Mazda MX-5 RF

An open-and-shut case over the soft-top?

RYAN LEWIS

FIRST AUSSIE DRIVE

MAZDA has a legacy of ambitious engineering exploits spanning more than eight decades, and the MX-5 RF bears witness to it. Its folding metal lid wasn’t envisaged until two years into fourth-gen MX-5 development, when packaging it without extending the wheelbase or eating into cargo space became a complex conundrum to crack.

Chief designer Masashi Nakayama’s elegant targa solution is far less compromised than the flabby third-gen’s retractable hardtop, and delivers a convincingly premium and coupelike appearance that Mazda hopes will broaden the car’s appeal.

Crucially then, the four-piece roof mechanism adds more than just 47kg of moving parts. It brings maturity and a kerb-side allure the regular MX-5 roadster lacks, with an imperceptible impact on its dynamic purity.

Only the 118kW/200Nm 2.0-litre four is offered, leaving out the softtop’s 1.5-litre option. Pricing starts at $38,550 for the base RF, $43,890 for the RF GT with heated leather, keyless entry and Bose stereo, and $44,890 for a special edition with black roof inserts and exclusive Nappa interior. Add $2000 to each for a six-speed auto.

Mechanical changes are limited to a firmer front anti-roll bar, increased stroke for the front dampers and more compliant rear suspension bushes. The ride, though soft for a sports car, is brilliantly controlled, leaving the MX-5’s fabled steering sharpness and poised chassis unspoilt.

It’s deliciously encouraging when driven enthusiastically.

Relatively moderate power outputs are enough in such a lightweight frame, and there’s still no picking the weight difference without a back-to-back test, which should say enough about how minimal the effect is.

Roof up or down there’s a posh feeling inside the RF that verges on flashy in GT trim. Tyre roar remains a carryover issue from the soft-top, and there’s some unwelcome wind noise around joins in the roof at highway speeds, though overall cabin refinement is improved by having a solid lid.

Additional safety systems include blind-spot monitoring, which it needs considering the huge obstruction of the RF’s tapering rear buttresses. Curiously, a rear-view camera is a $485 option for all versions.

The greater sense of freedom offered by an open-top car usually comes at the expense of security, sports credibility and roof-up looks. The RF manages to cover those bases without losing any of the MX-5 essence that charmed its way to the top of COTY 2016. And if it broadens the MX-5’s fan base, then the RF deserves its place in the line-up. e se nd ages t hat OTY X-es .

PLUS & MINUS

Tyre and wind noise; blind spots; no standard reversing camera Unspoilt dynamic excellence; upmarket quality; improved refinement Model Engine Max power Max torque Transmission Weight Economy 0-100km/h Price On sale Mazda MX-5 RF GT 1998cc 4cyl, dohc, 16v 118kW @ 6000rpm 200Nm @ 4600rpm 6-speed manual 1080kg 7.0L/100km 7.4sec (claimed) $43,890 Now

Soft-closing argument

It takes 13 seconds to open or close the RF’s lid, which can be done at speeds of up to 10km/h. Mazda’s engineers laboured over the final stages of the roof’s articulation, and by slowing the servos at the end of their movement they managed a smooth and quiet latching motion, like softclose drawers in a modern kitchen. It does a lot to realise the upmarket experience Mazda set out to achieve.