First up, RF - Retractable Fastback, now that's out of the way...
The Mazda MX-5, since 1989, has always been the Japanese alternative to a 60’s or 70’s British roadster. It’s 1.6 or 1.8 petrol engine gives the characterful rasp of the days gone by. Today, the MX-5 can be had with either a 1.5 or 2.0 SKYACTIV-G motor with outputs of 131hp or 160hp. But there was always something missing for me, or more so there could be something added to it. The Triumph TR4 is often seen with a Surrey Top. A Surrey Top is, in essence, a detachable Targa top and, in my opinion, sets off the petite British convertible very well. So, when Mazda announced the MX-5 RF, I got just a little bit excited. When I drove it here in Ireland, I chuckled… A LOT.
Priced from €31,495 in Ireland, the Mazda MX-5 RF comes in at €3,500 more than the convertible. I was in America this Summer and got my hands on a convertible for a week. It was the 2.0 160hp manual, the same as the RF I had here. What frustrated me throughout the week in the US was that I didn’t get to chuck it around as many roads in Illinois as I could here in Dublin and Wicklow. The MX-5 has always been and will always remain a pure driver’s car.
When the classic car buffs say “they don’t make them like they used to” they should get a drive in an ND MX-5. Back in the day, cars were built to serve one purpose at a time. Basically, you would buy a Triumph Spitfire for your weekend blast through the Cotswolds and you would have your Rover P5 to jaunt you into town for afternoon tea. Nowadays, cars try to be practical and good to drive while also achieving a decent fuel economy.
The Mazda MX-5 RF satisfies the need of the weekend blast. The hard suspension takes no prisoners as you belt across the Wicklow Gap down into Laragh. You barely have enough time to wince as your bum comes crashing back down into the Tan leather seat after you soar over a bump and have to stand on the brakes before you come to a bend. Drop a gear into second and foot to the floor as you come out. This is where the extra 100kg is noticeable. The tail end flicks out to bite you before the traction control works its magic on the optional limited slip differential and you are once again back in a straight line. Pause….and howl out laughing. And, all this is within the speed limit. The beauty of the MX-5 RF is that it’s slow but it’s precise handling makes up for the 0-100km/h speed of 7.4 seconds.
I’m one of the aforementioned classic car buffs so I understand the bond between certain brand owners. As you can tell from my previous two examples, I’m a Triumph nut. My father and I have a 1973 Triumph TR6. When we got the car back in 2007, we joined a classic car club; the Triumph Classic Owners Club. To this day, we meet once a month on a cold and usually dreary Sunday morning. We tend to nerd out on Triumph talk and slag whoever has broken down recently or bought yet another car. For this very reason, it adds to my love of cars. The Mazda MX-5 RF complimented this passion. As I came back over the Sally Gap from my adrenalin-fueled blast, I ran into two guys, similar age to me, in an NB Mazda MX-5. We looked at each other as we passed and started to laugh.
I carried on back towards Dublin until I saw the Silver roadster scoot up behind me. I pulled in and we had a full blown conversation for about 20 minutes in the piercingly frosty 3-degree wind. We nattered about MX-5s and cars in general before carrying on with our Sunday drive. The MX-5, especially the RF, has that effect on people. It puts a smile on people’s faces, turns heads with the roof open or closed.
When I handed the car back, I had fully decided that the RF was the pick of the two. But now as I write this piece, I really can’t choose. The RF makes so much sense in Ireland because it rains most of the time so the hard top adds to the peacefulness of the rain patters above. It is slightly quieter on the motorway but with the roof down, wind noise is a lot more noticeable as it flutters in your ear on the targa top behind you. The convertible on the other hand, is more of a purist’s car. The manual roof takes couple of seconds to put down rather than the 13 seconds on the electrically operated one on the RF. The hustle and bustle of the city traffic can be heard right in your ear through the fabric roof on the convertible.
Technically, the Audi TT is a rival for the MX-5 but they are non-comparable in my eyes. The closest competitor is the Fiat 124 Spider as it was joint venture between Fiat and Mazda. So, if you are in the market for a budget convertible, you are spoiled for choice between the MX-5 and the MX-5 RF. As a journalist, I should be giving my opinion on which one you should buy but this time I really can’t choose. It’s killing me. Ugh, I’m off to spec up one of each on Mazda’s configurator.