FEATURE STORIES

First Drive: Mazda MX-5 RF

First Drive: Mazda MX-5 RF image

Inigo S. Roces / Inigo S. Roces, Berjaya Mazda | March 10, 2017 09:15

Soft-top handling with supercar looks

Ever since the MX-5/Miata’s inception, there’s been no shortage of speculation as to what a hardtop version of the roadster would look and perform like. In addition, with torrential rain such a frequent damper to topless driving plans, it’s no surprise that some Philippine Miata owners kept the optional hardtop roof permanently on. And while this “Retractable Fastback,” (RF) isn’t quite the full-on hardtop experience, it’s certainly an agreeable compromise.

This new model shouldn’t come as a surprise. In truth, because the last generation’s (NC) Power Retractable Hard Top (PRHT) sold quite well, Mazda had engineered this current one (ND) with the possibility of a hard top in mind.  

Mazda MX-5 test drive at Mine Circuit in Japan

The RF is the same sporty roadster, but perhaps designed for more mature fans that have become stoic to wind-in-your-hair driving. Less wind intrudes into the cabin while there’s more space in the trunk with the top down, than the PHRT offered. The lack of wind intrusion was a welcome aspect as Berjaya Mazda, had brought us to the Mine Circuit, just outside of Hiroshima in Japan to test it. It was a very brisk 4 degrees.

Nonetheless, the cold weather could hardly dampen our spirits as the day provided an opportunity to test not just the MX-5 RF, but the MX-5 1.5, as well as the new CX-5. This isn’t just some teaser. Both the RF and CX-5 will be arriving in the Philippines soon. In fact, Berjaya Mazda is already accepting reservations for the RF.

The Mazda MX-5 RF

The hardtop look suits the MX-5 quite well. From the front, it’s nearly impossible to tell it apart from the soft top. From the side, it resembles the RX-8, with more muted wheel arches. The rear is easily the most striking angle as the vertical rear screen could fool you into thinking it were a mid-engine sports car. 90’s car fans will be delighted with the targa bar’s flying buttresses. Those, combined with the car’s compact size make it somewhat reminiscent of the Civic del Sol grey market import. The design is distinctly Japanese and Porsche fans that accuse it copying the 911 Targa ought to take a closer look.

Interior of the MX-5 RF

Inside is the very same interior of the soft top. This version presented to us was equipped with a terra cotta leather option, contrasting nicely with the black dash and grey color. For the drive around the track, I opted to keep the T-top down but the windows fully up. It also gave us a chance to experience the heated seats at steering wheel. At the warmest setting, they’re more than enough to compensate for driving in full on snow. I set it back to the lowest setting.

Stowing the top of the MX-5 RF

Opening up the top is easy as it simply requires holding down the button as the targa top is detached and stowed. Three beeps signify it’s completely up or fully retracted. This all happens in a matter of 13 seconds and can be done up to a crawl of 10 km/h.

Not surprisingly, this hard top weighs much more than its clothed sibling. As such, the RF has raised the pressure in the shocks, and made adjustments to the front stabilizer bar and rear springs. The result is a ride that’s indiscernably identical.

Fitted into the RF is the same 2.0-liter as the soft-top, paired to a 6-speed AT with paddle shifters. The engine doesn’t feel taxed by the heavier mass at all, willingly revving and accelerating at your foot’s command.

As expected, the handling is great, with the vehicle being incredibly obedient and precise, keeping the exact line you want around the track. There’s just enough roll to let you know the suspension is loaded, before it starts to stiffen up and you can pour on the throttle. This is the result of Mazda engineers retuning the electric power steering – not just on the MX-5, but on all new Mazda models – to return a more precise feeling of “jinba-ittai”(horse and rider as one). In truth, we never would have noticed it without them pointing it out. Yet the gist of it is, it takes less steering corrections to keep one’s line through the curve, as how much the steering wheel turns more accurate corresponds to how much the tires turn.

The MX-5 RF with the top up

To refresh our memories on what the soft top feels like, Mazda also provided a test drive of the Japan and Europe exclusive MX-5 1.5-liter. On paper its paltry performance figures may seem like a joke, yet on track, it hardly felt like a disadvantage. In fact, the little 1.5 was able to keep pace with the 2.0-liters and was even more delightful in corners. The standard Torsen limited slip differential made it just a little bit more exciting and hairy in turns, making the vehicle rotate a tad quicker and getting that tail a little bit closer to sliding out.

The bottom line is, given our menu of both 2.0-liter equipped MX-5 and RF, the difference will be purely aesthetic. It all depends on how much of the open road you want to experience and what silhouette of the MX-5 you’d prefer. Either way, it’s a delight to drive.