As a rule, no two journalists share the same opinion on a car, especially the MX-5. After all, that’s what makes journalism so interesting – opinions.
A select few cars are universally accepted in the world of motoring journalism as excellent. One such vehicle is the Mazda MX-5, so when I had the chance to get behind the wheel of the MX-5 RF for a week, I leapt at the opportunity.
Indeed, I thought, the ‘hype’ around the MX-5 was exaggerated? Yes, each time I’ve been in the passenger seat of (older) MX-5s, they’ve seemed fun on flowing, twisting roads, but in a straight line, they seemed only just to have enough grunt to pull the skin off a rice pudding. As someone that appreciates straight-line speed, I thought I might struggle to love the MX-5, but I was wrong; Very, very wrong indeed.
First, let’s address the elephant in the room here. Yes, this is an RF – the retractable hard-top version of the MX-5. Personally, I love the way it looks, but some would argue it doesn’t give the ‘full’ MX-5 experience. Honestly, blasting down the motorway with the top ‘off’ and windows down, I’d say it provides a good compromise between the ‘real’ experience offered by the soft-top and still having some semblance of creature comforts. As with all MX-5’s, the heater is excellent and kept me nice and warm throughout my journey in conjunction with the heated seats, until I was forced to put the roof back on due to rain spoiling all my fun – the joy of living in England.
Back to the styling. I may get disowned by the journalist community for saying this, but I think the RF looks better than the convertible – those rear flowing lines of the ‘fast back’ really fit with the aesthetics, though they aren’t without their problems; If you want to look anywhere near your rear 3/4 view on either side, you may want to start training to use the force… it may be easier. Also, the RAYS wheels are an excellent upgrade featured on the GT-Sport and Sport-Tech models, which sit really well against the angular bodywork of the MX-5, filling the arches significantly better than the standard wheels on lower trim levels.
The other significant benefit of the RF is the theatrics of the roof – putting the top down or up, the mechanism and process is an absolute joy to behold and appeared to mesmerise a number of my friends who own far more expensive and well-appointed vehicles. A little automotive theatre goes a long way! The process is impressively swift, too. However, the six mph speed limit for the process to work is somewhat frustrating, meaning if you get caught in traffic and a freak rainstorm occurs, you either have to pull over or hope you won’t suddenly need to move more than a crawl while the roof is mid-process.
The interior certainly isn’t a bad place to be. Once you’re used to the low entry/exit height and shallow floor, the MX5 makes a strong case as a GT car – luggage issues aside – and is superbly comfortable on a long run. The heated seats are wonderfully comfortable, while on a cold day, the heaters are most excellent. The inclusion of cruise control is a welcome feature, though I did find that my feet still had to stay on the pedals, as the footwell is so shallow there wasn’t any other room to move them around. The other thing I loved about the MX-5’s interior was the dashboard, specifically, the inclusion of REAL instruments and dials, which were very welcome indeed.
In addition to the ‘proper’ dials and generally good ergonomics, the specification isn’t too shabby either. Wireless CarPlay is now standard across the MX-5 range, which saves annoying cables taking up space, while the BOSE sound system on the vehicle tested was excellent. There is also some considerate programming at work here – when using Siri to read/send text messages or calls while connected to CarPlay, the audio would play only out of the speakers built-in to the seat headrests, meaning it was easy to hear what was being dictated over the general road noise of the vehicle.
So, the MX-5 is a great GT car? Well, yes, so long as you can get away with packing only a small carry-on size suitcase and not much else. Seriously, space is at a massive premium here. I can’t help but think maybe Mazda’s designers could’ve been a little more clever with their interior storage, such as putting storage bins in the door cards (in the same way Porsche does 911). However, the cubbyhole between the seats did prove useful for storing cables, wallets, sunglasses and other small items that need quick access.
The other bugbear I had with the interior was the centrally located infotainment controller, similar to that of BMW’s iDrive system. While it was wonderfully easy to use and circumvented the usual frustrations around laggy touchscreens and poor haptic feedback, I often found myself accidentally smacking the controller with my arm while changing gear, leading to unwanted audio inputs and track/source changes.
There is one other issue, which is perhaps the worst of the lot in my view since it’s something that could be solved so easily. The boot is on a ‘popper’ system, which cannot be activated unless the car is switched off. Furthermore, the only way to activate this system was through the button on the key fob, which proved to be somewhat frustrating, especially when I very nearly shut the keys in the boot, which could’ve led to a very sheepish call to Mazda. With the rest of the design being so excellent and well-thought-out, would one additional button on the dashboard somewhere to open the boot have been too much to ask?
The ride is somewhat on the harsh side, too, with short and sharp bumps being very jarring in the Mazda’s diminutive cockpit, which rather ruined the notion of using this as a GT car. On a flowing road with some rolling undulations, it wasn’t too much of a problem, but, short and sharp bumps tended to translate into a ‘crashy’ feeling inside the cabin.
So the styling is good, the interior is excellent, barring a few minor nuisances and a harsh ride, but does the on-road experience live up to the hype? In short, yes.
I’ll admit it took me a few journeys to warm up to the Mazda’s driving characteristics. Initially, I found the short-shift gearbox a little too tight and the throttle response almost too instantaneous to heel-toe correctly since I’m used to driving turbocharged vehicles. I also found the power band of the 2.0-litre SkyActiv-G engine to be far higher up in the rev range than I was used to, but once I’d re-calibrated my driving style to suit the MX-5, I was smitten.
All I can say is this: Believe the hype!
The steering is, without a doubt, some of the best I’ve ever experienced in a brand-new vehicle. The body control is excellent. That tight six-speed manual transmission is an absolute joy to use while keeping the 1.8-litre engine up in the ‘fun zone’ is a gleeful challenge unto itself. I’m fairly certain that the MX-5 RF is controlled via telekinesis, such is the immediacy of any steering inputs being translated into on-road direction changes.
It all feels so wonderfully balanced too. The MX-5 RF is a car that rewards you for pushing your limits and putting your faith in the vehicle. However, should you over-cook it, the resulting oversteer is nice and easy to control and wonderfully progressive – no snap oversteer here in my experience.
There’s also the noise. From the factory, the exhaust note is surprisingly raucous, letting out an impressive note upon startup. Once off cold-start, the exhaust note becomes quiet and refined, though once you exceed around 3,000 RPM, it suddenly comes to life again, especially with the roof down so you can enjoy it to its fullest extent. Absolutely fan-bloomin-tastic!
So, not only did the MX-5 live up to the hype, it absolutely smashed my expectations. Yes, the ride is stiff, and there’s enough luggage space for a pack of oranges, and that’s about it, but none of this matters.
At last, a car that makes driving fun again. You don’t buy an MX-5 in any form for its practicalities; You buy one for its fun factor, for its unique charm and its ability to turn almost any journey into a genuinely enjoyable driving experience, and that’s what the MX-5 is all about. What an absolute cracker of a car this is!
Author rating: 5/5
Kieran Bicknell offers his fresh take on car reviews by making the most of his dynamic, yet detailed approach to writing. Having graduated from university with a BA (Hons) in Photography and spending a number of years as a freelance automotive photographer. Kieran is now putting his knowledge and writing skills to use, with the ability to supply both written articles and imagery. Kieran feels at home in anything from small superminis to the latest SUVs, and relishes the opportunity to drive, photograph and write about anything with four wheels.
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