Tue, Mar 14, 2017 1:14 PM
The folding hardtop model of the previous generation Mazda MX-5 was a big seller. So when the company launched the fourth-generation model of its cult sports car last year, one of the most often-asked questions was ‘When can I buy one with a folding roof?’.
Well, the answer is… very soon. But whereas lot of people couldn’t tell the difference between the previous MX-5 models with soft and hard tops, Mazda has made a point of accentuating the differences between the two with their latest incarnations.
The new Mazda MX-5 RF (‘RF’ stands for ‘retractable fastback’) has broken cover a year after its soft-top sister, but it has an impressive party trick, which accounts for some of the extra development time. At the press of a button, and at speeds of up to 6mph, its upper roof section and rear window fold away. The operation takes just 13 seconds, and leaves the distinctive rear 'fastback' section in place to give added protection against the wind.
The Mazda MX-5 RF was conceived as an alternative for drivers who like the idea of driving a small sports car, but don’t fancy turning up at the end of a journey looking like they’ve just been put through a tumble dryer.
As a result, it offers more relaxing and secure motoring than a typical soft top, but with the option to your hair down, along with the roof, when the occasion - and the vagaries of the British weather - call for it.
The new Mazda MX-5 RF is available with manual and auto gearboxes, although the short, stubby gear lever of the manual with its short throw make the manual the go-to option, according to What Car? “It’s one of the best manual gearboxes available today, and using the stubby, precise gearlever truly is one of the pleasures of MX-5 ownership,” wrote its test driver, John Howell.
Yes, of course, the folding top adds some extra bulk to the otherwise lithe MX-5 - but it probably has less effect on the handling than you’d expect, noted Howell. “It feels just as keen to turn into bends as the convertible while retaining the same quick, accurate steering and grin-inducing cornering composure,” was his verdict.
In fact, the only hole he could pick in the MX-5 RF was the “mini-cyclone” of wind noise created above the car with the roof closed, which shifts to the back of the car when it’s let down. But even then, Howell said, the car stays very stable.
And unusually for this kind of car, there’s enough space in the boot for a couple of lightweight suitcases - although anyone for whom the new Mazda MX-5 RF is the ideal transport will be used to travelling light anyway.
Great news which will hearten many aficionados of the old car is that the hardtop Mazda MX-5 can be just as economical and relatively cheap to run as the old model, official figures suggesting it’s capable of a whisker under 41mpg. When you factor in that the two-litre 160bhp top-of-the-range model will also shoot you from zero to 62 in under seven-and-a-half seconds, it’s easy to see why the MX-5 has so firmly established itself as a true cult car, with a legion of dedicated followers.
The new Mazda MX-5 RF has a strong act to follow in the shape of its soft-top sister, which started 2017 in fine style by winning the accolade of ‘best convertible’ at the annual What Car? Awards.
It was the MX-5’s second successive triumph at these awards, and this year it beat off particularly strong competition in the shape of the new Fiat 124 Spider, to be named best buy under £25,000.
“We love its rev-happy and punchy 2.0-litre engine, its simple mechanical roof and its temptingly low price,” said What Car? editor Steve Huntingford. “Even better, the MX-5’s ride and handling proves beyond any shadow of a doubt that less is more. Its lightweight chassis construction makes for a driving experience that’s guaranteed to brighten your day, and with surprisingly good fuel economy, this is a fun car that’s both cheap to buy and run.”
The current MX-5 is shorter, lower and wider than the model it replaced, and its low centre of gravity, with 50:50 weight distribution, are key to ensuring that the car will continue to dominate as the UK’s favourite affordable sports car.
Collecting the What Car? Award, Mazda Motors UK Managing Director, Jeremy Thomson said, “This car is our brand icon and it embodies all that is great about our products. Its fun to drive character has strengthened the bond between Mazda and its customers for 25 years, and today it’s the ultimate example of how our SKYACTIV technology and KODO design philosophy help us deliver stylish, spirited and great to drive cars that have the love of driving at the heart of their appeal.”
He added: “The latest MX-5 has already cemented its place in the hearts of driving enthusiasts and with the launch in March of the all-new Mazda MX-5 RF we are about to add another chapter to the success story of this amazing car.”
Register now to be among the first to test drive the new Mazda MX-5 RF in Northwich at the town’s Oakmere Mazda dealership on Manchester Road.