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Review: Mazda MX-5 RF - The Affordable Roadster

Review: Mazda MX-5 RF - The Affordable Roadster

Mazda has a lot wrapped up in their little roadster. The former Miata has been described by many as the ultimate driver’s car, the perfect marriage between man and machine, and a joy to drive. It’s been awarded Car and Driver’s 10 Best 17 times since 1990, with the current fourth-generation making the list every year since its introduction. It won CNET’s Best Convertible in 2016, Auto Express’ 2017 Roadster of the Year, and MotorWeek’s Driver’s Choice Award for Best Convertible in 2018.

So, quite the pedigree on a car that costs less than $30,000 to own.

And Mazda knows they have a winner on their hands. For the past several years they’ve gone to great lengths to describe the MX-5 in terms that used to be reserved for the ancient Samurai warriors. They say the MX-5 exemplifies Jinba Ittai, or the marriage between man and horse as they move as one. Only this horse has a 2.0-L inline 4-cylinder engine which has far more than one horsepower.

Horsepower: 155 mphTop Speed: 135 mph0-60: 6.4 secondsQuarter Mile: 14.9 secondsBraking Distance: 109 ft

via Mazda

They also describe the MX-5 as first that was modeled out of clay before they ever put it through a computer. That sounds like marketing hyperbole, but you can never quite tell with Mazda.

For years, your only option for a convertible MX-5 was the folding soft-top, which was all well and good for having the wind in your hair, but it made things a little difficult when it started to rain. In 2016, Mazda introduced the MX-5 RF—”RF” in this case standing for “retractable fastback.”

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Apparently, Mazda engineers couldn’t say “hardtop” without descending into a fit of giggling.

As with other retractable hardtop convertibles, the MX-5 RF’s roof is actually segmented so it can fold on top of itself before sliding neatly behind the rear seats. The entire “fastback” portion of the car lifts up so that the roof can nestle beneath in a beautiful feat of engineering.

Mazda MX-5 RF
via Mazda

But Mazda didn’t want the RF to feel like their former soft-top versions, so they added additional soundproofing to the cabin, rear storage, and wheel wells so that the car is as quiet a the regular, non-convertible MX-5. The whole hardtop contraption and sound-proofing only added 100 lbs to the MX-5’s nimble 2,300 lb frame.

This is good because the MX-5 has always been about one thing: lightness. With only 155 hp to guide it on the road, the MX-5 relies on its power-to-weight ratio and expert construction to make it exciting to drive. No one will ever be blown away when they depress the gas as far as it can go, but it’s in the corners and on long, winding roads that the MX-5 really shines.

Power goes to either a six-speed manual or an available six-speed automatic with paddle shifters. A limited-slip differential combines with independent front and rear suspension to make the MX-5 feel poised and controlled even at high speeds. The stock brakes are fine, but the Club trim has an available Brembo/BBS package to replace the brakes with the aforementioned Brembo pads and calipers along with new BBS 17-inch forged alloy wheels.

It’s mostly aesthetic, but it adds an element of sportiness that the MX-5 didn’t quite have before.

Mazda MX-5 RF
via Mazda

Heated side mirrors and automatic LED headlights complete the exterior features. On the inside, the MX-5 RF takes advantage of the additional sound dampening and provides the cabin with a nine-speaker Bose sound system. Aha, Pandora, and Stitcher internet radio integration is standard, but there’s no Apple CarPlay or Android Auto, which makes the RF seem to lag a few years behind the current technological trend.

A seven-inch center console touchscreen provides the driver with MAZDA CONNECT navigation, while just below are the dials which control the A/C. Climate control is available on the Grand Touring trim, but the base-level Club has to deal with manual controls. Keyless entry and push-button start are both standard, as are Mazda’s i-ACTIVESENSE safety features, including blind spot monitoring, rear cross traffic alert, lane departure, and adaptive headlights.

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The RF Club trim starts at $31,910, but you can easily push that to over $36,000 with all available options and packages. The Grand Touring starts at $32,750 which gives you access to additional leather trim and automatic high beams, but both power and suspension remain the same. Curiously, the Grand Touring version doesn’t get access to the Brembo/BBS package, so you’re left with stock Mazda bits.

Mazda MX-5 RF
via Mazda

But even pushing $37,000, you’d be hard-pressed to find a hardtop convertible with the same performance. The roadster playing field is filled with Corvettes, Mercedes, and Porsches, all of which start at over $60,000, with many reaching well into the six figures. Sure, those cars provide far more power and performance than the MX-5, but you get what you pay for.

Or do you? Is there really a difference between 120 mph and 150 mph when you have the top down? And is that difference worth the many thousands of dollars that Porsche will charge you?

Mazda doesn’t seem to think so. And they’ve got many awards to prove that they’re not the only one.

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