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2017 Mazda Miata MX-5 RF - Fun Car Review By Larry Nutson +VIDEO


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2017 Mazda Miata MX-5 RF
The sun, the moon and a fun car

- 5 Star Rating by The Auto Channel

By Larry Nutson
Senior Editor and Bureau Chief
Chicago Bureau
The Auto Channel

I began calling it the “transformer.” The MX-5 RF transformed from closed coupe to open-air convertible in just a few heartbeats. Actually more than a few, but it was just 13 seconds worth.


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Out in the public, no matter if I was parking curbside or in the middle of a parking lot, nearby folks stopped to watch the hardtop’s ballet of moving parts. Curbside parking invariably brought conversation with someone who had familiarity with the MX-5 Miata but hadn’t seen the hardtop in action.

Additionally helping a bit to cause heads to turn was the Soul Red Metallic paint. My wife commented, “Wow. This is really red.”


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The targa-like design of the power retractable hardtop makes for comfortable open air driving. The clear wind blocker positioned between the rear roof buttresses helps keep out disturbing overhead airflow. Raising the side windows deflects some of the low-level surrounding road noise from other vehicles.

On the Miata RF the entire roof doesn’t disappear into the bodywork like its predecessor hardtop model. Only the overhead roof panel and rear window retract leaving the fastback bodywork in place.


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I actually enjoyed the MX-5 RF the most at lower speeds in the 30 to 40 mph range. Fortunately I had good weather for open-air driving and ended up with a bit of a “farmers tan“ on my forearms. At higher 60 to 70 mph highway speeds on crowded interstates the MX-5 RF’s hardtop pays off to keep things quiet in the cockpit.

On the RF, extra sound-absorbing material is used in the headliner, front and middle roof panels, and rear wheel housings resulting in a significantly quieter ride when the roof is closed.

The RF (Retractable Fastback) is a bit higher priced than the soft-top MX-5, with the comparable Club model priced at $31,555 versus $28,800. The RF is not offered in a Sport model, but only in Club and Grand Touring.

Mazda has done a great job with keeping weight down following their gram strategy. The RF is just 113 lbs heavier than the soft top at 2445 lb vs. 2332 lb. There’s a bit more weight on the rear wheels, but the weight distribution is a perfect 50/50. The soft top is a bit heavier on the nose with a 53/47 distribution. All these numbers are for the manual trans models, the automatics being heavier.

The powertrain on all MX-5s is the 155-HP SKYACTIV-G 2.0L DOHC 16-valve 4-cylinder coupled to either a 6-speed manual or 6-speed automatic. I drove the 6-speed manual in my week-long “sunny” driving time. In spite of a bit more weight the engine delivered plenty of fun-to-drive performance. Mazda expects the automatic, which does have shift paddles, to be more popular with buyers of the RF.




I’ll mention fuel economy here, just for the sake of it. However, I don’t think it’s too high on the list important items when it comes to buying a car intended for fun driving. Both transmission configurations have an EPA test-cycle rating of 26 mpg city. Highway test-cycle ratings are 35 mpg for the automatic and 33 mpg for the manual. In my around town driving I was matching the EPA rating.

Yes, automatics are very good these days, just not as much fun. “Save the manuals” is the slogan among car buffs.

The Targa-roof design approach on the RF has no effective impact on usable trunk space. The RF’s trunk is officially a teeny bit smaller--- 4.59 cuft vs. 4.48 cuft. OK, that’s 190 cubic inches or a box that’s roughly 6X6X5, just for the fun of it. I recall from Mazda’s presentation on the MX-5 they said you can get two airline-legal roll-aboard suitcases in the trunk stacked one on the other. We grocery shopped without any trunk space problem.

I didn’t get caught in any sudden downpours while driving the RF but it was good to know that not only would the top come up in 13 seconds but also that you could raise it while still rolling along at speeds up to 6 mph.


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This test drive was in the Grand Touring RF priced at $32,620. That very red Soul Red exterior paint job cost $300 and keyless entry was another $130. Rear cross traffic alert, blind spot monitor, and lane departure warning are standard. There is no rear view camera, which I would have liked for those tight parking maneuvers. I’ve gotten so used to having a rear view camera on vehicle i test, that now I really miss it on those that don’t.


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Mazda offered an MX-5 RF Launch Edition building just 1,000 units in a unique trim level exclusively for the U.S. priced at $33,850 for the manual.

The choice of tops is yours. More info on the 2017 Mazda MX-5 Miata can be found at www.mazdausa.com.

I’ve now driven both MX-5 versions and if I were buying I would go for the soft top. Dynamically, both MX-5 models behave quite similarly and deliver plenty of fun. For me, the manual operation of the soft top is quite easy and done one-handed. My wife might think different and like the idea of simply pushing a button.

© 2017 Larry Nutson, the Chicago Car Guy


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