Mazda MX-5 RF Automatic (2017) Quick Review

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The Mazda MX-5 RF or "Retractable Fastback" was introduced in South Africa earlier this year and we recently tested it to find out if it’s worth considering it over the soft-top MX-5 roadster. Take a look at what the MX-5 RF has to offer...

We like: Stylish design, fun-factor, interior design and features

We don’t like: Pricey, automatic transmission erodes performance, wind noise, cramped interior

Alternatives

  • For similar kicks: Consider the Abarth 124 Spider. Priced from R649 900, it’s a fair whack more expensive than the MX-5 RF and it’s a manual. It does, however, offer more power and torque than the MX-5 RF with 125 kW and 240 Nm of torque from its turbocharged 1.4-litre engine.  
     
  • For more power: Consider the Toyota 86 2.0 High automatic priced at R519 400. The 86 delivers similar rear-wheel drive thrills to the MX-5 RF but offers 147 kW and 205 Nm of torque from its naturally aspirated 2.0-litre engine.


Compare the Mazda MX-5 RF with the Abarth 124 Spider and the Toyota 86 2.0 High Auto


The Mazda MX-5 RF is based on the soft-top version, but features an electronically retractable hard top roof.

Facts & Figures

Price: R532 800 (August 2017)
Engine: Naturally aspirated 2.0-litre petrol
Transmission: 6-speed automatic
Power: 118 kW
Torque: 200 Nm
Fuel Consumption: 6.7 L/100km
0-100 kph: 8.6 seconds
Top Speed: 194 kph

What is it?


The MX-5 RF is only offered in automatic guise in South Africa and costs some R91k more than it's soft-top sibling. 

The Mazda MX-5 roadster is a loveable sportscar that's designed to deliver a fun and engaging driving experience at an accessible price point. It is for this very reason that the MX-5 is adored by enthusiasts the world over and it’s part of the reason why the MX-5 has become an icon in its own right. A key ingredient in the MX-5’s success story is its short-shift manual transmission, which is one of the best transmissions available and contributes greatly to the overall MX-5 driving experience.  

Where the standard MX-5 roadster coupe has a manually deployable fabric roof, the MX-5 Retractable Fastback (RF) has an electrically retractable hardtop. With much of the roof structure still in place once the roof is open, the MX-5 RF actually takes on a targa body style and it actually looks very attractive as a result.  In South Africa, however, the MX-5 RF is only offered with a 6-speed automatic transmission and the MX-5 RF is just over R91k more expensive than its manual soft-top sibling. Is this MX-5 RF automatic worth the additional outlay over the standard manual MX-5?

The Good

Attractive styling

 

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Low and compact, the MX-5’s proportions are appealing and this RF version with its hardtop roof is somewhat more sophisticated to the eye and sits some 15 mm lower than the soft-top MX-5. The targa-style roof seems to garner more interest from onlookers too. By pressing and holding a switch in the cabin, the roof can be retracted in about 13 seconds at speeds up to 10 kph, according to Mazda.

A meter display animation appears in the instrument cluster indicating when the roof operation is complete. Compared with its soft-top sibling, the RF’s cabin is also more insulated and quieter while on the move with the roof in place. From a styling perspective, the MX-5 RF looks good, especially with the tantalising Soul Red Metallic paintwork, but we don’t think it’s necessarily better-looking than its soft-top sibling. You be the judge...

Performance


The MX-5 RF boasts good looks and in automatic guise, is perhaps not as entertaining as the manual driven MX-5. 

The MX-5 RF is powered by a high-revving naturally aspirated 2.0-litre petrol engine that offers up 118 kW and 200 Nm of torque. In the case of the RF, power is sent to the rear wheels using a 6-speed automatic transmission. Now, those numbers may not look significant, but when you consider that this MX-5 RF version weighs only 1 126 kg, some 51 kg more than its soft-top sibling, it has more than enough shove for overtaking and is particularly fun to drive on a winding country road.

You have to get the revs up high to get the most out of the MX-5 RF and although acceleration feels brisk, it’s not fast. Mazda claims a 0-100 kph sprint time of 8.6 seconds with a top speed of 194 kph. It’s worth noting that the RF is a fair bit slower than the manual MX-5 (7.3 sec/214 kph). With a steady power feed, the automatic transmission works quite well in getting through the gears, but when driven harder, it’s not as responsive as we hoped it would be. 

In terms of fuel consumption, Mazda claims a fuel consumption figure of 6.7 L/100km and during our test we averaged in the region of 8.8 L/100km.  

Handling and engagement


Fun to drive, easy to love, the MX-5 RF delivers engaging handling dynamics that can be enjoyed on your favourite mountain pass. 

The MX-5 shines in terms of handling dynamics and this MX-5 RF is no different. We took the RF for a long drive around the Cape Peninsula and it had no issues diving into corners at pace. The steering is well-weighted and responsive, giving you a good idea of what the wheels are doing and you can have a lot of fun throwing it around in the bends. Coupled with a low driving position, the MX-5 RF offers an engaging drive and you very much feel like you are driving the car as opposed to it driving you, and therein lies the major attraction of the MX-5. Even in automatic guise, this MX-5 is still loads of fun to drive, but perhaps a little less involving compared with its manual sibling.

The suspension is on the firm side and considering the sporty nature of the vehicle, it’s a good thing. However, more severe imperfections in the road send jolts through the cabin and the ride quality deteriorates on poorer surfaces.   

Simple, attractive interior


The interior is not very spacious and taller drivers may find it difficult to find the perfect driving position. 

