The new Mazda MX-5 RF arrived the same day that the Jaguar F-Type Convertible was taken back and I couldn’t help but feel that I’d had the the main course before the starter.
However, I soon came to realize that the fizzy little Mazda was more Yo-Sushi! Than Rump N Ribs Steakhouse and the two can’t (and shouldn’t) be compared.
The Mazda MX-5 RF (Retractable Fastback) is a lot of fun just like its soft-topped brother but manages to split opinion over its coupe-like looks. I, for one, immediately thought I preferred the soft-top but after a few days with the RF I had changed my mind. I love the way this thing looks with its swooping buttresses that somehow make the MX-5 RF more curvy, more sexy and yes, more interesting to look at. Not bad to say the rag-top version is one of the most loved and instantly-recognised cars on the road today.
Its electrically folding roof is also a sight to behold – a precision piece of choreography that will have people stopping and staring when you drop or raise the roof – as demonstrated by Mrs. B below:
Of course the RF shares 95% of its DNA with the latest MX-5. The front end, rear lights and interior are all exactly the same. The roof mechanism is obviously different and there is a button on the RF’s dash to raise or lower the roof, while the slightly larger TFT screen in the instrument binnacle shows an animation of the folding roof – and that’s about it. My 160PS Sport Nav version also had lower and stiffer suspension.
Available in three different guises, the cheapest is the 1.5-litre, 131 PS SE-L Nav Manual at £22,295. We then have the Sport Nav from £24,895 and finally the limited edition Launch Edition with a 160 PS 2-litre engine, Bilstein dampers, BBS alloy wheels, Recaro seats, contrasting roof colour and Alcantara interior panel highlights for £29,295.
There is a 6-speed auto gearbox available – but really? Unless you are physically or legally disallowed from the manual then don’t bother even thinking about the auto.
I’ve been using the 2-litre MX-5 RF Sport Nav 160PS manual (£25,995 OTR) for a week and found myself warming more and more to this 2-seater, RWD sports car as the week went on.
All photos by Tony Whittle Photography
Inside was familiar as I had just spent a weekend in the soft-top version travelling up to the Isle of Sky so I knew that the RF would be just as comfortable when it comes to seating, driving position and general ergonomics. The MX-5 has an excellent driving position whichever version you choose and unless you are an unusually tall person then getting comfortable is no problem.
Storage space inside the cabin is a little sparse with no glovebox and a small cubby in the rear bulkhead between the seats. There is another small space behind the handbrake and that’s about it.
The excellent infotainment screen sits high up on the dash and is easy to see with a bright and clear display. It’s also easy to control thanks to the rotary control just behind the gearstick but if you don’t mind fingerprints all over the screen, it’s touch-sensitive too.
With any 2-seater, RWD sports car it’s all about the driving experience and the MX-5 RF doesn’t disappoint on any front. The 2-litre engine seems to suit the RF more than it does the soft-top with that extra 29 PS giving the little coupe plenty of poke if you keep the 16-valve engine revving in its sweet-spot.
The RF is 45kg heavier than the soft-top but with the help of Bilstein shocks and lowered suspension you don’t really feel any disadvantage as the RF is just as sure-footed and nimble as its lighter cousin and you really can blast around A-roads without ever feeling that the car is getting out of shape at any point. Of course you have to keep things within reason on the road but I can imagine that the MX-5 RF is an absolute hoot on a track day.
The gear-change is rifle-bolt sharp and I doubt you will find a more rewarding gearbox on any car, in any price-bracket, while the clutch is light and perfectly balanced.
Brake feel is top-notch too with Mazda’s SKYACTIV Technology playing its part in making the chassis so fluid and light that steering is also a delight with small movements of the wheel allowing you to point the RF exactly where you want it. Yep, it’s a proper sports car.
Does that folding hard roof make the MX-5 RF a more cosseting cruiser though? Not really. There is less wind noise but not markedly so and with the roof down it appeared to be just as noisy and blowy as the rag-top is, roof-down. Visibility through the rear is about the same though and incredibly, due to the cleverness of design, you don’t lose any boot space with the roof folded down.
So, is the RF worth having over a regular MX-5? If you’re someone who likes to be a little different then yes it is and personally I prefer the looks of the RF – but it is hard to make a case for it over the soft-topped MX-5 which is a little belter even in entry-level spec and starts at a couple of thousand pounds less.
Mazda should be roundly applauded though for taking their most iconic car and daring to add a little something to it that makes people sit up and take notice. I loved my week with the MX-5 RF and there isn’t another car that I struggled more with to prise away from Mrs. B – and that includes the Jag. Praise indeed.
Mazda MX-5 RF Sport Nav 160 PS
OTR Price: £25,995
Engine: 2.0 petrol
Power: 160 PS
Transmission: 6-speed manual
0-62mph: 7.4 secs
Top Speed: 134 mph
Combined Economy: 40.9 mpg