2022 Mazda MX-5 RF Grand Touring – Review by David Colman +VIDEO
A rewarding driving experience
Special Correspondent to THE AUTO CHANNEL
Automotive manufacturers are currently engaged in a frenetic competition to design vehicles that exclude you from the process of driving. An endless litany of "safety and security features" do everything but wrench the steering wheel from your hands. And you can be sure that eventuality is in the works. Call this inevitable march to automation the DDIY movement - Don't Do It Yourself. Thankfully a precious few outliers are resisting this mind numbing trend. The most notable and most affordable of the rebels is the Mazda MX-5, the original DIY sports car.
We tested a 2022 MX-5 Miata RF Grand Touring finished in "Deep Crystal Blue Mica." This sparkling beauty was equipped with a 6-speed manual gearbox, making it the most automation-free MX-5 you can buy. So rare has the manual stick shift become in today's market that Miata owners wear T-Shirts depicting a 6-speed gear pattern above the words "Gen X Anti-Theft Device." The 3-pedal operation of this transmission requires deft foot coordination, while the short but precise throws of the shift linkage demand sensitive hand-eye feedback. When you get it all right, there's no more rewarding ballet than making a Miata dance to your tune. It took me a few warm-up runs to discard my fat soled sneakers for a pair of pared down wrestling shoes. The foot box of the MX-5, like everything else about this car, is diminutive in the extreme.
Mazda introduced the RF or "Retractable Fastback" version of the MX-5 back in 2017. Prior to that time, the company had offered both manual and powered soft roofs, but with the advent of the RF, Miata ownership took a decidedly more civilized turn. Unlike the base fabric roof MX-5, the RF offers the lock-box security of a hard top in addition to the fair weather option of a retracted roof experience. Of course, you will pay a premium of roughly $2,500 for the added security of the RF model we drove, which carried an MSRP of $35,000. Because the RF version is unavailable on lesser Sport models of the Miata, you are getting a much higher level of equipment if you opt for an RF. For example, our test car included as standard fare a sport tuned suspension system with Bilstein shock absorbers, an aluminum frame for the 181hp powerplant, a limited slip differential, and a provocative looking front strut tower brace that arcs gracefully over the engine bay like a seagull spreading its wings.
Thanks to the RF's top drawer suspension refinements and a set of 17 inch alloy rims shod with ultra sticky (TW 280) BridgestoneS001 radials (205/45R17), the RF hones in on turn apexes like a heat seeking missile. In the hands of a decent driver, this MX-5, festooned with all the suspension goodies, will own any back road hands down. So cinch yourself into the tight restraints of its accommodating sport seats, and prepare for an experience that is becoming increasingly rare in the over-protected womb of today's driving world: a scintillating experience at corner clipping you will never forget. Just the slightest twitch of the leather wrapped steering wheel is enough to alter your trajectory instantaneously. After a few canyon runs, you learn not to over-drive this sensitive assemblage of prime race bred parts. You do the thinking, and this rapier sharp Mazda will do your bidding like a silent conspirator.
Bear in mind, however, that the RF version has a few drawbacks you should weigh in advance of purchase. One is the added weight of the roof mechanism, which increases curb weight of the 2,335 pound soft top roadster by an added 113 pounds. This in turn bumps the power-to-weight ratio of the fabric roof MX-5 from a sprightly 12.9lb/hp to the RF's less sprightly 13.5lb/hp. That will cost you a few tenths in matching the soft top's 0-60mph time of 5.6 seconds and quarter mile run of 14.4 seconds. But for the lockable security of the hardtop, plus its quieter interior at freeway speed, the RF may well be worth giving away a few tenths in ultimate performance here and there.
2022 MAZDA MX-5 MIATA RF GRAND TOURING
ENGINE: Skyactive-G 2.0 liter inline 4, DOHC, 16-valve, aluminum block and head
TORQUE: 151lb-ft@ 4000rpm
FUEL CONSUMPTION: 26MPG City/34MPG Highway
PRICE AS TESTED: $36,015
HYPES: The Japanese Army Knife
GRIPES: Confusing Multi Function Commander Control
STAR RATING: 10 Stars out of 10