A simple approach to interior design is often the most effective and this is the case inside the MX-5 RF. The design and layout of the interior suits the style of the RF to a tee. The interior is predominantly black and the quality of the switchgear and general build quality is good. The driver has access to a 7-inch touchscreen infotainment display that offers Bluetooth telephony and navigation. The system’s layout is simple and easy-to-use and the rotary dial controller in the centre tunnel makes it easy for the driver to work the system on the go.  

The seats are comfortable and upholstered in leather and features such as climate control air conditioning, heated seats, cruise control and a multifunction steering wheel further add to the comfort inside the MX-5 RF. The RF is not short on safety features either and comes equipped with 4 airbags, ABS with EBD, brake assist, stability control with traction control, hill launch assist, lane departure warning and blind spot monitoring.

The not-so-good

Automatic blues


The automatic transmission, although good, detracts from the much-loved character of the manual driven MX-5. 

For a car that’s supposed to offer high levels of driver engagement, an automatic transmission, to an extent, does the MX-5 RF a disservice. It’s not that the automatic transmission is bad, it just lacks the involvement offered by the manual MX-5. The MX-5, traditionally, is a car that demands driver involvement, but with the automatic transmission, the driver can’t really attain the same level of involvement and driving pleasure. The mounted paddles are no substitute for the excellent short-shift manual transmission. We can’t help but wish the MX-5 RF was offered with the manual ‘box.

Severe wind noise


Wind noise is severe when travelling at speed, but it's a problem easily solved with a quality BOSE sound system. 

Once the roof is down, we found wind noise to be severe, especially when driving at the highway speed limit. Most of the noise originates from the roof structure just behind the driver. A simple conversation with your passenger will turn into a shouting match when travelling at speed with the roof down. To drown out the wind noise, you can turn the volume up on the 9-speaker Premium BOSE sound system, which produces good sound quality – short of slowing to a cruise, that certainly solves the problem...

One size doesn’t fit all

The compact dimensions of the MX-5 RF mean that interior space is tight and tall drivers will struggle to get comfortable –some really tall or larger-framed drivers may not even fit at all. The seats are manually adjustable, but the range of the fore and aft adjustment is minimal.

The steering wheel is also only adjustable for rake. Added to this, sitting only 135 mm from the road, getting in (and out of) the MX-5 RF is a bit tricky and requires a fair amount of abdominal strength.


The load bay is small at 127 litres, but only 3 litres smaller than the soft-top MX-5. 

Inside the MX-5 RF, storage space is quite limited. There’s no glove box in the dashboard but there is a lockable storage compartment between the 2 seats, where oddly, you will also find a CD loader! 

There is also a bracket-style cup holder between the seats that can accommodate 2 cups or bottles. Small storage areas are found in the centre console and ahead of the gear lever, but that’s it – there are no storage pockets or bottle holders in the doors either.

The luggage bay is small (127 litres) and it’s only big enough to fit a pair of small bags or the day’s shopping. As you may have gathered by this point in the write-up, the MX-5 RF is not very practical and potential buyers will have to consider these issues before making a buying decision.

Price and warranty

The Mazda MX-5 RF is priced at R532 800 and is sold with a 3-year/unlimited km warranty and a 3-year/unlimited km service plan. Service intervals are set at 15 000km.

Find a new or used Mazda MX-5 on Cars.co.za

Verdict


The MX-5 RF will appeal to those with a penchant for style, but for the ultimate MX-5 experience, the manual MX-5 still rules. 

Yes, practicality is not the MX-5’s strong point, but buyers will be well aware of – and unperturbed by – that fact. It’s undeniably a stylish package and there is much to like about this MX-5 RF automatic, even if its appeal is somewhat eroded by its lofty price tag. There is enough performance available for driving enthusiasts to enjoy themselves, but most purists will probably find the automatic RF less entertaining than its manual sibling.

The MX-5 RF will, therefore, appeal to buyers who want to own a sportscar with head-turning appeal first and foremost. For those seeking the traditional roadster experience, the manual soft-top is not only cheaper, but offers a more entertaining drive with its manual transmission. Compared with hardtop roadsters such as the Mercedes-Benz SLC and BMW Z4, the MX-5 RF is like a palate-cleansing sorbet. Those who get it will love it. 

Related content

Extended Test: Mazda MX-5 [with Video]

Mazda MX-5 (2015) Review

Abarth 124 Spider (2017) Quick Drive

Toyota 86 High (2017) Quick Review

Toyota 86 (2017) First Drive [with Video]

Rival Comparison

Mazda MX-5
2.0 RF auto
R 532 800
Engine 2.0L 4 cyl
Aspiration N/A
Power 118 kW
Torque 200 Nm
Gearbox 6 spd automatic
Fuel Type petrol
Fuel Economy 6.7 L/100 km
0-100 Km/h 8.6 s
Load Volume 127 L
Abarth 124 spider
spider turismo
R 649 900
Engine 1.4L 4 cyl
Aspiration turbocharger
Power 125 kW
Torque 240 Nm
Gearbox 6 spd manual
Fuel Type petrol
Fuel Economy 6.4 L/100 km
0-100 Km/h 6.8 s
Load Volume 140 L
Toyota 86
2.0 high auto
R 519 400
Engine 2.0L 4 cyl
Aspiration N/A
Power 147 kW
Torque 205 Nm
Gearbox 6 spd automatic
Fuel Type petrol
Fuel Economy 7.1 L/100 km
0-100 Km/h 8.2 s
Load Volume 218 L

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