Is the new Mazda MX-5 RF a better fit for Irish roads?
Pros: Sleek styling changes, better insulated, fun drive
Cons: Heavier, roof only operates at low speeds
Mazda’s MX-5 has amassed a legion of fans since it was first launched in 1989 to become the world’s best-selling two-seater sports car. Fast forward to 2017, and an all-new version of the MX-5 has just been released, the RF, which stands for Retractable Fastback. With a rigid folding roof that drops at the touch of a button, sleeker coupe-like styling and pronounced buttresses behind the driver, the MX-5 RF marks a significant change from the soft-top MX-5 too. We spent time with the MX-5 RF on Irish roads recently to see if it is worth the extra investment over the traditional MX-5 that we love.
What is it like?
It’s interesting just how different the RF looks to the regular MX-5 and that’s thanks to a series of styling tweaks at the rear end of the car. The MX-5 RF’s eye-catching Fastback design and three-piece retractable roof lend it a sleek silhouette, especially when the roof is down. The RF’s styling is somewhat reminiscent of legendary sports cars like the Porsche 911 Targa, while the version that we drove is finished in a striking 'Machine Grey' colour scheme and is a high specification GT model.
The MX-5 RF’s interior is virtually identical to the regular MX-5, so it's small and there are few areas to store items, aside from in its 127-litre boot. That’s to be expected however, and the cabin remains a special place when you step inside. With the touch of a button on the centre console, the RF’s roof drops down in 13 seconds and at driving speeds of up to 10km/h. When the roof is down, the cabin feels pleasantly cocooned, and that’s mainly due to the buttresses behind the driver and passenger seats.
The MX-5 RF is available with two different engines in Ireland, a 130hp 1.5-litre petrol, which is the unit that we sampled when we tested the MX-5 last year, and a new larger 160bhp 2.0-litre petrol. This MX-5 RF has the larger 2.0-litre engine and as you’d expect, it’s a lively unit and longs to be revved, while the six-speed gearbox offers smooth short shift throws. Running costs are reasonable too with annual motor of €570 and we managed 7.8 litres per 100 kilometres of driving in fuel economy (36MPG). The MX-5 RF is heavier than the regular MX-5 due to the added weight of the roof, but it can still cover 0-100km/h in 7.4 seconds and go on to a top speed of 215km/h, which is only fractionally slower than its lighter soft-top sibling.
We commended the MX-5 for its strong handling capabilities when we tested it last year, and this trend continues in the RF. The added weight of the roof is virtually unnoticeable out on the road, with the same responsive steering, confidence-inspiring grip and sprightly rear-wheel power delivery that make it a hoot to drive on tight and twisty roads. The added insulation of the metal roof mean it is quieter and ultimately more comfortable at motorway speeds and during longer journeys too.
Prices for the new Mazda MX-5 RF start from €31,495 in Ireland, which is €3,500 more than the standard MX-5 but still lower than Fiat’s new 124 Spider (€32k+). As standard, the RF is well equipped with keyless entry, heated mirrors, a tyre pressure monitor and of course the electronic retractable roof system. Our test car is the high specification GT model and has some very desirable upgrades including heated seats, automatic headlights, Bilstein sports suspension and a 7-inch TFT display screen in the centre of the dashboard. That’s not to mention some optional extras including a superb BOSE speaker system and full tan leather upholstery.
Carzone verdict: 4.5/5
The Mazda MX-5 RF builds on the success of the incredibly popular soft top MX-5, with sleek new styling and a very practical retracting roof system. Purists may argue that it doesn’t handle as energetically as the regular soft top MX-5 and it costs additional €3,500 over said car, but given the added practicality and comfort on offer, we reckon it makes for a worthy investment. That’s not to mention that it’s better-suited to Ireland’s often wet and wintry conditions than the standard MX-5 too.
Test Car Details:
Model driven: Mazda MX-5 RF
Prices from: €31,495
Price as tested: €37,745
Annual Road Tax: €570
Engine: 1998cc four-cylinder petrol
Top Speed: 216km/h
0-100km/h: 7.4 seconds
Transmission: 6-Speed Manual Transmission
Body style: Cabriolet
Boot Space: 127 litres