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2017 Mazda MX-5 RF . (mike ditz/Mazda)
2017 Mazda MX-5 RF . (mike ditz/Mazda)

ROAD TEST

Review: 2017 Mazda MX-5 RF a stylish convertible that’s rewarding to drive Add to ...

Mazda’s new MX-5 RF is the convertible for people who don’t care about convertibles.

It’s not like the regular MX-5 (which is still named Miata in the United States), in which drivers put down the top at at every opportunity. No, the RF is the occasional convertible. Its letters stand for “retractable fastback” – and Mazda estimates that its drivers will remove the roof about 20 per cent of the time.

The rest of the time, with the roof in place, the car will be quieter and more secure than the soft top. It’ll look like a coupe – albeit a coupe that thinks it’s a Miata.

In its previous generation, the MX-5 was available with a retractable hardtop that sold more than the soft top in many markets, but still looked like a convertible with a solid roof. It wasn’t reprised when the fourth-generation car was released a year ago, but the designers went a step further instead.

“We really wanted the vehicle to be geared to a little bit different demographic,” says designer Ken Saward. “I don’t want to say premium, but a little more sophisticated, more mature buyer, not necessarily in age, but in mentality.

“If we can bring new buyers in – capture some new buyers who haven’t been in the Mazda showroom before – that would be ideal.”

Flick a switch inside the RF and the flying buttresses lift up, the solid roof and rear glass slides back and down into a self-contained storage area, and the buttresses lock back down again. It’s all electric and takes 13 seconds.

The key difference between the RF and the regular MX-5 is that the buttresses are always there. The car swaps from being a coupe to being a “targa”.

And how does it drive? Exactly like its fully-convertible sibling, except that it’s less noisy inside with the roof closed. Not quiet in the way that a hardtop convertible from BMW or Mercedes is quiet, but certainly less noisy. It’s also more secure, in that the roof of the parked car cannot be sliced open with a knife.

The RF weighs about 40 kilograms more than the soft top, thanks to the metal and various motors, but the extra weight isn’t really noticeable in the drive, and the suspension and engine have been re-tuned to take it into account. Otherwise, the two vehicles are basically the same, with identical cabins and trunks.

The MX-5 is available in three trim levels, but the RF is sold as a $2,000 option on only the two higher trims. This means the most basic MX-5 can be bought for $31,900 (before freight and PDI of $1,925, and taxes) while the RF will start at $38,800.

That’s a lot of money for what is essentially still a plaything – the two-seater Mazda is one of the smallest cars on the road, and its 127-litre trunk is one of the least spacious. But the only other targa-roofed car available is the Porsche 911 and that starts at three times the price.

Most importantly, in Canada’s winter climate, the hard roof does extend the driveability of the little roadster.

Sure, you can drive the MX-5 in snow if you have decent tires and a wooly hat, but the solid roof just makes the car more appropriate as a winter driver and, if you don’t have to put it away, doesn’t that add value?

Ultimately, it comes down to style. You lose nothing in the driving experience with the roof except for the profile of the car, which some will consider more attractive, and it will cost you $2,000. If that makes you more sophisticated and more mature, then so be it.

Tech Specs

  • Base price: $38,800; as tested: $42,200
  • Engine: 2.0-litre i4
  • Transmission/Drive: Six-speed manual or six-speed automatic/Rear-wheel drive
  • Fuel economy (litres/100 km): n/a
  • Alternatives: Mazda MX-5, Fiat 124 Spyder

Rating

  • Looks: It’s beautifully integrated, but you’ll either love it or hate it.
  • Interior: More space than you’d expect, and well finished.
  • Performance: Not fast, but rewarding to drive.
  • Technology: Not yet loaded with driver’s assistance tech – not even a rear-view camera – but getting there.
  • Cargo: Like the cabin, more space than you’d expect, but still not much.

The verdict

8.0

Great fun to drive, and it’s stylish.

The writer was a guest of the auto maker. Content was not subject to approval.

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