Review of: 2017 Mazda MX-5 RF 2dr Retractable Fastback Man GS
2017 Mazda MX-5 RF: Folding roof on a fantastic driver
By Jil McIntosh
Jul. 10, 2017
There are three realities about life in Canada: death, taxes, and nasty weather. You can’t do much about the first two, but Mazda has managed the last one with its all-new, 2017 MX-5 RF, which stands for Retractable Fastback.
It may seem odd to take Mazda’s popular soft-top and put a hard roof on it, but the company says there’s a method to the madness. When the last retractable-roof MX-5 was available—production ended for 2015—some 70 per cent of Canadians opted for it. And while convertible MX-5s spend three-quarters of their time with the roof down, Mazda says the old retractable spend 80 per cent of its time with the roof up. It seems that’s primarily because it’s more comfortable on longer highway trips, or when you’re stuck in traffic in blazing-hot sunshine.
The old one wasn’t too handsome with the roof up, and so this time it’s more of a Targa-style top. While the previous hard roof was an option on the roadster, it’s now a separate line, with two trim levels: the GS at $38,800, and the GT at $42,200, priced the same whether you get a stick-shift or automatic.
I had the GS with six-speed manual, further optioned with a $4,400 Sport Package that added Brembo front brakes, red calipers, 17-inch BBS forged alloy wheels, and heated Recaro sport seats, plus a $300 coat of Soul Red Metallic paint, bringing mine to $43,500 before freight and taxes.
Pros & Cons
- + Transmission shift quality
- + All-season able
- + Sharp handling
- - Wind noise
- - No backup camera
- - Interior storage
The MX-5 roadster was redesigned for 2016, and I think it’s a beauty. It’s far more angular, looks wider and lower, and is finally more sporty-styled than cute.
The new roof does look much better than the old retractable’s did when it’s up, but it comes with a compromise: to get that good-looking rear-roof angle, the rear buttresses remain up when the two-piece lid goes down. It’s a one-button, thirteen-second operation that no longer requires you to unlatch it first, and it folds it above and in front of the trunk, so there’s no loss of storage space.
The front roof panel is made of steel and the middle one of aluminum, while the buttresses are compound plastic. The rear glass goes down with the roof, but a small, clear plastic wind buffer remains upright. The whole thing adds about 56 kilograms to the overall weight, and the suspension has been tuned specifically for it.
As you might expect, the buttresses trap wind at higher speeds, and there’s a bit of buffeting, although it’s not unbearable. My tester also had a fair bit of wind noise on the driver’s side when the roof was up, although there were no leaks when taken through a high-pressure car wash.
There’s no getting around this: you wear the MX-5. It’s low-slung and close-coupled, and if you shop at the big-n-tall store, you will have issues. The bolstered Recaro seats make it even tougher to get in, but once you’re there, they embrace you with an impressive level of comfort, and hold you tight on the turns.
The controls are simple, and simple is good. Climate control duties are handled by three large dials, and the heated seats use hard buttons. The three instrument cluster pods are easy to see, and the round vents are easy to open and move.
The trunk is relatively roomy for a vehicle this size, but you can forget about stashing your belongings up front in the cabin. The only place for my small notebook was in the small locking box between the seatbacks, below which you find the two cupholders. There’s no glovebox, and the centre cubby holds a pen and that’s pretty much it. Then again, it’s a drop-top MX-5: put down the drink, put away the phone, and pay attention to the drive.
The seven-inch infotainment screen is presented tablet-style atop the dash, and works either by touch or with a dial-and-button controller on the centre console.
Both trim levels include navigation, Bluetooth, text message functionality, Internet radio functionality and two USB ports, but you must move up to the GT to get a premium Bose audio system, including headrest-mounted speakers, and satellite radio.
Lane departure warning is restricted to the GT, but both trims include blind spot monitoring with cross-traffic alert. Oddly, though, a backup camera isn’t available on either one. Granted, there isn’t a lot of MX-5 behind you, but when you sit low in the car and you’re also short like me, that little extra look-see out the rear is nice when you’re backing into a parking spot and would like to see the nose of the car behind you.
Hard roof or soft, this is why you buy an MX-5. After all these years, Mazda’s little two-seater is still one of the best-balanced, sharpest-handling, and most tossable sportsters on the road.
The 2.0-litre four-cylinder is naturally-aspirated, and makes 155 horsepower and 148 lb-ft of torque. That’s not particularly powerful for a sports car, but I’m more than okay with that. It seems just right for this lightweight chassis, and acceleration is still brisk enough to make you smile.
I’ve driven the autobox, and it’s well done, but the manual transmission is definitely the fun way to get up and go. The throws are short, the shifter notches brilliantly into each gear, and the clutch feels just right.
I’ve driven the soft-top version back-to-back with the retractable, and while you can feel the weight difference, it’s not an issue. The RF still stays flat and neutral on sharp turns, and with quick, crisp response to steering input.
The engine prefers its fuel to be the premium variety, but it’s relatively frugal with it. Against published figures of 8.9 L/100 km in the city and 7.1 on the highway, I averaged 7.2 in combined driving.
Starting at $38,800 for the GS, and $42,200 for the GT, the RF adds $3,000 to the price of the corresponding MX-5 roadster trim levels.
There’s nothing in the way of direct competition for the MX-5 RF’s configuration of two seats and pop-up hard roof in this price range: The similarly-styled Mercedes-Benz SLC starts at $58,800, for example. Among its price peers, you’re pretty much pitting it against cars with a soft roof.
The closest you’ll get, other than its MX-5 sibling, is the Fiat 124 Spider—usually dubbed the “Fiata,” since it’s based on the MX-5 (Miata). You get 164 horses from its turbocharged engine, but a hardtop version isn’t available.
The hard roof is a considerable step up price-wise from the soft top, and will likely be bypassed for those whom the MX-5 is a second-car summer indulgence. But if you want to drive your Mazda in at least three seasons, if not more—or on the highway, or very sunny days in traffic—it might well be worth the price. And the best part is that it’s still just as much fun as ever.