2017 Mazda MX-5 Miata RF Review

So Much Sexy For Such Little Money

As a general rule, I try not to fawn over too many of the cars I have the privilege of driving, though that’s often easier said than done.

After all, I’m just like any other car guy or gal out there, and I get equally as excited about the latest trail-tackling trucks and tire-shredding sports cars as a result. But there are far less flashy rides that find ways to fire me up, including the 2017 Mazda MX-5 Miata RF.

Of all the new cars set to hit the market this year — a list that includes the likes of the Ford F-150 Raptor and the Dodge Challenger SRT Demon — this new targa-like version of Mazda’s quintessential compact roadster is one that I have been anticipating most eagerly.

Building on a Legacy

The Miata has long held a special place in my heart — much longer than I’ve been trying, though still without success, to convince my wife that we need to own one. It’s about the closest there’s been to the perfect sports car in my lifetime, and definitely the closest in my price range. It’s not a car that’s predicated upon pure power but rather balance and agility. It stands to reason, then, that any additional heft — say like the weight of a retractable hardtop — threatens to throw the car’s equilibrium out of whack.

To counter those concerns, Mazda has done very little — at least on paper. The two are nearly identical dimensionally, with only slight variations in both ground clearance and overall height. The former means the car’s lowest point stands just 10 millimeters taller in RF guise, a result of alterations made to its suspension, while the latter has it measuring an additional five mm at its tallest point thanks to the thickness of the hardtop.

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Otherwise, it’s only when it comes to weight that these two can be told apart on paper, with the RF moving more mass than its fraternal twin. The current version of the Miata is the lightest since the original, a feat that was accomplished through the use of smaller and lighter internal components and more high-strength steel in its construction. That lighter weight also helps to limit the gains in the RF model. With the manual transmission handling gear changes, it tips the scales at just 2,445 lb (1,109 kg) or roughly the same as its ragtop predecessor.

Compare that to the current convertible version, though, and the RF appears to be at a disadvantage, with manual models weighing a scant 2,332 lb (1,058 kg). Adding more power was an option, though not an ideal one. Instead, the same naturally aspirated 2.0-liter in the soft top version resides under the RF’s hood, making the same 155 horsepower and 148 lb-ft of torque.

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A Blast to Drive

Like countless other Miata fanboys and fangirls, I was at least a little concerned about what it was going to do to alter the Miata’s dynamics, which make it about as fun to drive as anything else on the market. It wasn’t the lack of additional engine output that I was worried about, but the combination of the car’s altered form and the extra weight associated with it. Those fears didn’t last long.

It was early on a sunny Friday morning that I headed east from downtown San Diego in search of room to stretch the RF’s legs. The search didn’t take long, with traffic thinning and turns tightening simultaneously much to the delight of myself and the Soul Red Metallic Miata RF I was piloting. With the shifter firmly in my right hand and three pedals to play with, I soon discovered that not a single fleck of the Miata’s fun factor is lost despite the extra heft of the roof.

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The suspension, which was tuned to deal with the additional weight, is just as firm as the setup beneath the Miata soft-top, while the car’s chassis offers more than enough torsional rigidity to resist twisting on the most challenging of California’s canyon roads. The steering has also been recalibrated to offer a little more firmness and it shows, with plenty of feel and feedback. Coupled with one of the most deft manual gearboxes on the planet, the RF’s drive is as cerebral as any other Miata.

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Almost the Same Inside

It’s also just like any other Miata — well, like any other current model — in the cabin. The only difference of note is the slight decrease in headroom in the RF. The extra thickness of the hardtop cuts headroom to 36.8 inches (935 mm) compared to 37.4 inches (950 mm). That might not seem like much, but in a cabin where every little bit helps it matters greatly. I, for one, had a difficult time in the driver’s seat with the top closed, with my 6-foot-4 frame just a tad too tall to fit comfortably. Those on the taller side should be forewarned.

Lowering the top, which stows safely behind the seats, only takes about a dozen seconds, though it can only be done at speeds below six mph (10 km/h). The rear window also can’t be lowered independently of the roof, which would be a nice — though not necessary — touch. There’s also a bit of wind buffeting in the cabin with the roof tucked away, though not enough to cause much discomfort.

Regardless of those shortcomings, the Miata RF still offers plenty of affordable fun. Starting at $31,555 ($38,800 in Canada), it’s pricier than the soft-top version but offers the advantage of being either a coupe or convertible — and looks great doing both.

The Verdict: 2017 Mazda MX-5 Miata RF Review

After almost three decades on the market, the Mazda MX-5 Miata has firmly established itself as the quintessential compact roadster, and it’s done so by not straying too far from the original recipe. In a world that has gone almost completely digital, the 2017 Mazda MX-5 Miata RF, just like its soft-top sibling, is very much analog. It’s also hard not to pander over it.

  • Rickers

    It’s so sexy!

  • Felix James

    I remember when the Miata was a “girl’s car”

  • Jeff T

    I can’t agree with the title. The article was great and you hit home how great the car was as an experience. 38 grand for a car with zero practicality is painfully expensive. At least with a stang/camero you have somewhat a back seat and a small trunk.

