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2017 Mazda MX-5 RF Review: First Drive

4 years ago

Good points

  • RF roof doesn't cut performance
  • More rigid RF corners even better
  • Appealing security of a hard-top

Needs work

  • Adds complexity to a simple car
  • RF is a costly $4,000 upgrade
  • Doesn't really quieten the cabin
2017 Mazda MX-5 RF Machine Grey Front End

If you love driving, you’ve experienced the unique feeling of being totally in-tune with the car and the road underneath you. Mazda’s engineers certainly have – they even have a phrase for it: ‘jinba ittai’, which describes the connection between an experienced rider and their horse. Anyone who’s driven Mazda’s MX-5 will understand how ‘jinba ittai’ is done – it’s by keeping a car like the MX-5 light and nimble: that’s the sub-1000kg MX-5 soft-top. That simplicity is great in a perfect world – but what do you do when your buyers live in the real world, where cars are parked on the street, where it rains, where buyers want a bit more sophistication from their car? Enter the 2017 Mazda MX-5 RF: a new fastback version of the ND MX-5 that adds a partially retractable metal roof while avoiding the usual compromises of hardtop convertibles.

While the uncomplicated soft-top is the ultimate expression of ‘jinba ittai’, Mazda are realistic about their customers. History shows that while a select group of MX-5 fans opt for the pure soft-top version, far more buyers want the security and the sophistication of a hard-top. In fact, by the time Mazda stopped selling the third-generation NC MX-5, a hard-top was the sole shape available.

The soft-top-only new MX-5 has sold strongly but Mazda have eagerly awaited the arrival of the MX-5 RF. RF stands for Retractable Fastback, and this represents a new form for the MX-5. The old car had a fully-opening metal roof but space constraints ruled that out here. The RF is more like a targa convertible: the top roof section disappears but the elegant ‘flying buttresses’ remain in fixed in place. It’s a new concept and a unique shape, RF designer Masashi Nakayama told Chasing Cars. However, Mazda expect strong take-up: they’re predicting 6 in 10 buyers will go for the RF in 2017.

The good news is that the MX-5 RF takes away precisely zero from the MX-5 driving experience. The new roof is surprisingly lightweight and increased rigidity has maintained the MX-5’s dynamic characteristics. Read on for our further impressions, and make sure to click on the video above.

Key specs (as tested)

Engine
Capacity
2.0L
Cylinders
4
Induction
Naturally aspirated
Power
118kW at 6,000rpm
Torque
200Nm at 4,600rpm
Configuration
Conventional
Power to weight ratio
112kW / tonne
Fuel
Fuel type
Petrol
Fuel capacity
45 litres
Consumption
7L/100km
Average Range
643 kilometres
Drivetrain
Transmission
Manual
Drivetrain
Rear wheel drive
Engine configuration
In-line
Gears
6
Dimensions
Length
3.92 metres
Width
1.74 metres
Height
1.24 metres
Unoccupied weight
1050 kilograms
Cargo space seats up
130 litres
Cargo seats down
Not applicable

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