Mazda MX-5 RF Review: Topless in 13 Seconds
by Sue Baker
A slick, quick, utterly weatherproof roof is a big plus for a drop-top sports car, and that’s the star turn of this new coupe-cabriolet MX-5.
Let’s start with the name. What does RF stand for? Retractable Fastback, apparently. How the motor industry loves coming up with catchy new initials for car badges.
Put another way, it’s a sports coupe-cabriolet with an electrically-operated, folding hard-top roof that is part metal, part composite, and wholly clever. There is nothing to unlatch, just a one-touch switch that motors the roof back to leave you with uninterrupted sky overhead.
Hard top, quick drop
The best bit is that it takes just 13 seconds to do it. Then if rain, or a fast motorway drive, looms ahead, it’s similarly rapid to raise the roof again. Perhaps the cleverest bit about the design is that there’s none of the usual compromise typically associated with folding hard-tops. The – admittedly dinky – size of the RF’s boot is unaltered at 130 litres from that of the soft-top MX-5.
Little wonder then that the new RF version, arriving eighteen months on from the launch of the current generation soft-top MX-5, is expected to dominate sales of Mazda’s popular sports car from now on.
The design of the MX-5 RF’s roof is ingenious, and pure theatre in the way in which it stows itself down behind the seats for an open-top trip, and unravels itself back upwards when you want to close it.
Press the roof switch, and the rear buttresses on either side of the car swivel upwards to create space for the main upper section of the roof to swoop backwards, divide into two sections, and stow itself neatly at the rear. It’s such a pleasing sequence that you want to find excuses to keep doing it.
It can even be operated while the car is moving, albeit very slowly in traffic, at no more than six mph. So you don’t have to park to operate the roof, although you do have to be crawling along.
Some folding hard-tops add a lot of weight to the car and inevitably alter the way it feels behind the wheel. Happily this one doesn’t. Part-aluminium, It only adds a relatively modest 45 kg, and the RF drives pretty much like its soft-top sister.
Low-slung, ground-hugging and nimble, the MX-5 RF is similarly engaging and driver-pleasing, with its enjoyable rear-wheel-drive handling, grippy precision and the directness of feedback you get through the steering wheel.
As with the soft-top, there is a choice of two engines, both petrol units: 1.5 litres with 129 bhp, or two-litres with 158 bhp. The gearbox is six-speed manual, with a slick, short-throw action.
So is the car flawlessly enjoyable? Not quite. There are a couple of little drawbacks. Although the open cabin is reasonably bluster free, so you won’t end up looking like your hair has been dragged through a holly hedge, it’s still noisy enough at 70 mph to make you raise your voice to a passenger.
There’s also a bit of an awkward bulge jutting up under your left thigh in the driving seat. Then there’s the price, at a premium of around £2,000 over the equivalent soft-top model.
Are these gripes enough to be off-putting? Not at all. It’s a honey of an all-season drop-top sports car, with a star turn of a roof, and we absolutely love it!
Mazda MX-5 RF Stats Review
Model tested: MX5 RF 2.0
Top speed: 134 mph
0-62 mph: 7.4 secs
Economy: 40.9 mpg
CO2: 161 g/km
Images: Sue Baker
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