First Drive: 2017 Mazda MX-5 Miata RF
Retractable Fastback provides a more premium Miata experience
SAN DIEGO, California—The 2017 Mazda MX-5 Miata RF is not the first hardtop convertible Miata, but it is the first one to feature the sweet buttresses that, when the top retracts, provide the appearance of a targa top instead of a typical roadster.
Mazda developed the Retractable Fastback to preserve the Miata's already minimal trunk space, which would be impacted considerably if a traditional convertible hard top, like that of the NC-generation Miata PRHT's, was used, due to the new ND Miata's smaller size. Instead, the RF loses just 0.11 cubic feet of cargo space, so there's still enough room in the back for a duffel bag.
Top operation is quick and simple. Hold the center console-mounted switch up to open the top and down to close. Operation takes just 13 seconds and can happen at speeds up to 6 mph.
The tradeoff? An extra 113 pounds. A 4.8-percent increase in weight is not insignificant, but it's also not that noticeable unless you're trying to set records around an autocross course. The top is actually slightly heavier than 113 pounds, but Mazda drilled several holes into the underbody-tunnel member to save some weight. On the plus side, the RF offers true 50/50 weight distribution when equipped with a manual versus the soft-top ND's 53/47 (automatic RFs split the weight 51/49).
Another downside is that despite being 0.2-inch taller than a 17-inch wheel-equipped soft-top, the RF has 0.6-inch less headroom. Taller folk will feel the reduction in headroom, as there's not that much to begin with. The reduction is due to the hard-top's sound-absorbing headliner, which does the job it is intended to do quite well. The interior is substantially lower than the soft-top's, and holding a conversation does not require elevation of voice volumes.
With the roof down, the RF feels much like a typical roadster — just one that happens to have a B-pillar, so there's a slight blind spot. Wind buffeting is minimal because the rear glass folds with the roof, creating an opening for air to pass through.
Aside from the top, the RF receives a 4.6-inch color screen on the left side of the gauge cluster instead of a black-and-white one. Given that the RF is only offered in the higher-level Club and Grand Touring trims, this touch helps accentuate the RF's more premium positioning, especially in Grand Touring.
To the surprise of nobody, the Miata RF drives just like a Miata. The 155-horsepower naturally aspirated 2.0-liter is just as responsive and peppy, shifts are just as short and quick, steering is just as responsive and direct, and handling is just as controlled and predictable. RF Club versions, especially those equipped with the $3,400 Brembo/BBS package, will be sharper than the Grand Touring we sampled in the south San Diego County countryside, but no Miata fan short of the most hardcore autocrossser will be disappointed.
Of course, the few autocrossers out there that are looking to buy a new Miata (they prefer the cheap NA/NB route) left the building as soon as they heard the phrase "extra weight," which is fine as the Miata RF is not meant for them anyway. The typical new Miata buyer is far from the youthful enthusiast typically associated with the name; in fact, the median age is 60. That mature customer will have a greater appreciation for the extra creature comforts of the hard-roof version, especially during inclement weather, and for many of them, a hard top simply won't do. The Miata RF should help Mazda recapture those customers, although it's likely to send the median age even closer to social security eligibility.
That mature customer is also going to be far more willing to pay for the privilege of the RF's hard top, which costs an extra $2,755 for the Miata Club and $2,555 for the Grand Touring. For that, they'll get the same wonderful Miata driving experience we've come to expect without any of the comfort sacrifices made by choosing a soft top. And, at least in the eyes of some, they'll be enjoying a better-looking ride as well.
2017 Mazda MX-5 Miata RF Specifications
|ENGINE||2.0L DOHC 16-valve I-4/155 hp @ 6,000 rpm, 148 lb-ft @ 4,600 rpm|
|TRANSMISSION||6-speed manual or automatic|
|LAYOUT||2-door, 2-passenger, front-engine, RWD convertible|
|EPA MILEAGE||26/33-35 mpg (city/hwy)|
|L x W x H||154.1 x 68.3 x 49.0 in|
|0-60 MPH||5.8 sec (est)|
|TOP SPEED||125 mph (est)|