Mazda MX5 Miata

Car And Driver Review Of The Mazda MX5 Miata

For pure driving bliss, the Miata is tops in our book—it’s so good, it’s a 10Best winner for 2017. This legendary two-seater has a 155-hp 2.0-liter four-cylinder with a six-speed manual; a six-speed automatic is optional. Its use of aluminum helps keep weight down, so the Miata remains eminently flingable in the twists and turns that you’ll surely seek out whenever you hit the road. The RF model offers a power-folding targa top, but it’s much more expensive than the cloth-topped Miata.

Roadster owners living in frigid climes often tuck away their cars for the winter. Doing so extends the life of the convertible top, prevents road-salt corrosion, and saves the interior from slush and grit contamination. Winter storage also saves the driver from the pain of a chilly cabin, wind whistling past weather seals, and flapping-canvas racket.

But what if your roadster is your only ride? Then you have little choice but to don mittens, mount winter tires, and tough out the frosty months. Or you could cast your lot with a Mazda MX-5 Miata RF, which offers two-seat convertibility year-round.

In our eyes, this is a targa with sail panels. But since Porsche is understandably reluctant to share its registered “Targa” trademark, Mazda had to coin its own name for this version of the fourth-generation MX-5 Miata. It went with RF—code for “retractable fastback.” The RF costs $3005 more than a softtop in Grand Touring trim and $2755 more as the Club version; there’s no base Sport model on the RF like there is on the softtop.

Our Club test car had a base price of $32,430 and was optioned with the $3400 Brembo/BBS package consisting of 17-inch BBS forged-aluminum wheels, proximity entry, and Brembo front rotors and calipers. That yielded an entirely reasonable $35,830 bottom line. (A port-installed appearance package available separately for $800 and consisting of a front splitter, a rear spoiler, side-sill extensions, and a rear bumper skirt—all finished in bright black—is included with the Brembo package.) We also tested a Grand Touring model, which rang in at $33,795, the only option being $300 metallic paint.

The power-operated-top equipment effects subtle changes in the Miata’s driving dynamics. Trips to the test track and our local back-road route gave us the pertinent details you’ll need to pick the top style that’s best for you.

The Club RF shown in these photos is the sixth ND-generation MX-5 we’ve tested—and the heaviest by 46 to 120 pounds (the Grand Touring RF is another six pounds heavier). The heaviest softtop, a Grand Touring equipped with an automatic transmission, weighed 2383 pounds. The lightest was a 2309-pound six-speed-manual Club. This six-speed RF weighed a reasonable 2429 pounds, in part because the hood, the decklid, the front fenders, and the forward roof panel are aluminum, and the sail panels are molded plastic.

Playing with Gravity

Curious about how the Miata’s center of gravity height migrates according to top material and position, we logged these measurements:

• ND Club softtop with the roof up/down: 18.5/17.5 inches
• ND Club RF with the roof up/down: 19.5/18.0 inches

Bottom line: Drop the top when you compete in gymkhanas.

Even though this car is almost exactly 100 pounds heavier than the first ND MX-5 we tested two years ago, it set the same zero-to-60-mph time of 6.1 seconds and an identical 14.8-second quarter-mile sprint at 93 mph. The quickest MX-5 we’ve seen is our current long-term softtop, which leapt to 60 in 5.8 seconds, clipping 0.2 second off the quarter-mile ET while adding 1 mph to the above trap speed. In summary, you could cover the acceleration performance range for all seven of the MX-5s we’ve tested with a baby’s blanket.

Top-gear 30-to-50-mph passing times vary between 8.4 and 10.7 seconds, with this heavier RF toward the slow end with a 9.6-second time. The same is true of the top-gear 50-to-70-mph run, which also takes 9.6 seconds, versus the softtop’s 8.4-second best and 10.6-second worst. For the record, the six-speed automatic, which offers expeditious downshifts, obviously beats the manuals with its 3.4-second jump from 30 to 50 mph and its 4.5-second hop from 50 to 70.

Retractable Data

All MX-5s exhibit some body roll at the cornering limit, part of the car-to-driver dialogue Mazda engineers baked into the recipe. The body’s list is noticeable only when you wring the last mph out of a traffic circle, and it’s never that objectionable. On back roads, the limit arrives in the form of slightly squirrely understeer after you’ve used up your 0.89-g grip allotment. The RF’s extra weight and higher center of gravity had little or no influence on the skidpad performance, which fell exactly in the middle of the 0.88 to 0.90 g we’ve measured on softtop MX-5s. Credit the 205/45R-17 Bridgestone Potenza S001 tires for hanging tight.

The largest performance change we noted was in braking, where the Club RF stopped from 70 mph in a longish 171 feet, versus the 158 to 159 feet we logged for four of the roadsters we’ve tested. There was no significant deviation in successive stops or any hint of fade. In fact, this MX-5’s high, hard, and easily modulated brake pedal is one of its most endearing features. The Club’s longer stopping distances likely can be chalked up to an anomaly or an especially dusty surface on that day, because the Grand Touring RF stopped in 161 feet.

Mazda wisely refrained from packing its Miatas with weighty sound deadening, to help extract maximum zing from the MX-5’s naturally aspirated 2.0-liter inline-four. This is a spirited powerplant, with 155 horsepower on tap at 6000 rpm, no turbocharger to take the edge off the exhaust note, and a 6800-rpm redline. The engine’s secret weapon is a hearty low end with sufficient thrust above 3000 rpm so that the boomy resonance that arrives beyond 5000 rpm can be saved for special occasions. As in the convertibles we’ve tested, the RF registered an ear-tickling 88 decibels at full throttle, settling down to 75 decibels during cruising. In sixth, with the throttle eased back, the driveline growl combines with tire and wind noise to make you thankful that Mazda equipped this RF with a powerful nine-speaker Bose sound system as standard equipment. Bottom line: The RF really isn’t any quieter in normal use than the softtop MX-5.

The Sports Car Life

Some of the pain inherent to classic sports cars clearly is alive and well here. Even with both windows up, the wind will tie your hair in knots any time you venture beyond 50 mph with the roof panels stowed. The cockpit provides rudimentary cupholders and a small cubby space to stash your keys and phone, but it has no door pockets or traditional glovebox. The 12-volt power source for radar detectors and navigation units is hidden at the far forward reaches of the passenger’s footwell.

In truth, all Miatas are throwbacks, with creature comforts held to the bare minimum. This keeps the focus on pure driving joy delivered with every snick of the shifter and each increment of steering lock. When Mazda introduced this vast improvement on the archetypal British sports car nearly 30 years ago, the world became a genuinely better place. Having a choice between two styles of convertible top only seconds that motion.


Top Tidbit: RF, a.k.a. “Roof Folds”

Beneath the RF’s demi-fastback addendum hides an adaptation of the MX-5’s old power-retractable hardtop mechanism, only with quieter actuators and fastback-like buttresses instead of a tonneau cover. Flicking a dashboard switch lifts the fastback up and back while the front panel unlatches and accordions behind the seats along with the rear panel and the back window. The buttresses then return to their original position. To spare the top’s spindly arms and actuators, the dance is limited to sub-6-mph performances.

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