Since 1989, Japanese car manufacturer Mazda has been at the forefront of the market when it comes to small, two seat, affordable sports cars with small engines and a lack of roof.
The MX-5 as we know it in this part of the world has been loved by tens of thousands for decades and most recently it has received a targa-top – as such appealing to a bigger audience and creating this new model, known as the ‘MX-5 RF’.
Since inception, the MX-5 is now into its fourth generation and I guess you could call this MX-5 RF tested, a Mk4 model. During the years between 1989 and today, there have been far too many editions, special editions and sports editions to list but one thing is for sure, they are all loved and driven with a passionate smile.
So what is a targa top and what does RF stand for?
Well… RF is short for ‘Retractable Fastback’ and a targa-top is not a convertible, like that of the MX-5 roadster we have grown to adore over the years, but instead a panel of either canvas or composite material, that sits between the top of the windscreen and a roll bar behind the seats.
A panel, that in the early days of this type of roof, was removable manually to allow the wind in your hair, but that has, in more recent years been attached to a complex transformer-like mechanical system to allow the opening and closing via the convenience of a switch, even at snail speeds.
As you can see from the image below – a fastback rear panel lifts up, allowing the composite roof panel to retract away into an area behind the seats, before the flowing rear panel drops down tight – creating that traditional targa look, we tend to associate with old Porsche’s.
I feel the MX-5 RF looks better than the traditional convertible roadster model we drove earlier in the year, providing a somewhat quieter environment inside, due mainly to the lack of canvas and addition of hard materials to create this retractable fastback model.
The lower silhouette of the MX-5 RF most certainly roots back to its brothers and sisters, being low slung as expected but with a girth that is greater, with much more purposeful looking arches and the extremely slim LED headlights give a very menacing look up front whilst the rear lights resemble that of the Jaguar F-Type, this is no bad thing of course.
On opening the boot, the load space is restricted compared to the first generation cars with a much smaller entry area into the boot. The boot itself is a little shallower than I recall on older models, none the less though, a pair of helmets and a jerry-can will fit with ease or a small weekend bag for two which to me is all this car needs to be able to lug around.
Three trim levels are on offer with the new Mazda MX-5 RF – ranging from the very well equipped ‘SE-L Nav’ which starts from £22,295 and includes climate control, cruise control with adjustable speed limiter, 16” alloy wheels in silver, coming home lighting, headrest speakers, 7” touch-screen display with navigation as well as AM/FM/DAB/app integration/USB/BT etc and black cloth seats.
Next up, a ‘Sport Nav’ starting from £24,895 adds keyless entry, 16” alloy wheels in gunmetal, adaptive front lighting, dusk-sensing lights, rain-sensing wipers, rear parking sensors, passenger headrest speakers, premium BOSE audio system as well as heated leather seats and Bilsein sports suspension and strut brace on 2.0L manual models.
If however, you happen like the look of model tested and photographed (like me), you can dig a little deeper to have the ‘Launch Edition’ which starts from £29,495 and features luxury alongside some sporting pedigree with its 17” BBS alloy wheels, brilliant black rear spoiler, strut brace, two-tone piano black roof, Alcantara dash and door trims, Recaro sports seats and a limited slip differential.
With key-less entry to get conveniently inside, this Launch Edition MX-5 RF features an abundance of Alcantara and leather throughout – the heated Recaro seats being nothing short of sublime.
Red stitching throughout adds the sports feel to the rather cramped cabin.
Audio wise this car has a fantastic BOSE audio 9 speaker system which includes a pair of speakers built into the driver and passenger seats and I must admit, the quality of the BOSE system is, as expected, phenomenal.
Two engines are available in the MX-5 RF, starting with a 1.5L petrol – this comes with a 6 speed manual gearbox and produces 129bhp and 111lb/ft of torque with a top speed of 126mph. A combined return of 46.3mpg is claimed and it will reach 62mph from stationary in 8.6 seconds.
Next up is a 2.0L petrol which produces 157bhp and 148lb/ft, this engine is available with either a 6 speed manual creating a top speed of 134mph and a return of 40.9mpg claimed with 0-62mph in 7.4 seconds – or a 6 speed automatic ‘box which will reach 62mph in 8.4 seconds with a top speed of 121mph and a claimed economy of 39.2mpg.
The model tested, equipped with the more powerful unit, mated to the manual gearbox is a complete hoot to drive – when getting some abuse I struggled to see anything less than late thirties, mpg over a week and a few hundred miles of very mixed driving.
Speaking of abuse, this little targa-top is as happy cruising about town at 30mph in sixth gear with few rev’s on the clock as it is screaming its lungs out in desperation of another gear at the top end of the rev counter along a meandering coastal route.
The MX-5 chassis is simply superb, it handles impeccably yet isn’t too stiff to make the experience unsatisfying – I do feel that the 1.5L is suffice having driven it in the traditional convertible model, however the 2.0L just adds that wee bit extra and saves driving at 11/10ths to get the best from it.
Mazda provide a 3year/60,000 mile warranty with servicing intervals at 12,500miles/12 months which is reasonable and with safety equioent on-board such as blind spot monitoring, rear cross traffic alert and high beam control as standard, the RF is well kitted.
Words and Photos: Graham Curry
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