Review: Mazda MX-5 RF (2017)
Coupe style and folding hard top. Just as good to drive as the soft-top. Available with an auto.
Very limited headroom for taller occupants with the roof up. Poor over the shoulder rear 3/4 vision. Lots of wind noise with the roof down at motorway speeds. Avoid the auto unless you really have to.
Mazda MX-5 RF (2017): At A Glance
Want a Mazda MX-5, but worried about the lack of security or refinement provided by a fabric top? The MX-5 RF – Retractable Fastback – should fit the bill perfectly. It’s just as good to drive as the soft-top yet still provides wind-in-the-hair thrills - but make sure you fit in it because headroom is tight.
The roof mechanism isn’t hugely complex, so the two-part metal top fits neatly into the same space as the fabric roof of the regular MX-5. The trade-off is a pair of coupe-like pillars that give the RF a targa-like profile, rather than traditional convertible looks. It takes 13 seconds to fold up or down and works at speeds up to 6mph.
Despite the way it looks, the RF feels like a proper convertible on the road. It’s also more refined and quiet when the roof is in place, thanks to the thicker metal top. The downside is the reduced head room versus the soft-top – which was already tight for tall drivers.
Aside from the roof, the MX-5 RF is largely the same as before. The dashboard has an identical layout, the boot is the same size and the engine range is mirrored with a 131PS 1.5-litre petrol and a 2.0-litre petrol with 160PS (132PS and 184PS respectively from 2019).
The 2.0-litre's available with a choice of a six-speed manual or six-speed torque-converter automatic gearbox. The manual is lovely to use - possibly one of the best manual gearboxes available on a new car - that opting for the automatic feels like a shame, especially as the auto is a bit clumsy on the upshift.
The handling is as good as the soft-top too – if not a tiny bit better - thanks to some extra stiffening in the chassis and bespoke suspension settings, making the steering more sharp and immediate. It’s an absolute joy to drive, with beautifully weighted controls and superb precision through bends.
It costs a little more and there is no basic SE trim level, but the RF feels worth the extra. It looks good, drives well and has the added benefit of better security and improved refinement over the convertible. It might not have the same pure roadster feel, but it’s a better all-rounder. If you can fit that is.
What does a Mazda MX-5 RF (2017) cost?
Mazda MX-5 RF (2017): What's It Like Inside?
The MX-5 RF has a folding metal top in place of the fabric roof fitted to the convertible. It’s operated by holding a switch, with no manual clip like the convertible, taking 13 seconds to raise or lower. It can be operated while moving, but only at speeds of up to 6mph which is only likely to be useful on a driveway or in slow moving traffic.
To keep things simple and light, there are only two sections to the roof which fold down – the rear pillars stay in place and give the RF the look of a targa. In practice, while it isn’t as open to the elements as the cabriolet, it does still feel very much like a convertible car.
Otherwise, the RF is very much the same as the convertible, with the same interior layout, instrument binnacle and touchscreen system. However, the folding metal top means head room is tight for taller drivers. Anyone over 6ft will struggle to get comfortable and particularly tall drivers simply won’t fit.
On the plus side the load area is exactly the same size as in the soft-top, despite the added complexity of the metal roof. That said, space is still very limited, with enough room for a small shopping trip or a couple of weekends bags but nothing more. There's no glove box and you'll find yourself struggling for places to keep things like your wallet or mobile phone.
The RF has no basic SE trim level, like the convertible. That means there are only Sport Nav and SE-L Nav variants to pick from (badged the Sport Nav+ and SE-L Nav+ from 2019), while a new range-topping GT Sport Nav+ was brought in with the 2019 updates.
Standard equipment's good across the range, with features like a seven-inch colour touchscreen display and DAB radio across the range, although Apple CarPlay and Android Auto are a £350 optional extra.
