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First Drive: 2022 Mazda MX-5 RF. Image by Mazda.

First Drive: 2022 Mazda MX-5 RF
The Mazda MX-5 has been updated, so we put the folding hard-top RF model to the test.

   



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2022 Mazda MX-5 RF

4.5 4.5 4.5 4.5 4.5

Test Car Specifications

Model: 2022 Mazda MX-5 1.5 Skyactiv-G Sport (2.0 GT Sport Tech shown)
Price: MX-5 RF from 27,625
Engine: 1.5-litre, four-cylinder naturally aspirated petrol
Transmission: six-speed manual, rear-wheel drive
Power: 132hp
Torque: 152Nm
Emissions: 142g/km
Economy: 44.8mpg
0-62mph: 8.7 seconds
Top speed: 126mph
Boot space: 127 litres

The Mazda MX-5 has been the butt of a few jokes over the years, but its brilliance has never been in doubt. The balance and poise of these back-to-basics roadsters has to be experienced to be believed. For 2022, Mazda has updated its sports car, fitting a new system that brakes the inside wheel in corners to aid handling. We tested the RF 'retractable fastback' version with a 1.5-litre petrol engine to see whether that's made a difference.

Test Car Specifications

Model: 2022 Mazda MX-5 1.5 Skyactiv-G Sport (2.0 GT Sport Tech shown)
Price: MX-5 RF from 27,625
Engine: 1.5-litre, four-cylinder naturally aspirated petrol
Transmission: six-speed manual, rear-wheel drive
Battery: N/A
Power: 132hp
Torque: 152Nm
Emissions: 142g/km
Economy: 44.8mpg
0-62mph: 8.7 seconds
Top speed: 126mph
Boot space: 127 litres

Styling

Mazda has done nothing to the MX-5's styling, but there's nothing wrong with that. The latest-generation car looks and feels more purposeful than any of its predecessors, and even the entry-level car comes with a sporty twin tailpipe. The RF model is a bit of a triumph, with a smooth, sporty silhouette when the roof is raised and a targa-style design when it's lowered. It's no better or worse than the roadster, but it's a neat solution and sufficiently different to attract another demographic to the little Mazda sports car.

Interior

Like the bodywork, the MX-5's interior has remained more or less as it was before, but you'll hear no complaints from us. Mazda seems to quietly go about making very high quality vehicles that never get the credit they deserve, so we're going to sing the MX-5's praises on this front. The materials are excellent, the way in which everything fits together is impeccable and the switches feel robust. For a car that costs about 25,000 in roadster form, the MX-5's interior is excellent.

The only slight fly in the ointment, apart from the lack of space, is the infotainment system. It was pretty good when the MX-5 came out back in 2015, but it's showing its age now. Sure, Mazda has updated it, but while it's intuitive and easy to use on the move, it isn't great in terms of graphics and style. That said, it does come with the Android Auto and Apple CarPlay smartphone integration systems, which do help somewhat.

Practicality

Given its diminutive proportions, it should come as no surprise to learn the MX-5 is pretty cramped. There's a fair bit of adjustment in the seat, but low-spec models have little steering wheel adjustment and the headroom with the roof closed is decidedly tight, although that would be less of an issue in the roadster thanks to its thinner roof.

And boot space is at a premium, too. Use soft bags and you can fit a reasonable amount in that 127-litre space, but bulkier items will be a problem, if only because of the small aperture through which you have to slot things into the luggage bay.

Performance

Although most people think of open-top roadsters as fast cars, the MX-5 has never been that quick in a straight line. The current car comes with a choice of two engines, both of which are naturally aspirated, four-cylinder petrol units. The basic option is the 1.5-litre, 132hp engine that comes with a six-speed manual gearbox as standard and is only available on SE-L and Sport models.

That engine provides a leisurely 8.7-second lope from a standstill to 62mph, and a top speed of 126mph. But thats fast enough, and relatively short gearing means you can still enjoy the experience particularly because it sounds a bit throaty and that six-speed gearbox is an utter delight to use. Its also quite economical, managing 44.8mpg on the official economy test.

Alternatively, you can choose either the Sport Tech or GT Sport Tech trims to have the 2.0-litre, 184hp engine, which also comes with a six-speed manual gearbox as standard, although a six-speed automatic is an option. Wed stick with the manual, which is easier on fuel and faster, with 0-62mph takes a sportier 6.8 seconds and the top speed is 137mph. And in case you were wondering, it still manages 40.9mpg.

Ride & Handling

This is what the MX-5 is really all about. Straight-line speed is irrelevant, but the engagement, handling and balance are much more likely to put a smile on your face. To that end, the MX-5 is solely available with rear-wheel drive, sending all the power to the back and offering that genuine sports car feel.

The gearbox is, as we've said, sublime. So too is the steering feel and the pedal position, giving you intuitive control of the car at any given moment. The 1.5 is slightly softer and less aggressive than the 2.0, but both will happily slide given a little encouragement. Given the instant feel you get for the car, gathering the slide back up is relatively simple, and the electronic gizmos will always help you out.

The latest of these gizmos is the new Kinematic Posture Control (KPC) system that applies a small amount of braking to the inside rear wheel during cornering. That's designed to suppress body roll and "subtly" provide more reassuring cornering. The effect is certainly subtle, because it's very hard to tell anything is happening at all. But it certainly hasn't damaged the MX-5's road manners, which make it enormously good fun on a country road.

Opting for the 1.5-litre engine may not provide maximum performance, but it's fast enough to keep pace with traffic and the softer suspension makes it more appealing over long distances. It still feels sporty, but it isn't quite as stiff as the 2.0 with its clever Bilstein dampers. If you're planning to use the MX-5 every day, the cheaper, more economical and more comfortable 1.5 might be the one to choose.

Value

The MX-5 starts at 25,725, while the RF costs an extra 1,900. That pays for the entry-level SE-L model with a 1.5-litre engine, but that's enough for most customers. Even the base model comes with alloy wheels, heated seats and climate control, although the Sport model is probably the sweet spot in the range. That car costs a little more, but it comes with leather upholstery, a Bose sound system and automatic lights and wipers, as well as rear parking sensors and some extra safety kit.

Verdict

The MX-5 is a stunning sports car, and it's brilliant in every guise. This RF version provides the security of a solid roof, but sacrifices some visibility and some headroom in the process, but it's still a corker. With the strength of modern fabric hoods, though, we'd probably stick with the standard convertible.



James Fossdyke - 2 Jul 2022



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