New Mazda MX-5 Convertible

From £18,495

Gearbox

Manual

Seats

2

Doors

2

Boot size

300 litres

The Auto Trader verdict
★★★★★
★★★★★
3.8
The Mazda MX-5 RF delivers all the thrills of the regular MX-5, but with a bit more style. What’s more, the Targa-like roof arrangement doesn’t mean you lose a lot in the way of open-air thrills. It doesn’t really deliver on the promise of greater high-speed refinement, due to an irritating amount of wind-noise, even at moderate speeds, but it’s still a very appealing car in a number of other areas.

Pros

  • Sportscar looks and genuine open-air thrills
  • Fabulous to drive
  • Strong on quality and kit

Cons

  • Wind-noise ruins refinement, which is kind of the point of the RF
  • Smaller engine struggles with the RF’s extra weight
  • More basic versions aren’t as sharp to drive as pricier ones

Full review

By Ivan Aistrop   Monday 13 February 2017
2017 Mazda MX-5 RF

Exterior
★★★★★
★★★★★
5/5

This is one of the areas buyers of the RF will be most interested in, and not just because it’s a handsome little devil. A hard-top version of the MX-5 is nothing new, but the previous version (known as the RC or Roadster Coupe) looked much like the rag-top, just with metal panels where the fabric should be. The RF (or Retractable Fastback), meanwhile, has a look all of its own. The curvy buttresses that protrude upwards from behind the cabin give the RF much more of a Targa-like look, rather than that of the classic roadster, but don’t worry, the more enclosed cockpit doesn’t mean that you lose too much in the way of open-air thrills. To our eye, the RF looks more purposeful than the roadster whether the roof is up or down, and that really suits the jagged, aggressive details common to all MX-5s. Cars with the smaller engine come with 16-inch alloy wheels, which can look a little bit lost in the gaping wheelarches. The 17-inchers you get on the more powerful models are much more like it.

Interior
★★★★★
★★★★★
3/5

It’s no surprise the RF’s cabin is virtually indistinguishable from that of the Roadster. Build quality and fit and finish are a high priority with this car, and the dashboard surfaces and switches feel satisfyingly robust. The driving position is spot-on, placing the driver low down to the ground, feet straight out on the pedals, right in the centre of the car. However, the wheel only adjusts for height, not reach, so it is a bit tricky to get really comfortable unless you have longish arms. Visibility is excellent towards the front of the car, with the steep windscreen angle giving you a fantastic view down the road, making the car easy to place accurately. Things aren’t so hot to the rear, though, with those bulky buttresses causing more blind spots than in the Roadster, but it’s still easy enough to live with. However, there is an alarming amount of wind-noise, which is even worse when refinement is the very reason most buyers will choose the RF over the Convertible in the first place. Even at moderate speeds, you hear an annoying whistle from the seal between the roof and side windows, and it only gets louder and more annoying as you go faster. The large amount of roof-down wind-noise is more forgivable, but you might still be startled by the volume. The wind doesn’t just whistle past those buttresses, it properly crashes into them.

Practicality
★★★★★
★★★★★
3/5

Not an area of deal-breaking importance for a car like this, but even so, the RF does a half-decent job. The passenger compartment gives enough head- and leg-room for its two occupants to be comfortable, even if they’re tall. Although the narrow cabin and bulky central partition between the driver and passenger do make you feel a little snug, you’re not so hemmed-in that you start to feel claustrophobic. The boot doesn’t sound very big at 127 litres, but you’ll still fit a surprising amount under the bootlid – a couple of large weekend bags can be crammed in – and the luggage capacity remains the same whether the roof is up or down. The cabin has a few nifty storage solutions, too, like cubbies concealed in the bulkhead behind the seats, and a pair of pop-out cupholders in the centre console.

Ride and handling
★★★★★
★★★★★
4/5

Compared with the Convertible, Mazda has fettled the RF’s suspension to account for its extra weight (which is marginal, in case you were wondering), and the position of that weight in the car. To further confuse matters, the standard suspension setup you get depends on which version you pick. The 1.5s have the most basic setup, and these provide a decent amount of cornering precision and a surprisingly supple ride. You might not get on so well with the steering, though, which feels a little too remote. Cars with the 2.0-litre engine also get a limited slip differential which helps you carry more speeds through the bends, and that makes the car feel a good bit sharper, giving more confidence to push harder. Combine the 2.0-litre engine with Sport Nav trim, and you also get a sports suspension with upgraded parts and more hardcore tuning, and that’s where the MX-5 is really at its best. It makes the car wonderfully agile and involving, and although it does reduce the ride comfort slightly, it is only slightly.

