Mazda MX-5 RF: road test

Posted on February 17th, 2017 by James Luckhurst

The MX-5 RF is great fun, whatever the weather throws at it.

Mazda MX-5 RF: road test

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What is it?
Mazda’s brilliant MX-5 sports car, but with the all-weather convenience of a folding hard-top, not a fabric roof. RF stands for Retractable Fastback.

How safe is it?

The RF has plenty of safety kit but hasn’t been tested by Euro NCAP yet, although the roadster version has. It scored four stars out of five.

Who should buy one?
If you want a convertible, but think a coupé is easier to live with all-year round, you’ll love the MX-5 RF. It’s enormous fun.

Road test by David Motton 6 February 2017

 

 

DRIVING AND PERFORMANCE
Mazda MX-5 RF: road test
The ingenious folding roof is the MX-5 RF’s big talking point. Made from aluminium, steel and plastic, it can be raised or lowered in 13 seconds at speeds of up to 6mph. The front and middle sections disappear from view while the buttresses on either side move out of the way, before returning to their original position.
With the roof up, the RF is quieter than the MX-5 convertible and feels snug and warm. It’s not as quiet at motorway speeds as some coupés but it certainly makes the MX-5 easier to live with as an everyday car.
Roof down you can hear the wind rushing around those buttresses and there isn’t quite the same sense of openess you enjoy in the regular MX-5, but many will be happy to make that compromise for the benefits of a proper hard-top.
There’s more to the RF than its new roof. The suspension and steering have been retuned to account for the hard-top’s small weight penalty (around 40kg), and an automatic gearbox is available with the 2.0-litre engine (no doubt leading to cries of ‘heresy’ from sports-car purists everywhere).
The 2.0-litre model we drove was fitted with uprated Bilstein suspension dampers and a strut brace to stiffen the body and improve handling. Tinkering with the well-judged set-up of the regular MX-5 could have been a mistake, but the results are stunning. The RF is just as agile as the convertible, if not more so, with crisp steering and a delicate balance. The 1.5-litre’s standard suspension is a little softer but no less rewarding.
Sometimes you can learn a lot about a car by poring over its performance data. But not with the MX-5 RF. The 1.5-litre model’s 131PS (129bhp) and modest 0-62mph time of 8.6 seconds could trick you into thinking this is a pretty tame sports car. But the appeal of the MX-5 lies not in what it does, but the way it does it. Besides, if you want more performance the 160PS (158bhp) 2.0-litre supplies it.

SPACE AND PRACTICALITY
Mazda MX-5 RF: road test

Apart from folding like elaborate origami, the really clever thing about the RF’s roof is that it doesn’t take up any boot space when stowed away. That means the RF has almost exactly the same luggage capacity as the convertible.
Let’s not get too carried away, though. A weekend’s bags should fit in the boot if a couple travels light, but anything more will be a struggle. And the button to open the boot is mounted low, close to the number plate, where it soon gets dirty.
There’s not a lot of storage space in the cabin, either, and the cupholders are awkwardly placed, meaning you have to reach behind you to pick up a drink. A little more legroom would be welcome for very tall drivers, but otherwise the cabin is comfortable so long as you don’t mind the low-slung seating position. If space is a priority, an MX-5 really isn’t for you. But it’s practical enough for a small sports car.
SAFETY
Mazda MX-5 RF: road test

The MX-5 RF is very small and very low, so you get a close up view of lorry wheels as you drive along. Some drivers may feel vulnerable as a result, but they shouldn’t – the drop-top MX-5 scored a reasonable four stars in Euro NCAP testing. All-round visibility is good, and all models have front and side airbags, a tyre pressure monitoting system, and ISOFIX child seat mounts on the passenger’s side.

EQUIPMENT
Mazda MX-5 RF: road test

The regular range consists of the SE-L, Sport and Sport Nav. For now, the Launch Edition tops the range, but just 500 are being made and all but 160 are already spoken for at time of writing. Mazda says most early customers are choosing high-end models like the Launch Edition, which has a two-tone roof, Recaro seats, a unique alloy wheel design, a seven-inch touchscreen satnav and a Bose sound system.

COSTS

Mazda MX-5 RF: road test

The RF costs £2,000 more than the equivalent model in the convertible MX-5 range. Is it worth it? That really depends on whether you are looking at an MX-5 as a second car or your everyday drive. Either way, the RF should be affordable to run for a sports car. EQUA Index has yet to carry out independent testing, but we saw around 43mpg from both the 1.5- and 2.0-litre models.

WE SAY
The MX-5 RF is great fun, whatever the weather throws at it.

AT A GLANCE:
Price: £25,695 as tested
Performance: 0-62mph in 7.4 seconds
Economy: 40.9mpg combined
Insurance: Group 29E
Tax: £500 first year, £140 standard

Figures for the MX-5 RF 2.0 160PS Sport Nav