Standard Equipment (from 2019):
SE-L Nav+ trim features 16-inch black alloy wheels, LED daytime running lights, climate control, premium black cloth seats with red stitching, heated seats, cruise control with speed limiter, seven-inch colour touchscreen display, Bluetooth, DAB radio, driver headrest speakers, Piano Black door mirrors, integrated navigation with three-years European map updates. The 2.0-litre SE-L Nav+ adds 17-inch black alloy wheels, limited slip differential, i-stop and i-ELOOP (regenerative braking system).
Sport Nav+ adds 16-inch bright alloy wheels, body-coloured door mirrors, rear parking sensors, dusk-sensing lights, rain-sensing front wipers, adaptive front lights, black leather seat trim with red stitching, auto-dimming rear-view mirror, smart keyless entry, premium Bose sound system with nine speakers, lane departure warning system, drive attention alert, traffic sign recognition. The 2.0-litre Sport Nav+ adds 17-inch bright alloy wheels, sports suspension with Bilstein dampers, strut brace, limited slip differential.
GT Sport Nav+ builds on the Sport Nav+ spec with sand leather seats, stainless steel scuff plates, blind sport monitoring system with rear cross traffic alert, adaptive LED headlights, reversing camera.
Child seats that fit a Mazda MX-5 RF (2017)Our unique Car Seat Chooser shows you which child car seats will fit this car and which seat positions that they will fit, so that you don't have to check every car seat manufacturer's website for compatibility.
What's the Mazda MX-5 RF (2017) like to drive?
The Mazda MX-5 RF is every bit as good to drive as the soft-top, despite the extra weight and complexity of its folding metal top. That’s partly down to some additional body stiffening, but largely because of Mazda being so fastidious with its weight saving – it’s only 45kg heavier than the convertible.
In fact, the two cars are so similar to drive you won’t feel you are missing out on the driving experience by picking one or the other. The steering is beautifully weighted and pinpoint accurate, the suspension keeps the car neat and poised in the corners and the petrol engines sound fantastic, roof up or down.
It is a sublime car for tackling a British back road. It manages to deliver big smiles and excitement without huge amounts of power and massive speed, which is great for uneven, twisting lanes. Even with relatively modest 1.5-litre engine, the MX-5 RF doesn’t feel like it lacks anything.
Both the 1.5-litre and 2.0-litre engines options do without turbocharging, so they rev smoothly right up the red line, making a lovely rasp that never gets too intrusive. The manual transmission, fitted to both engines as standard, is a joy to use, with a short, chunky throw that’s really satisfying without feeling heavy.
The 1.5-litre might have less power and torque but it's still a good fit for the MX-5 in both convertible and RF forms. And even though the RF is a little more firm - and a little heavier than the fabric-topped car - it doesn't feel necessary to opt for the more powerful engine. Though you won't regret the decision if you do decide to spend a little more...
From 2019, the 2.0-litre comes with 184PS which makes it feel genuinely quick - and a noticeable upgrade from the 160PS of the older model. It still likes to be ragged towards the limiter, though - you really have to drive the MX-5 hard to get the best from it, but it rewards that.
Even in the dry, you can feel the power being sent to the rear wheels. Boot it on a roundabout or when pulling out of a junction and it'll squirm playfully with the traction control keeping things reigned in (incidentally, there's a button conveniently located right next to the steering wheel should you wish to turn it off).
A downside to the RF over the soft-top is that, when cruising at high speeds with the roof retracted, there's an awful lot of wind noise caused by the targa-like rear body. With the roof up or down, the fastback roof does hamper rear visibility.
Unique to the RF is a six-speed automatic transmission, available with the 2.0-litre engine only. You'll have to take over using the paddles mounted behind the steering wheel should you want an enthusiastic drive (and even then it lacks the fun of the manual), but the automatic's better suited to relaxed cruising. That'll be fine for some drivers, but you probably shouldn't opt for an MX-5 in the first place if you're after a relaxing drive.
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