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.