The RF, which stands for Retractable Fastback, broadens the appeal of the world’s best-selling roadster by offering an electrically-operated targa-style top.
Dispensing with the fabric roof of the convertible and aimed at offering a little extra refinement – especially at motorway speeds – Mazda has also arguably managed to make the coupe-like RF even more attractive than the soft-top MX-5.
I say “arguably” because not everyone is so sure about the RF’s looks. For me, the fastback look works so much better than the previous generation’s hardtop and adds a new level of sophistication to the MX-5.
The hardtop used to fold flat into the space between the boot and the back seat. With the RF, the rear part of the roof is more of a fixture, sloping down towards the boot with distinctive buttresses. However, when you want to open up the cabin it raises up to swallow the front parts of the roof mechanism.
The impressively slick origami-style mechanism is operated at the touch of a button (at speeds of up to 6mph) and the operation is all over within 15 seconds – the same for the operation in reverse.
And here’s the thing. Unlike many convertibles where luggage space is comprised, the boot in the RF has an almost identical luggage capacity, just shy of 130 litres. Ok, we’re still talking two pieces of hand luggage and a few small soft bags, but it’s really not bad for such a compact car.
Elsewhere, the differences are minor. It’s only 5mm taller than the convertible and thanks to a clever use of lightweight roof materials, it weighs just 45kg more.
I tested the RF with both available SKYACTIV-G petrol engines – the 131PS 1.5-litre and 160PS 2.0-litre, both paired up with Mazda’s slick and sporty six-speed manual gearbox (though the bigger engine will also be available with an automatic gearbox).
Naturally, the 2.0-litre just edges out the 1.5-litre when it comes to performance and it sounds more aggressive, reaching 62mph from standstill in 7.4 seconds, compared to 8.6, and a top speed of 134mph, as opposed to 126mph.
But frankly there isn’t much between the two and the smaller unit is more than adequate for all but the keenest drivers. I’d also plump for the 1.5-litre because it can return up to 46.3pmg – nearly 6mpg more on paper than the larger engine, but I suspect the gap is bigger in real-world driving if my test drives were anything to go by.
The RF is quieter than the convertible and definitely has more of a coupe feel with the top up, though with the roof open at higher speeds there’s still a fair amount of wind noise. That said, buffeting is minimal.
Behind the wheel, the RF is just like the regular MX-5 – a rare car that instantly feels right. The winning formula hasn’t been changed – it still has a front engine, rear-wheel drive layout, it’s nimble, handles beautifully and is competitively priced.
The cosy cabin is modern and packed with everything you’d expect, including a 7-inch colour display with (thankfully) a rotary control on the centre console, an excellent sound system with DAB and full connectivity, cruise control and LED daytime running lights.
However, just like the convertible, rearward visibility with the roof up can still be challenging.
Priced from £22,295, it’s a few thousand more than the entry-level convertible, but overall it’s a star car that’s rewarding to drive and surprisingly practical.
Verdict: The new RF is a superb addition to the award-winning MX-5 range – as close to a perfect sports car as you can get, and now with added refinement.
Review: Gareth Herincx