Car Reviews

2017 Mazda MX-5 RF Review

Isaac Bober’s launch-based 2017 Mazda MX-5 RF Review with pricing, specs, ride and handling, safety, verdict and score.

In a nutshell: Mazda has added a folding hardtop to the MX-5 and made a pretty car, both prettier and more practical.

2017 Mazda MX-5 RF

Pricing From $38,550+ORC (MX-5 RF 6MT) Warranty Three-years, unlimited kilometres Service Intervals 10,000km/12 months Safety 5 star ANCAP Engine 2.0-litre four-cylinder petrol Power 118kW at 6000rpm Torque 200Nm at 4600rpm Transmission six-speed manual; six-speed automatic Drive rear-wheel Dimensions 3915mm (L); 1735mm (W); 1235mm (H) Turning Circle 9.4m Boot Space 127 litres Weight 1080kg (manual); 1106kg (automatic) Fuel Tank 45 litres Thirst 7.0L/100km (manual); 7.4L/100km (automatic)

Comprehensive Car Insurance

Editor's Rating

What's it like inside?
What's it like on the road
What about safety features?
Practical Motoring Says: The Mazda MX-5 RF might not be quite as nimble and connected feeling as its soft-top siblings and, particularly it’s little brother the 1.5L variant, but there’s no doubting this is still a fun machine. It looks stunning and the hard-top roof is a work of art. Is it worth the price premium? YES.

MEET THE MAZDA MX-5 RF, or Retractable Fastback… this is the MX-5 variant, says Mazda, that will open-up (apologies) the model to a new audience. An audience, it believes, that will make up around 60% of MX-5 buyers going forward.

The MX-5 RF is, ostensibly, almost identical to the soft-top MX-5 and weighs just 47-49kg compared with an equivalent soft-top MX-5. And that’s impressive given the hard top consists of a proper hard roof and glass rear windscreen and some sort of magical opening and closing mechanism that splits the roof into four sections and then stows them all together behind the seats.

2017 Mazda MX-5 RF Review - Practicalmotoring.com.au

Yes, the roof ends up being stowed (hidden from view) in a tiny little space behind the seats, leaving the regular MX-5’s 130-litre boot just about intact for the MX-5 RF (127 litres). Seems you can have your cake and eat it too. Almost.

The roof will open or close in just 13 seconds and can be operated at speeds up to 10km/h with a toggle switch used to either open or close the roof. And there’s an anti-pinch function on the roof, although I didn’t get to try it out.

2017 Mazda MX-5 RF Review - Practicalmotoring.com.au

At the local launch of the MX-5 RF, the program director and chief designer of the MX-5 RF, Masashi Nakayama was on hand to discuss the design of the retractable hardtop. Mr Nakayama started sketching designs on paper that showed off cars like the Lamborghini Countach, Porsche 911 Turbo, and even the Ferrari Dino… and then he drew the MX-5 RF. His point was that all these cars, in profile, share similarities, like the long bonnet, the small cabin and a fastback-bobtail rear.

2017 Mazda MX-5 RF Review - Practicalmotoring.com.au

More than that, though, Mr Nakayama was placing his design into exalted company. And the MX-5 RF isn’t a poor relation. It looks great in the metal and, er, plastic. What stands the MX-5 RF apart from other folding hardtops are the flying buttresses that jut out at the back of the cabin. They make the thing.

But they’re not 100% unique… despite Mazda’s claims, the genesis of the MX-5 RF’s design must surely lie with the Surrey hardtop that was employed by both MG and Triumph. What do you think – Google it. But don’t think I’m suggesting this thing is a Targa, because it isn’t – remember, the rear glass drops.

What’s it like inside?

Overall, the inside of the MX-5 RF is identical to the MX-5 GT soft-top. And that means you get a very compact cabin with the dashboard and steering wheel almost so close to you that it takes your eyes a moment to adjust… I jest.

2017 Mazda MX-5 RF Review - Practicalmotoring.com.au

The dashboard mirrors that of the GT soft-top, meaning the same three-meter instrument cluster ahead of the small steering wheel (and this is excellent, mating a digital display that will show things like roof position, with tacho and speedo), with Mazda’s MZD communications and infotainment screen dominating the dashboard. This unit is good but not great with the display looking like it’s sitting behind an extra layer of glass. Delve into the system via the rotary dial and the menu items are clear and easy to use but the sub-menu system can become a bit of a headache, especially when you’re on the move. There’s no Apple Car Play or Android Auto (although the latest generation Android phones can side-step this omission). but you can connect your phone via Bluetooth or USB for audio streaming and access to social media (although that leads to the question of, why?).

