Mazda Miata (MX-5) hardcore purists may not have embraced the new fastback RF (retractable hardtop) version of their beloved affordable soft-top sports car, but I absolutely prefer it despite the substantial weight gain. The MX-5 is still the very best-selling roadster of all time for good measure after four generations, and I see it remaining at the top of the hill for at least another decade.
Aesthetically, I think the MX-5 RF actually looks more polished and complete. I even like it more than FIAT’s turbocharged 124 Spider reinterpretation of the Miata which I narrowly rated better than the standard Mazda roadster because of its more everyday usable powerplant and the more desirable trim/equipment levels. Sure, even with all the lightweight aluminum used in the RF, additional metal, motors, and insulation still translates to almost 50 kilos of more ballast. So, the RF is slightly slower and a touch less visceral than the standard roadster but it feels better, more balanced, and more refined. The weight distribution is now an almost perfect 51/49 compared to the soft-top’s 53/47, making the Targa-esque RF a more planted and predictable sports car, so there is more to the lovely new design lines of the fastback. True there is more weight, but it is spread out more evenly and the acoustics are also better in the cabin.
An extra P270,000.00 above the standard SkyActiv A/T roadster is plenty I admit, but for a little perspective: if you want a genuine full-featured sports car with rich abilities, then it is a bargain compared to the cost of buying an entry-level Porsche 718 Boxster which is obviously superior but it would cost you at least an additional P3,500,000.00 more. And you will have to buy it now too, if there are any stocks left, before the new excise taxes kick in next year which would bring the prices further skyward!
Back to the car on hand; once again, our test unit showcased the new Mazda signature Machine Grey Metallic paint for an extra charge, but this time the interior trim gets the more premium looking and feeling Auburn Nappa leather to complement the 203-watt 9-speaker Bose® audio system. It also came with the Appearance Package that includes a Front Air Dam, Side Sill Extensions, & Rear Bumper Skirt (Black), and Black Rear Lip Spoiler. One of the biggest bonuses of the new hardtop is the better sense of security and insulation that it creates within 13 seconds up or down while holding a switch up to 10 km/h of pace. Since the domestic RF is currently sold for now with mostly automatic transmissions, it does not get the extra benefit of a mechanical Limited Slip Differential. In other markets, a Club variant is available which offers Brembo brakes, BBS forged alloys, front tower bar, and more aggressive Bilstein shocks.
The new roof is about 5mm taller than the soft-top but it is about 15mm lower inside thanks in part to the thicker sound-absorbing headliner. The higher center of gravity and the extra weight would both affect driving dynamics but it is so negligible in real-world use that it is really pointless to discuss it further. The slightly smaller trunk, though, can be a problem; it is unfortunately about 2-liters smaller in capacity to accommodate the folding roof mechanism.
The sticky but skinny 205/45R17 84W Bridgestone Potenza S001 tires are carried over. My biggest qualm is ultimately the most common complaint: the modest engine. I really get and appreciate what Mazda has engineered in the MX-5 model series, the whole “less is more” argument and all that jazz, but I still insist that the chassis could easily handle more usable power. The FIAT 124 Spider already demonstrates that with its more potent 1.4-liter turbo engine which is actually not too efficient nor very powerful but its footprint could be filled by the excellent 2.5-liter turbo engine found in the all-new CX-9! The eager 2.0-liter that the RF uses does sing nicely to 6,800 rpm and it does seem to enjoy getting flogged but it is precisely how good the RF handles and drives that I get frustrated. I am almost grateful that our limiting Philippine driving conditions make exploring these cars’ abilities an uncommon occasion. If our roads were less congested, the road surfaces were standardized with proper quality, and speed limits were raised accordingly, I may not take the Mazda too seriously. In the end, Mazda has once again raised the bar and defines affordable driving enjoyment.
Specification – 2017 Mazda MX-5 RF
Engine: Inline-4, 1998cc, dohc 16V, Direct Injection Atkinson-capable, VVT, 6-speed AT
Max power: 155 bhp @ 6000 rpm
Max torque: 148 lb ft @ 4600 rpm
0-100 km/h (0-62mph): 7.4 sec.
Top Speed: 220 km/h (138 mph)
Fuel Mileage: 26 mpg City / 35 mpg Highway
Price as tested: PhP 2,250,000.00 (+P16,800.00 for Special Machine Grey Metallic Color)
C! RATING 9.5/10
+Lovely Nappa leather, a more insulated cabin, deserves to be the mighty success that it is. Handsome. The finest generation yet.
-Roof will engage only below 10 km/h and I wish it had more power.