  • Tar Patel

    There have been complaints about the wind buffeting while in the targa position. did you experience this?

  • robertburr

    It’s easily the best driving Miata to date. The RF offers more fun, more capabilities, more options, way more cool. The creature features are there, with navigation, blind spot and back-up alarms, smart phone integration, USB ports, walk-away door locks, auto headlights and wipers, a much-improved dash with smart gauges, easier access to gas tank. The downsides include no glove compartment, less room for the passenger, and higher price. Noise is not increased with top down compared to my previous 2013 HT convertible, but windscreen is much better, back window is better. This car is strictly for fun. Obviously you need another car for practical reasons. Mine is a CX-5 and it’s a great trade-off in size, features, performance, mileage and price.

  • Thanks for bringing this up, @tarpatel:disqus. There is a bit of buffeting, but not too much.

  • Dnett

    Me too. Back in the day my wife wanted one. I said “no way am I driving that chick car.” We bought an Alfa Spider instead. At least back then there were choices. Nowadays the Miata dominates the sector. And it way better looking, especially in RF trim.

  • Dnett

    Sorry, you can’t compare the Miata to the Mustang or Camaro. That’s a whole nother category, and about a thousand pounds heavier. If you require a back seat, sucks for you! But in THIS category, nothing comes close in price, other than the Fiat which is virtually the same car.

  • Amati5

    The review doesnt tell us why Mazda went out of their way to create the hardtop version. Is it quieter or add more rigidity compared to the softtop version? If not, what would be the gain. It cant be just for look.

  • Jeffery Surratt

    Living in Montana a hard top is the only MX-5 I would even consider owning.

  • Jack Woodburn

    There was already a much more attractive retractable hard topped alternative to the this ugly mistake. That version is being retained in the Miata based Alfa. This thing is just ugly in its side profile. Most journalist photos are of the 3/4 view. The sail panels make the car look quashed shorter and quite tall despite the cited minimal dimensions changes. I’d pick the Alfa/Miata retractable hardtop over this design mistake.

  • Jack Woodburn

    What was the reliability like with your Spyder? Alfa abandoned the U. S. market due to poor sales affected by horrid reliability. I remember the Spyder being called “the poor man’s Ferrari” ….

  • Dnett

    I didn’t ever have any major issues. Little stuff like the battery would loose charge if I didn’t drive it every few days. It was pretty easy to work on, other than the water pump, which was a bitch to get out. I enjoyed the heck out of it. The exhaust note was amazing for a 4 cylinder. I owned a 79 which I bought in 84. I’d buy either one of the new ones (4C or Giulia) in a heartbeat if I could afford it as a second car.

  • Jonny_Vancouver

    I don’t know what it is, but something about this car repels me. I can see all the wonderful things about it, the design, the engineering, the reviews are all positive, but there’s just something about it that I don’t like on an instinctual level. Is anybody else feeling that too?

  • Jack Woodburn

    Yeah, me too. This car is most often photographed at the 3/4 view for a reason. It’s ugly in an out of proportion way after the “B pillar.” The flying buttresses just do not work on this vehicle. It now looks taller and shorter than it really is. I’d take Alfa version of the retractable Miata hardtop or the same design from prior years of the retractable hardtop MX-5.

  • Jeff T

    You’re very right when you say that. They are two different types of machine. I just meant that at least in Canada after taxes and other fees it is 45 grand off the lot for this Mazda. For a car that is a secondary ride or perhaps a commuter car, that is a lot of money. For that you could buy a Sea Doo, Snowmobile, and 2nd hand corvette. As a die hard Mazda owner I find the Miata a little overpriced.

  • Dnett

    I completely understand what you’re saying. ALL new cars are too expensive as far as I’m concerned. But when you say it’s overpriced, you have to compare it to something else in the same category. So what else is cheaper? Suburu BRZ maybe? But that’s a hardtop. Some sporty sub compacts and hatchbacks? Yeah, but again, not convertibles. Not two seaters. You can’t criticize the car for being exactly what it’s intended to be – a two seat, drop top, small trunk, lightweight sports car. It’s not supposed to be practical.

    My question is a serious one. What else is in this category? Boxster? WAY more expensive. Anything else from Japan? Nissan 370Z – more expensive and a lot heavier. Honda stopped making the S2000, right? Any of the Korean’s wading into this category? I guess Mini makes a convertible, but that’s still not really a sports car and has a back seat. Don’t know if it’s any cheaper.

    You want inexpensive? A guy in my area is selling his 93 Miata. Aftermarket supercharger. Nice condition. Only 65K miles. $8000! Now that’s a great deal for a secondary “fun” car.

  • Jeff T

    Yep the reality is Mazda need to make money to cover the R&D costs and make a little money. This is a low volume car and priced accordingly. In the auto world you’re right it is priced where the competitors are. Here is to hoping Nissan brings out some lightweight rwd cars.