2017 Mazda MX-5 RF Review - Practicalmotoring.com.au

The dashboard and plastics in general feel a little hard and scratchy, but you kind of expect that of a car that’ll spend most summer days with the roof off and so the interior needs to be pretty sturdy.

If you’re an audiophile, you’ll no doubt be pleased to know the RF gets a six-speaker system and a nine-speaker Bose system on the RF GT. With the roof up audio clarity is excellent such is the insulation on the roof, but with it down you lose that crystal clarity. Moving on.

2017 Mazda MX-5 RF Review - Practicalmotoring.com.au

Climb into the MX-5 RF and you sit down low with very little room to move, but that’s probably the appeal of this sort of car. That said, I’m just about six-foot tall and I found that I had good head and legroom, although elbowroom was something else, and I was constantly bumping my colleague with my elbow while driving.

Like the regular MX-5 there are two cup holders between driver and passenger that can be removed and relocated down to the transmission tunnel in the passenger footwell. They’ll hold a 500mL bottle, but anything smaller or bigger than that will rattle about.

2017 Mazda MX-5 RF Review - Practicalmotoring.com.au

There’s limited storage space inside the cabin, indeed, there’s no room to stuff even a jacket behind the seats, because the roof mechanism folds into this space rather than into the boot itself. As I’ve already said, the MX-5 RF just about maintains the soft-tops 130 litre boot at 127 litres… enough for two small overnight bags. The boot itself is deep with a narrow opening.

What’s it like on the road?

Obviously, weight was going to be the biggest consideration when adding a hard head to the MX-5. But through some very clever engineering, the roof and mechanism adds less than 50kg to the MX-5. But it does raise the centre of gravity and thus potentially affect the handling the MX-5 has become known for.

But, the steel hoop for the roof structure made the thing too stiff, and so the suspension has been tweaked to compensate and ensure the ride isn’t boy-racer stiff. Because, remember, the aim of the MX-5 RF is to make the MX-5 an option for those people who want an open-top car but without the compromises a soft-top brings. This is an MX-5 that’s unlikely to be tracked.

The 2.0-litre four-cylinder engine is carried over from the soft-top MX-5 GT, although in some markets the smaller 1.5L engine is also offered. Power is 118kW at 6000rpm and torque is 200Nm at 4600rpm. The engine is mated to either a six-speed manual or a conventional six-speed automatic, and while you might raise an eyebrow at anyone wanting an automatic MX-5, Mazda believes it will attract around 30% of sales.

2017 Mazda MX-5 RF Review - Practicalmotoring.com.au

It was a 40-degree day at the local launch in the Central West of New South Wales and a large chunk of the drive was a commute out of Sydney into the country along various highways. For this section my colleague and I were in a manual MX-5 RF, while for the latter twistier section we were in an automatic-equipped car, and so my comments will relate to that variant and that needs to be remembered…

The most important part. The roof. Suitably lathered in sunscreen the roof was dropped just as the car’s temperature gauge indicated 40-degrees C. It’s worth mentioning that so well insulated is the cabin that we hadn’t noticed the heat and only had the air-con fan on its second setting… once the roof was dropped, though, it went to maximum but couldn’t make a dent in the stifling heat.

2017 Mazda MX-5 RF Review - Practicalmotoring.com.au

The wind is well contained with the roof down and we still managed to have a conversation at normal levels, and didn’t ever get the sense our hair was being ripped out in tufts while we drove along. I’d suggest that that fact alone makes the MX-5 RF the best convertible I’ve ever driven.

The roof went back up after about 15 minutes… it really was just too hot and I’ll only suffer for my art for so long.

Into the twisty stuff and while plenty has been written about the exemplary handling of the MX-5, the RF was my first opportunity to get behind the wheel of an MX-5 (you can read our Robert Pepper’s reviews of the MX-5 2.0L and the 1.5L here) and I’ve got to say I was left feeling lukewarm and not just because of the weather.

Sure, the MX-5 RF is a precise little car the major actions lack progression. And I mean, that in corners the switch from flat to roll can be immediate, and the same goes for the steering which feels a touch woollen in the hands, and then there’s the wheels… I’m told the 1.5L is the sweeter handling car and I’d believe it because it rides on smaller wheels, although there’s more to it than that alone. The 17-inch alloys on the RF combine with the imprecision of other controls to make a car that never feels truly settled.

