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Mazda MX-5 gets more practical

13.07.2017

The Mazda MX-5 is one of the best roadsters on the planet. It makes sportscar levels of driver engagement and fun more accessible to us regular folk.

However, in an age where convenience is king, the soft-top manual MX-5 presents a slightly compromised form of sportscar ownership from a daily driving perspective. With this in mind, the MX-5 RF (Retractable Fastback) has been launched locally and it features an automatic gearbox. I had one on test recently which gave me some time to compare it to its more purist sibling.

The looks

The MX-5 has been a polarising car for many; some enthusiasts love its design while others think it’s a step in the wrong direction. Personally, I like both iterations; the soft-top is still my favourite but this RF version with its metal roof adds another dimension to the car’s design. The hard-top also promises a better driving experience in terms of noise penetrating the cabin, as well as added security versus the fabric-top version.

Interior

The interior of an MX-5 is an inherently basic place with little to no storage areas for your items. I resorted to putting my phone and wallet in my laptop bag and placing it in the boot, away from prying eyes as there’s no glove compartment either.

There is the wonderful tablet-style infotainment display from other Mazda products though, which is very simple to use and made life easier while driving. The quality and general feel of the cabin is top notch too, which it should be considering this little roadster is priced over the R500 000 mark.

That roof and gearbox

The two obvious talking points of this car would be the retractable hard-top roof and its torque converter automatic gearbox. The design principles surrounding all MX-5 models have been compact dimensions, a small, responsive naturally aspirated petrol engine and lightweight design. By adding the roof and gearbox, Mazda has increased the car’s kerb weight by 51kg to 1126kg.

Driving RF

The obvious downside to the added weight and a more sluggish gearbox is a loss of performance; the RF gets to 100km/h in a claimed 8.6 seconds while the soft-top does the same benchmark sprint in 7.3 seconds.

I can’t deny that I still found the RF and absolute hoot to drive; it just feels so nimble, so easy to drive hard. The chassis is great with the brand engineering in some body roll for added fun. Despite how fun the car was to drive, the gearbox made things a bit less interesting with sluggish gearshifts, while the addition of the roof has done something to the balance, the car just doesn’t feel as sharp.

The upside to the RF is that around town, the gearbox makes life very easy while on the freeway, that new roof does quieten things down a bit. The other benefit of the RF is that the roof and gearbox do suit the rather soft ride quality that the latest MX-5 is known for. The RF is also a more usable car for those who aren’t out for hardcore driver engagement, and simply want a stylish, fun open-top car.

The elephant in the room

But, and this is a very big but, the whole point of the MX-5 is driver involvement, balance and sportscar driving dynamics which are absent in the RF. Then we get to the real elephant in the room, the price difference between the RF and the regular roadster.

The entry-level MX-5 is already quite expensive at R441 700, however, the RF retails for R532 800. That means you’ll pay R91 100 more to have this roof and gearbox. In my opinion at least, you’re far better off with the roadster and swapping the cogs and opening/closing the roof manually.

Article written by Sean Nurse
13.07.2017
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