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2017 Mazda MX-5 RF Review: First Drive


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)

Naturally aspirated
118kW at 6,000rpm
200Nm at 4,600rpm
Power to weight ratio
112kW / tonne
Fuel type
Fuel capacity
45 litres
Average Range
643 kilometres
Rear wheel drive
Engine configuration
3.92 metres
1.74 metres
1.24 metres
Unoccupied weight
1050 kilograms
Cargo space seats up
130 litres
Cargo seats down
Not applicable

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