt such a styling flourish, let alone the grace to pull it off. Black-painted panels to mimic rear three-quarter windows beautifully complete the look. It makes sense that the RF is stunning, of course. The ND model is the first MX-5 to appear deliberately styled – all preceding generations have almost been wilfully anti-fashion. The two-section canopy of yesterday’s RC therefore looks purely functional – the occupants need shelter; there you go.
Even the controls inside today’s RF reflect this newfound aesthetic ambition. Flick the silver-trimmed rocker switch to operate the roof and it is accompanied by a full-colour representation of the act in your instrument binnacle. The RC makes do with nothing more flamboyant than two plastic buttons (open, close) and a red-lit icon alongside.
The Singapore sun finally sneaks behind a fat cloud, giving me an opportunity to drop the
THE NC RC DOES NOT STRAY FAR FROM THE ORIGINAL MX-5 FORMULA, WHILE THE ND RF HAS UNDERGONE A BIGGER EVOLUTION.
top of the RF. The buttresses lever upwards, two roof panels and the rear glass fold away, and the buttresses retake their place, connected by a plastic hoop.
Dropping or deploying the top takes 12 seconds and can be performed at speeds of up to 10km/h. So much as go near the throttle pedal at that speed, and a bong will sound to tell you you’ve exceeded the limit, freezing the roof action partway. The RC takes the same length of time to do its Roadster-Coupe conversion, but it can only be done when stationary.
Unlike the RC, whose roof completely disappears to offer the full 360 degrees of a convertible’s wonderful openness, the RF’s B-pillars remain present. Despite not getting in the way of checking your blind spot prior to lane changes, those upright pillars still hover in your peripheral vision like the greasy head of that tall gentleman who just had to sit in front of you at the movies. That might be an acceptable compromise if it meant better cabin isolation at speed. Unfortunately, despite the rear windscreen retracting and leaving a hole for air to pass through, the remaining structures still kick up a swirling vortex behind your head at speeds above 100km/h.
An MX-5’s cabin with the roof down is, of course, never less than blustery – this is not a Bentley Continental Convertible. However, far from being merely windy, the resulting percussive beating of air against your eardrums in the RF is particularly obtrusive. The RC doesn’t have this problem.
Mazda’s first motorised solidroof MX-5 does not stray far from the original formula, with the NC RC providing more protection and a smidgen more refinement for those who need or want it. The new ND RF has undergone a bigger evolution, being a bit more “coupe”, a bit less “convertible” and a lot more gorgeous, but also a bit more compromised.
Both MX-5s take 12 seconds to drop/deploy the top, but RF can do it on the move, doesn’t need a manual latch anymore and is much more theatrical while converting.
New RF is more enjoyable than old RC (far right) when the roofs are up, but less alfresco when the roofs are down.