What have we here? A tiny Mazda Coupe sports car to rival the Toyota 86?
Nice idea, but not quite. This is the new Mazda MX-5 RF (Retractable Fastback), bringing an electrically operated hard-top retractable roof to the quite wonderful latest generation MX-5 roadster.
Ah, an alternative for those too lazy to take the three seconds needed to fold the soft top?
Possibly, but it's a bit more than that. Yes it will broaden the appeal of the MX-5 to those who eschew soft top convertibles, but it also brings its own unique fastback styling to give a different aesthetic, has the feel of greater security and insulation thanks to a tin top, and, well, it's quite cool.
But does it look better than the soft-top roadster MX-5?
That, my friend, is for you to decide. General consensus amongst the gathered motoring journalists at its Australian launch was that not only was it gorgeous but even easier on the eye than the normal MX-5.
Personally, I'm undecided. The RF looks like a completely different offering with hard top in place, and from a distance it looks like a stunning fastback coupe that I at times thought looked like a new Lotus or even a baby Porsche: no bad thing. It will certainly have people guessing what it is when seen out on the road.
What does Mazda say about it?
Emotive things. "Having an MX-5 makes life richer and more fun, and (the RF) introduces the fun of driving a lightweight sportscar to a broader audience."
Mazda also reckons the new retractable hardtop will sell better than the rag top.
But you still prefer the soft-top MX-5?
Maybe it's the purist in me, or the fact that I struggle to find any fault with the MX-5 roadster as a great value and fun sports car package.
The purity of line of the normal MX-5 with roof down, plus no weight sacrifice in having a cloth top wins for me, but I have to say, a day driving the MX-5 RF and I had few grumbles. It really is a car to love.
Let's get any negatives out of the way first then, before hearing the good stuff.
Okay. The soft-top comes with a revvy 96kW 1.5-litre engine or 118kW 2.0-litre, both four-cylinders and without turbos. Very pure things.
Your only choice with the MX-5 RF is the 2.0-litre (other markets still get the two engine choices), so inevitably the RF's entry-level price is higher and a few drivers, myself included, prefer the lower power, must-work-it-hard nature of the 1.5-litre over the 2.0-litre.
So it's expensive?
It's more than the soft top, yes, but still appealing value. You can get in the entry-level 1.5-litre MX-5 roadster for $33,340 before on-roads, while your cheapest MX-5 RF is $38,550, or $40,550 if you take leave of your senses and want the automatic over the correct choice - the six-speed manual.
Quite. Anything else?
Well, the RF inevitably adds some weight over the soft top - 47kg - and although it does feel like a true hardtop with roof in place, we experienced a fair bit of buffeting wind noise from the funky rear buttresses when travelling at speed with roof stowed.
No more than I remember from driving the soft-top MX-5 though.
A minor grumble is still the lack of decent storage in the titchy MX-5. No glove box or door storage here and your bottle holders are by your shoulders.
Oh, and while the driving position is generally excellent, the steering wheel not adjustable for reach is a pain.
Suppose the boot space is a nightmare?
Actually, no. Sports cars this size are hardly large luggage fodder, but positively the 127-litres in the MX-5 RF is only a thimble-full less than the roadster as the hard-top folds into a compartment in front of the boot, not encroaching on your space. Clever.
Reckon on being able to travel with a pair of soft bags for weekends away.
I made a long list. The aim was to make the RF look like a true hardtop and Mazda has succeeded with panache.
It's a beautiful, pure deign that looks like a sleek coupe especially in profile (although it sits just a fraction too high over its wheels), and with roof down looks quite unique - almost like a Targa top car. But going topless still looks a bit better in the roadster I reckon.
Folding the hardtop is far sexier in the RF though. The power retractable roof can be raised or lowered at speeds up to 10kmh and takes a little over ten seconds.
But it's best to park up, press the roof button and admire the clever and smooth way the roof sections and back window glass origami themselves into place. Like a zen garden, its beauty pleases and relaxes your very soul.
Touching stuff. Does the drive stir the soul too?
Absolutely. You feel more securely ensconced in the cabin than in the more exposed MX-5 soft-top, while an aero board wind blocker behind you keeps things reasonably quiet...up to a point. Conversation does get tricky over 100kmh.
For me, the MX-5 drive experience was not dulled in the RF. That means decent but never scary urge from the 2.0-litre engine which loves to play at its high redline, a wonderfully playful and communicative chassis and delightful balance.
It has been set up with reasonably soft suspension to make it a viable everyday car, and I love the way there's surprising body lean in the turns which helps you get into a sporty driving rhythm when fast cornering. Steering feedback is excellent too.
Stuck in city traffic or cruising on the motorway? The MX-5 RF is certainly a well-insulated option that you quickly forget isn't a full coupe.
You'd recommend the manual gearbox?
It's a gem. There's a lovely little gear knob and the true roadster driving experience is best discovered with three pedals.
That said, the six-speed auto works well with this 2.0-litre engine - more so than the 1.5-litre. But really, the MX-5 RF is a car you want to feel properly involved with.
What toys do I get?
There are two MX-5 RF grades: RF and RF GT. From entry you get 17-inch alloys, LED lights daytime running lights and headlights, black cloth seats, air con, cruise control, 7-inch screen, bluetooth, internet radio integration (Pandora, etc.), sat nav, blind spot monitoring and rear cross traffic alert. Manual models score an all-important limited slip differential.
The GT cars ($5340 more) add leather heated seats, climate control, Bose sounds, keyless entry, adaptive front lights, rain-sensing wipers and the option of a two-tone retractable roof.
For an extra $1000 you can get a pack bringing premium Nappa leather and black painted roof.
So should I buy one then?
The MX-5 RF is distinctive enough to be seen as a different model to the MX-5 soft top, but it'd be worth comparing the two side by side if you're a serious shopper. And if you'll never drop the roof, it'd be silly not to try Toyota's lovely 86 too, an inevitable hardtop rival.
If it were my money I'd still opt for the MX-5 soft top as it's cheaper, purer and I personally love the ease of folding the cloth roof.
I may well be in the minority though, as Mazda is convinced the RF will be its sales champ. And I won't begrudge its buyers: the RF's a delightful little sports car with quite unique and arresting style.
Model: Mazda MX-5 RF (Retractable Fastback).
Details: Two-door, two-seat rear-wheel-drive retractable hardtop convertible.
Engine: 2.0-litre naturally-aspirated four-cylinder petrol generating maximum power of 118kW @ 6000rpm and peak torque of 200Nm @ 4600rpm.
Transmission: Six-speed manual or six-speed automatic.
Consumption: 7.0-litres/100km (manual) or 7.4-litres/100km (auto).
Bottom line plus on-roads: From $38,550 (RF); from $43,890 (RF GT). Autos add $2000.
What matters most
The good: The usual MX-5 joy to drive with fine balance, handling and revvy engine mated to a silky gearbox (especially the manual), striking looks, smooth and fast folding hard top roof.
The not so good: Exhaust note needs to be more pronounced, the usual storage space and boot space limitations of a car this size, needs reach adjustment for the steering wheel.
Warranty and servicing: Three-year unlimited kilometre warranty and five-year capped price servicing program. Services are every 10,000km or 12 months, with an average of $316 over first five services.
Driving experience 18/20
Features and equipment 17/20
Functionality and comfort 16/20
Value for money 17/20
Style and design 19/20
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