Small sports cars may be too compact for 6ft tall motoring journalist, Tim Barnes-Clay, but Tim was more than happy to travel to Devon to try one of the first MX-5 RF’s out.
Okay, what does ‘RF’ mean? All it stands for is ‘Retractable Fastback’, but it’s not just the moniker that differentiates itself from the regular MX-5 – the RF has its own, distinct look.
You could argue this isn’t the time of year to have the roof down, but this is the whole point of the RF; if you’re too cold the car looks just as good with the roof up. Personally, I think it looks better. However, I suffer for my ‘art’, so I froze my poor bald bonce by driving a great swathe of the Devon with no roof up. It’s easy to get the MX-5 RF’s top to drop. The best time to press the switch to make the car’s roof and rear window fold away is when you’re stationary. But, if you’re in a hurry, you can get away with this action up to 6mph. After that, the car warns you it’s a ‘no go’. The electronic stowage action is over in 13 seconds, and then you’re left with the ‘fastback’ portion which gives some decent shelter against the British climate.
The MX-5 RF is available with a 131PS 1.5-litre unit, or you can up the fun by going for the Japanese automaker’s 160PS 2.0-litre lump. The latter is the version I drove. If you don’t like changing gears yourself you can choose an RF with automatic transmission, but I’d advise staying with Mazda’s six-speed manual ‘box. The diminutive gearstick feels good in the hand and it finds the cogs with precision – making for a more engaging drive. The 2.0-litre power unit is brisk, with 0-62mph arriving in 7.3 seconds. But it needs some work to get the best out of it – and that’s where the driver comes in – helping the car with the revs by hanging onto the gears and really pushing the RF. It all makes for a pleasurable experience – particularly when the Mazda’s engine and lively exhaust notes make themselves heard.
The Mazda MX-5 RF’s fixed roof segments make the car 45kg weightier than the normal MX-5, but the RF has been engineered so that it handles as sweetly as the lighter model. I found I could drive into twisty turns of tarmac zealously; the steering is utterly exact and the RF feels thoroughly balanced in the bends. All this keeps you well within the boundaries of safety. It also rides well, mopping up road imperfections far better than some bigger, less sports-oriented motors.
What the new 2017 Mazda MX-5 RF can’t do, though, is silence the whistling wind. It quells road and tyre rumble better than the MX-5 Convertible, but even with the roof up, it still sounds blustery. That said; once the roof is dropped, you are protected from a pummelling by the fastback segment – and at that point you embrace the sound of the wind rather than fighting against the din.
Inside, the tiny cockpit is very much the same as the usual MX-5. The only real alteration is a fresh colour screen that’s in the driver’s instrument housing. As with all MX-5’s, there’s only room for two-up and if, like me, you’re tall and not particularly skinny, it’s a snug place to be. The boot isn’t massive – obviously – but a couple of holdalls and some shopping bags will fit in. That’s not bad, considering you can get this loaded up with the roof in place or stowed away.
So, if you’re in the market for a car that has a removable roof section, but isn’t a full drop-top, then this Targa bodied MX-5 RF could well be for you. The new model protects you from the worst of the weather, while giving you that wind in your hair (and ears) experience. Ultimately, the RF delivers just as much fun as the MX-5 Convertible, but in a slightly more relaxed way. It also looks, dare I say it, more masculine with its fastback styling. But having a clever roof and a different look comes at a price – an extra £2000 over the traditional MX-5. In my opinion, it’s worth it for the bolder, sleeker shape alone, but then beauty is always in the eye of the beholder. Why not contact Perrys Mazda dealerships to find out more?
Pros ‘n’ Cons
- Looks √
- Performance √
- Handling √
- Roof √
- Wind Noise X
Fast Facts (2.0i SE-L Nav – as tested)
- Max speed: 133 mph
- 0-62 mph: 7.3 secs
- Combined mpg: 40.9
- Engine layout: 1998cc 4-cylinder petrol
- Max. power (PS): 160
- CO2: 161 g/km
- Price: £23,095