Mazda MX-5 RF 2.0 SE-L Nav28 | 02 | 2017Scotcars rating

    Mazda puts a solid roof on its iconic MX-5 and creates the intriguing Retractable Fastback

    BEAUTY, AS THEY say, is in the eye of the beholder; so I have to admit, right from the get-go, that, from the rear, I don’t like the look of the new Mazda MX-5 RF. There; I’ve said it. Oh, and to the uninitiated, RF stands for Retractable Fastback. (Related: Roadtest — Mazda MX-5 1.5 Sport Nav)

    I also have to admit, that my stance appears to be at odds with the majority of the other motoring journos who drove the car in deepest Devon ahead f the car going on-sale in Scotland on March 4. Most said — at least in front of Mazda people — it looked better than its sister soft-top.

    Each to their own, I guess; but one thing we all agreed with … to drive, the MX-5 RF is an absolute cracker.

    But let’s deal with the elephant in the room first: the RF’s looks. Or rather, the two rear buttresses.

    Unlike the previous Mk3 Roadster Coupe, the new hardtop version of the Mk4 MX-5 doesn’t have a simple folding lid. Oh no. Instead it has a complex flying buttressed arrangement of aluminium, steel and plastic which brilliantly folds itself into the bootspace like an award-winning piece of origami. In essence the newcomer resembles a very distinctive quasi-coupe.

    Mazda-MX-5-RF-Roadtest-8.jpg

    In a brilliantly clever piece of engineering ingenuity, the plastic rear buttresses lift out of the way to allow the aluminium roof panel and its strength-giving steel mechanism to sweep neatly away beneath them.

    Once the buttresses return to their original position, what’s left behind looks a little like a targa-top. And all this is completed in just 13-seconds. Impressive, eh? Ok, you can open the fabric roof on the soft-top in three-seconds, but in terms of shifting a metal roof, Mazda’s system is quick.

    And thanks to the clever packaging, there’s no decrease in boot space compared with the soft-top.

    I guess the RF is something of a Marmite car: you either love it, or you don’t.

    Ok, now that we’ve got that out of the way, let’s deal with driving the car, and everything that goes with it.

    The hardtop adds 45kg of weight to the RF, compared to the soft-top, and that’s resulted in a few detailed tweaks to the suspension settings to counteract the higher centre of gravity and altered weight distribution.

    In addition to different rear spring and damper rates, the RF also gets altered front damper settings and a thicker front anti-roll bar.

    Mazda-MX-5-RF-Roadtest-9.jpg

    Mazda engineers have also altered the central chassis cross member to balance the ratio of stiffness front to rear. It also contributes to maintaining the same put-a-big-smile-on-your-face handling characteristics as the fabric-roofed MX-5.

    As is the case with the soft-top, there are two engine choices, the 1.5- and 2.0-litre ‘SkyActiv’ petrol four-cylinder units, both mated to a six-speed manual gearbox as standard. There is though the option of an auto ‘box, but only on the 2.0-litre.

    Interestingly, and it may comes as no surprise, that while the 1.5-litre felt the best combination in the soft-top we drove in August 2015, in the RF it’s the larger 2.0 which feels more exhilarating to drive.

    It appears that when the soft-top was being developed, Mazda engineers maximised the 1.5-litre to deliver the light, sporty nature so beloved by MX-5 drivers around the world. In contrast, the core engine used in development of the RF was the larger 2.0-litre, so it follows that’s the most successful marriage.

    Inside the cabin there’s an extra 5cm of headroom, and thanks to greater soundproofing around the rear wheelarches there’s less road noise when you have the roof in place. There’s no denying if you cover motorway miles, the RF is the better option.

    Mazda-MX-5-RF-Roadtest-9c.jpg

    Take the car cross-country, especially the 2.0-litre, and you’ll be rewarded with a car which relishes being hustled through any tight, twisty or long sweeping corners you can find.

    The tweaks to the suspension ensure the RF remains flat through corners, while still managing to keep the ride supple. Steering has also been improved, with revisions to the power input making the car feel lighter on turn-in, yet still managing to weight up nicely as the front tyres load. The result is confidence-inspiring.

    What’s it like with the roof down? Well, ironically it actually feels as though there’s more noise and buffeting behind your head in the cabin than you’d experience in the soft-top. I guess that’s down to the Targa-like environment. And rear visibility is hampered a tad by those rear buttresses.

    Ah, we’re back to the buttresses. I fully accept I might be in a minority in not liking them; a reality confirmed by the fact the more conventional-looking Mk3 MX-5 Roadster Coupe folding hard-top outsold its soft-top sibling 80:20 in the UK.

    Whether those figures will be repeated with the RF is open to debate. Mazda themselves forecast the split could be anywhere from 50:50 to 70:30 in favour of the RF.

    Mazda-MX-5-RF-Roadtest-9e.jpg

    Interestingly, Mazda UK director Jeremy Thomson didn’t call the RF a hardtop version of the MX-5; instead he carefully used the phrase “it’s an alternative to the soft-top MX-5”. A subtle change in stance from when Mk3 when we previously  simply had a soft-top MX-5 and a hardtop MX-5.

    So: soft-top or Retractable Fastback? Let’s leave my personal views on the newcomer’s looks aside.

    With the roof up, the RF is the better car, with a quieter cabin and, as a result, a more comfortable environment in which to drive. However, with the roof down, it’s ironically noisier and windier than the soft-top MX-5.

    There’s no penalty in terms of bootspace, and the RF — certainly in 2.0-litre guise — is slightly sweeter. I guess if you buy the RF and only occasionally plan to drive with the roof down, it’s the better choice.

    Me? I’d still opt for the brilliant, lighter, cheaper 1.5-litre Sport Nav soft-top.

    Related: Trekking through Siberia in a Mazda3

    Keep up-to-date with all the latest news by following us on twitter.com/Scotcars

    Jim McGill

     

    Quick Stats
    Price OTR/As Tested £23,095 / £23,096
    Engine / Power: 1998cc 4cyl 16v petrol, with 6sp manual / 160PS
    How fast?: 0-62mph 7.4sec / Max 134mph
    How big/heavy?: L3915mm W1735mm H1236mm / 1120kg
    How thirsty/CO2?: 40.9mpg combined / 161g/km CO2
    InsGP/Road tax: 28E / Band G
    Alternatives: Subaru BRZ, Toyota GT86

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