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Driven: Mazda MX-5 RF 1.5. Image by Mazda.

Driven: Mazda MX-5 RF 1.5
The Mazda MX-5 Retractable Fastback is a great all-rounder of an affordable sports car.

   



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Mazda MX-5 RF 1.5

4.5 4.5 4.5 4.5 4.5

Good points: Adding the hard-top roof makes the MX-5 feel even more grown up

Not so good: The 2.0-litre model could haul a bit better

Key Facts

Model tested: Mazda MX-5 RF 1.5 SE-L Nav
Price: MX-5 range starts from 18,795; RF 1.5 SE-L Nav from 22,295
Engine: 1.5-litre four-cylinder petrol
Transmission: rear-wheel drive, six-speed manual
Body style: two-door hard-top roadster
CO2 emissions: 142/km (VED 200 first 12 months, then 140 annually thereafter)
Combined economy: 46.3mpg
Top speed: 126mph
0-62mph: 8.6 seconds
Power: 131hp at 7,000rpm
Torque: 150Nm at 4,800rpm

Our view:

We'll keep this one nice and short for you: the Mazda MX-5 RF is probably our favourite MX-5 of the current range. It took us a while to get used to that flying buttress roof, truth be told, but after about four days of squinting at it, changing position, appraising it again, sucking air over our teeth, and umming and aahing about the MX-5's appearance, we eventually decided that yes, the RF was a certified looker.

And that's probably all we need to say. Because adding the folding hard-top arrangement to the upper levels of the superb Japanese roadster has not had a detrimental dynamic effect, even though it obviously raises the centre of the Mazda's gravity as a result. We had a week and nearly 320 miles in the RF during a pleasantly warm British summer week (what are the chances of that?), and we came away loving it.

Loving the way the hard-topped roof does add an extra layer (forgive the clunky pun) of refinement to the whole car. Loving the way the delicate rear-drive balance is preserved by the heavier RF. Loving the fact the sweet-as-pie 1.5-litre engine managed to cope with the Retractable Fastback's bodywork without any major drama... although we accept the 2.0-litre would be a better bet for those who want the sharpest MX-5 acceleration available. Loving the way that fancy roof worked, how easily it folded into the back and how a little graphical representation of the external theatre was flashed up on the instrument cluster. Loving everything, of course, that makes the MX-5 such a fine sports car in the first place.

We got 42.7mpg average out of the MX-5 RF 1.5 and even saw 50.7mpg on one long run down the A46 and M1 to the delights of Milton Keynes, so it's not even like the hard-top ruins the Mazda's economy. In fact, we really can't fathom a reason you wouldn't have the RF, over and above the regular MX-5 roadster. It looks better. It's not that much more expensive (don't be fooled by entry list prices, as the soft-top has a lower SE specification that's not available on the RF which skews things somewhat).

It is more refined to drive than the roadster and 99.9 per cent as sharp to steer, as well. Indeed, the only thing we'd say is, as much as we love the 1.5, you might as well find the 1,100 needed to upgrade to the 2.0-litre RF for 23,395, and get a car that feels every bit as thrilling to be in as a Toyota GT86, only with the added benefit of fresh-air motoring on the few high days and holidays we get in this country. Yup, the RF is our favourite MX-5 right now, no doubt about it.

Alternatives:

Abarth 124 Spider: If the RF is the 'stepped-up' version of the MX-5, then - hard-top not offered - the Abarth is the Italian alternative. Sounds and goes wonderfully, but it'll cost you about 30k.

Mercedes-Benz SLC 250 d: The car which started affordable, workable, folding hard-top motoring is now getting on a bit and a humdrum diesel for more than 30,000 is what you'd have to plump for.

Toyota GT86: Often cited as an MX-5 rival, never have the Toyota and Mazda been closer in principle, given the RF's hard-top. The Toyota is still punchier to drive, although the Mazda is more refined.


Matt Robinson - 22 Nov 2017



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