Performance
★★★★★
★★★★★
3/5

Two four-cylinder petrol engines are available: a 1.5 with 129bhp, and a 2.0-litre with 158bhp. The 1.5 will be okay for buyers wanting nothing more than a very gentle open-air potter from their MX-5, but if you want anything more than that, we’d recommend the upgrade to the bigger unit. It’s not so much the shortage of outright pace that’s the problem, more the shortage of in-gear flexibility that’ll have you constantly chopping and changing on the (albeit sweet-shifting) manual gearbox. The 2.0-litre copes much better with the RF’s extra bulk due to its more generous torque, and not only is it an easier and more relaxing car to drive normally, but it also delivers a good bit more fizz when the mood takes you. Most hot hatches are faster, but there’s enough pace there to let you make the most of the MX-5’s sweet handling. A six-speed automatic gearbox is also available with the 2.0-litre, but we’re yet to try it.

Running costs
★★★★★
★★★★★
4/5

List prices are competitive with other two-seat convertibles like the Mini Roadster, so the car delivers plenty of value for money. The official fuel economy figures aren’t too bad for a sports car, either, but it’s worth treating them with even more suspicion than you would usually. Like with all cars, the results gathered under laboratory conditions are very hard to replicate in the real world, but with the RF, we also reckon the difference between the 1.5 and the 2.0-litre versions won’t be as big as the 6mpg the official figures suggest. That’s because the 1.5 has to be worked so hard to maintain moderate progress, while the 2.0-litre is far more relaxed. Also bear in mind that specifying the auto will dent your fuel economy.

Reliability
★★★★★
★★★★★
5/5

The Mazda MX-5 has always had an exceptional reliability record for any kind of car, let alone compared to other sportscars. The amount of Mk I cars you still see rolling around today should go some way towards backing up that reputation. So should the model’s performance in Warranty Direct’s Reliability Index, which is about as strong as it’s possible to get. Mazda also ranks extremely highly in the league table of manufacturers, which should top up your confidence even further.

Safety
★★★★★
★★★★★
3/5

Front and side airbags are provided – which is similar to what you’ll get with other small convertibles – as are tyre pressure monitoring, stability control and a pop-up bonnet to give pedestrians better protection. Sport Nav models also have Lane Departure Warning on top, but you have to pay extra for the Safety Pack if you want high-beam assistance, Blind Spot Monitoring and Rear Cross-Traffic Alert. Even then, you can only add that to 2.0 Sport Nav models. An Emergency City Braking system isn’t available at all, even as an option. The MX-5 hasn’t yet been crash-tested by Euro NCAP.

Equipment
★★★★★
★★★★★
4/5

Two main trims are available: SE-L Nav and Sport Nav, both of which come well-stocked. The more basic car has cruise control, electric windows, climate control, a leather steering wheel with audio controls, and a touch-screen infotainment system that includes Bluetooth, DAB and (obviously) navigation. Sport trim adds – as well as the suspension upgrades – rear parking sensors, automatic lights and wipers, heated leather seats and keyless entry.

Why buy?
★★★★★
★★★★★
4/5

If you’re anything like previous buyers of hard-top MX-5s, because you want a shade more high-speed refinement than the soft-topped MX-5 can muster. Unfortunately, the RF doesn’t really deliver on that score due to the irritating level of wind-noise, but it’s still an appealing car in other ways. Many will prefer the looks to those of the fabric-roofed MX-5, and it’s still fabulous to drive.

Our recommendations

From the range of the new Mazda MX-5, these are the ones we suggest you look at

Pick of the range
2.0 Sport Nav manual
The extra poke and handling prowess turn this into the car the MX-5 RF should be.
Most economical
1.5 manual
Best official figures, but probably won’t prove much cleaner than the 2.0-litre in the real world.
Best avoided
2.0 Sport Nav auto
Makes your fuel economy worse and you lose the lovely gearbox.
Choose your Mazda MX-5
At Auto Trader, we have reviews from people who have owned this car and can inform you on what it's like to live with
Owners verdict
★★★★★
★★★★★
4.8
Read owner reviews

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