2017 Mazda MX-5 RF Review - Practicalmotoring.com.au

To make swift and sure progress in the MX-5 RF you’ve got to be smooth and gentle with your inputs, something that would be easier to do with a manual, although the automatic was far from a kill-joy. It’s a quick shifter and excellent at being able to get the best from the diminutive output. That said, the default attitude is for the thing to understeer if you’re driving it like a taxi… think about your inputs and set it up on the lead into the corner and the car feels much better.

The brakes feel a little wooden at first contact but, again, if you concentrate on your inputs there’s good adjustability in the pedal. The steering is an electric power assist set-up and while it’s direct in its action it’s a little woolly in the straight-ahead.

What about the safety features?

The MX-5 RF carries over the regular car’s five-star ANCAP rating and offers things like, blind-spot monitoring, rear cross traffic alert as well as an adaptive front lighting system that can swivel the front headlights by 15-degrees in the direction the steering is turning. As we didn’t drive at night, I can’t say what this system is like. The MX-5 RF also offers airbags, a limited slip differential, a stiff body structure and an active bonnet that will raise, if a collision with a pedestrian is detected, to reduce the impact of a pedestrian’s head.

The RF GT gets rain-sensing wipers, while both variants offer ABS, traction and stability controls, emergency brake assist, hill hold assist, reversing camera, and a tyre pressure monitoring system.

Why would you buy one?

Well, simple, you’d buy an MX-5 if you like the idea of open-top motoring, but also like the idea of a hard roof over your head at other times. Basically, you want something for work and play.

The MX-5 RF isn’t as playful as the 1.5L soft-top, but it is better looking than the soft-top variant. Yes, it costs more than its siblings but it doesn’t offer the same soft-top compromises, and is quieter and more secure.

There are bound to be numerous comparisons between this thing and the likes of the Toyota 86/Subaru BRZ, but I think that would be wrong. Just because they both have two seats doesn’t make them competitors.

2017 Mazda MX-5 RF Review - Practicalmotoring.com.au


9 Comments

  1. Vins
    January 25, 2017 at 6:22 pm — Reply

    It looks like a little Ferrari, in a good way.

    • Kampfer
      January 25, 2017 at 10:46 pm — Reply

      IMO more like little Alfa.

      • Ninc
        January 27, 2017 at 10:09 am — Reply

        Perhaps a modern day Fiat 850?

  2. Richard Houlton
    January 28, 2017 at 2:42 pm — Reply

    The MX5’s (initially frightening) rolly-polly handling can reputedly be just about eliminated using after market springs. When I test drove one, the first opportunity I got to test the handling was diving into a roundabout at 80kph….a feat that my current BRZ or my wife’s Abarth 124, wouldn’t blink at. In the MX5 there was an alarming lean and wiggle as it rolled onto it’s outside rear and then settled. Not at all confidence inspiring. But fix the roll, and the car would be a peach.

  3. JaiNormosone
    January 30, 2017 at 8:40 am — Reply

    I like it. It has a really good look and is more practical in places like Queensland where a convertible really cannot be used during summer unless you drive at night or like skin cancers.
    I’ve not driven the later models so cannot compare to the first models that came into the country and were more a care for the purist in handling and power.

    • January 30, 2017 at 8:50 am — Reply

      You won’t be disappointed with any of the MX-5 range on that score.

  4. Galaxy Being
    February 1, 2017 at 8:37 am — Reply

    The proportions look wrong and the overall styling is bland and unimaginative to me. I just don’t want one.

    • laraignee
      February 2, 2017 at 10:03 am — Reply

      Trust me, in reality, it look different, photos are a little bit insidious on this point.

      • February 5, 2017 at 7:38 am — Reply

        Yep, I’d agree with that. It looks stunning in the metal and, er, plastic. – Isaac

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Isaac Bober

Isaac Bober

Isaac Bober was born in the shadow of Mount Panorama in Bathurst and, so, it was inevitable he’d fall into work as a motoring writer. He began his motoring career in 2000 reviewing commercial vehicles, before becoming editor of Caravan & Motorhome magazine. He then moved to MOTOR Magazine before going freelance and contributing to Overlander 4WD, 4×4 Australia, TopGear Australia, Men’s Health, Men’s Fitness, The Australian, CARSguide, and many more.