The superb Mazda MX-5 RF reviewed

In Car Reviews, Mazda by Tom Scanlan

Good thing I’m not six feet tall – if I was, I would be unlikely to fit comfortably into the superb All-New Mazda MX-5 RF sports-car.

Tom Scanlan scurries around the lanes of Devon in the All-New Mazda MX-5 RF
The cabin is cosy, to say the least, and there is very little in the way of storage space…and two small bottles placed in the cup-holders between the seat backs kept falling out at every bend or corner, which was a bit annoying. There are two small cubbies, no glove box and no door pockets. The central console could do with being a touch softer around where your elbows rest. The instrumentation is neat and there is a 7-inch display screen.

BUT, having said all that, yes, the RF (standing for Retractable Fastback) is a car that is sure to provide a lot of fun for its fortunate (and less than six feet) owner. The stylists have done an excellent job in producing a very nicely curvaceous car. The roof takes a mere thirteen seconds to retract and disappear, as it were, or be re-erected, at the push of a button on the dashboard, and deployable at speeds up to six miles an hour – in a car park, for example.

Clever design on the MX-5 RF means that the roof steals not one cubic inch from the boot, unlike some others; the famous 1950s Ford Retractable’s roof left only a small box-like storage area in an otherwise cavernous boot (sorry, trunk). More recent attempts by various manufacturers have of course vastly improved on that, but Mazda’s effort is faultless. A good thing, too, because, there is precious little boot space to spare.

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The top version for the moment is the MX-5 RF Launch Edition. This looks particularly smart in metallic ‘Soul Red’ with the contrasting black roof, wing mirrors, rear spoiler and 17-inch black alloy wheels. ‘Machine Grey’ is the other colour for the Launch Edition of which five hundred only are available and they are being snapped up fast in advance orders. These special edition MX-5s have always done well over the years.

The RF is available with either a 2-litre engine, as in the Launch Edition, and in Sport Nav and Sport Nav Auto trim, or a 1.5-litre. The range starts at £22,195 for the 1.5-litre SE-L Nav and the Launch Edition is set at £28,995. Optional extras include different paint finishes from £550 to £670; £400 Nappa leather trim on Sport Nav only; and Mazda’s Safety Pack only on the 2-litre Sport Nav at £400.

My first drive was in a 1.5-litre. This provided about as much sheer driving enjoyment as I have been lucky enough to experience in quite a while. Yes, some might powerful machines have been through my hands in the last few months, and I’ve loved them, but, ultimately, they simply can’t be fully experienced on public roads.

This Mazda was different. It has 131 PS and a somewhat insipid 150 Nm of torque and that’s not effective until you are at 4800 rpm. But you can rev the engine well over the 7000 rpm at which full power is available and blast along quite noisily like that…actually, the exhaust note is quite pleasantly mellow…or be a bit more considerate both of the car and anyone nearby and just enjoy the wizard six-speed gear changes.

Most of all, maybe, it’s the steering and handling that sets things alight. What superlatives are there that we haven’t heard before…’it corners like it’s on rails’, ‘it stays glued to the road’, etc.; all in all, it’s a delicious feeling through the diamond-sharp steering.

At first, I found the ride to be on the hard side, but that initial impression was soon forgotten. Sport Nav and Launch Edition models have Bilstein dampers and strut brace for to enhanced dynamics.
I drove the car, by the way, for quite a few miles on the M5 motorway having got the roof down just before the rain came down. At seventy miles an hour, no water at all found its way into the cockpit, and buffeting was minimal, while the heated seats and fan outlets provided a decent amount of protection against the six-degree temperature outside.

With the roof up, two of the three cars experienced suffered from some wind noise at the top of the passenger-side window, something for the assembly line to sort out.

The 1.5-litre was so much fun that the question arose: what would the 2-litre car be like, with a significantly more horse power, 160 PS, but just 10 more Nm of torque?

The steering and handling were fine, although perhaps a touch less spritely, and, at first, in a particularly hilly part of South Devon, the car seemed to lack some grunt. But, using the gearbox soon answered any such doubts and further on flatter roads this car felt appreciably faster than the earlier drive. The zero-to-sixty-two mph figure for the 2-litre car is 7.4 seconds, with the 1.5-litre doing that sprint in 8.6 seconds.

Actual fuel consumption figures, as indicated on the cars’ trip computers, were very similar, ranging from around 39 mpg up to about 45 mpg depending on the type of road and traffic encountered. The official combined fuel consumption figure for the 1.5-litre is 46.2 mpg, 40.9 for the bigger engine. Given that the smaller-engined cars are £900 cheaper than their equivalent more powerful versions and feel just that bit more alive, especially on their natural territory of twisty up and down roads, that would be my choice.

Annual road tax, going up on April 1, will be £200. Insurance group 24E. The 2-litre will cost £500 and its insurance group is 28E. Mercifully, Mazda pays the first year’s tax.

The first cars go on sale here on March 4, with 1.5-litres in April and a first-ever MX-5 RF automatic for the 2-litre available in May.

Car reviewed: Mazda MX-5 RF 1.5 Sport Nav SKYACTIV-G – On the road £24,795 0-62mph 8.6 secs Top speed 126mph Fuel Economy combined 46.3mpg CO2 emissions 142g/km Engine 1496cc 4-cylinder in-line Petrol Max Power 131PS@7000rpm Torque 150Nm@4800rpm Transmission 6-speed Manual Insurance Group 25E

  • economical and reliable

  • magnificent steering and handling

  • slick gearshift

  • slight wind noise

About the author

Tom Scanlan

'Tom Scanlan has written for a wide variety of magazines and newspapers, particularly the Reading Evening Post for ten years, having got into motoring journalism in 1973 via the somewhat unlikely back door of the British Forces Broadcasting Service. BFBS produced a weekly radio motoring show for the services overseas and Tom produced it, as well as interviewing experts and eventually reporting on cars. He is into classic cars and has owned Porsche, Ferrari, pre-war Alvis and Rileys and currently owns his fifth old Alfa Romeo, a 1984 GTV 2.0. In his spare time, Tom is a professional cricket coach.'

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