2020 Mazda Mx-5 Miata Club RF Review by David Colman +VIDEO
The quietest, softest riding, most conveniently equipped Miata
By David Colman
Special Correspondent to THE AUTO CHANNEL
Back in the 1950s, sports cars fell into two distinct categories. There were hard core brands, like the Triumph TR-3 and the MG-TD which required constant attention from the driver, and constant maintenance from the driver's mechanic. But there were also soft core sports cars like the Mercedes 190 SL and the original Ford Thunderbird that were aimed at less enthusiastic drivers. The owners of these brands prioritized high profile cruising over high performance racing. Because they relished displaying their equipment to onlookers, they were called "Boulevardiers."
These days, you can chose between sport and sporting, all within the same model line. That line belongs to Mazda, the company that invented the affordable and bewitching Miata back in 1989. The evergreen MX-5 comes in any flavor you like, from race track ready to boulevard proficient. This year, we tested the Miata ideally configured for the Boulevardier. If you chose the Club RF with the automatic transmission, you will enjoy the quietest, softest riding, most conveniently equipped Miata available. In fact it makes so few demands on the driver that it almost seems too tame.
The Club RF eliminates the erection hassle and wind noise of the cloth roofed Miata convertible by substituting a multi-piece folding hardtop that takes just 14 seconds to drop or erect. When it's up, the cockpit becomes a quiet haven from the elements, with no perceptible wind noise penetrating the inner sanctum, even at 70 mph. Likewise, the automatic gearbox is a file and forget proposition. Just park the fat aluminum shift knob in the Drive slot and putter around town without giving gear selection a second thought. While it's true Mazda gives you the opportunity to be proactive about gear choice by providing a manual mode gate and paddles at the steering wheel, the Club RF seems happiest when left to its own shift program.
Automatic transmission buyers of the Miata Club RF lose out on some significant performance bits that are standard issue on the 6-speed manual gearbox model. The most significant absence is the torque-sensing limited slip differential which controls rear wheel power distribution on the manual gearbox Miata. Also missing are the Bilstein gas struts which are replaced by generic shocks on the automatic. Finally, the front strut tower brace is missing as well. These changes tend to bias ride quality in favor of comfort over responsiveness. In that regard, the deletions work well, because the RF we tested absorbed road irregularities with consummate aplomb, a trait that has never characterized any previous Miata. This is not to say that the RF Club automatic can't be driven hard on back roads. After all, its 17 inch alloy rims are shod with some of the stickiest rubber Bridgestone makes today: Potenza S001 radials sized 205/45R17 with a Treadwear Rating of just TW 240.
No matter which MX-5 you select, the same engine powers the entire model line. This gem of a motor is so attractively packaged that Mazda feels no need to cover its appearance with a plastic modesty shield. The Skyactive technology involved in producing 181hp from just 2.0 liters of displacement includes an alloy block and alloy head, a compression ratio of 13:1, and an under-square bore size of 83.5mm that is nearly 8mm smaller than the 91.2mm stroke length. Even with those revolution-limiting dimensions, the engine reaches its power peak at 7000rpm. The fact that it makes peak torque at just 4000rpm helps overall drive ability.
The Club package includes cloth seating surfaces which look a bit bargain basement compared to the rest of the interior. If we were ordering this Miata we would bump up our choice to the next echelon Grand Touring model, which not only adds leather seats, but also adaptable front LED lights which turn to illuminate curves. The price difference between the two models is just $780.
Track race junkies will want to equip their new Miata with the Brembo/BBS/Recaro option package which improves brakes with Brembo stoppers, wheels with BBS forged alloys, and seats, with Recaro racing buckets. The race model also adds an aero body kit of specially honed front, rear and side panels. While the RF Club we drove did have some of the aerodynamic tweaks of the race model, these were little more than visual pacifiers for the Boulevardier who would buy it.
2020 MAZDA MX-5 CLUB RF
ENGINE: 2.0 liter inline 4, DOHC, 16 Valves, VVT intake
FUEL CONSUMPTION: 26MPG City/35MPG Highway
PRICE AS TESTED: $35,185
HYPES: 14 Second Roof Flip
GRIPES: Narrow Rim Steering Wheel
STAR RATING: 9 Stars out of 10