2017 Mazda MX-5 Miata RF Review – How Much Extra Will You Pay for Less Convertible?

2017 Mazda MX-5 RF

2.0-liter inline-four, DOHC (155 horsepower @ 6,000 rpm; 148 lb-ft @ 4,600 rpm)

Six-speed manual, rear-wheel drive

26 city / 33 highway / 29 combined (EPA Rating, MPG)

8.9 city / 7.1 highway / 8.1 combined (NRCan Rating, L/100km)

35.1 mpg [6.7 L/100 km] (Observed)

Base Price: $32,430 (U.S) / $40,695 (Canada)

As Tested: $36,130 (U.S.) / $47,995 (Canada)

Prices include $875 destination charge in the United States and $40,695 for freight, PDI, and A/C tax in Canada and, because of cross-border equipment differences, can’t be directly compared.

Got $2,755?

That’s how much extra coin Mazda wants in order to swap out the 2017 MX-5 Miata’s soft top, install a pair of buttresses, and replace the soft top with a foldable, targa-style hard top.

You’re not just paying $2,755 extra for the seasonal benefits of a hard top. At least half of those two-thousand-seven-hundred-and-fifty-five additional dollars are surely attributed to the RF’s sense of style. Love it or loathe it, the 2017 Mazda MX-5 Miata RF is a far more eye-catching car than the regular, fourth-generation MX-5.

Nevertheless, the MX-5 Retractable Fastback, which isn’t a fastback and doesn’t have a retractable roof, would be a distinctly more enticing proposition if it could save Miata buyers $2,755, rather than cost Miata buyers an additional $2,755.

Though every moment of the Miata experience is altered by the RF’s major engineering switcheroo, most moments are only altered by an ounce or two.

For the most part, despite a little more than 100 additional pounds, you won’t be able to notice distinct ride and handling characteristics when switching back and forth from a regular fourth-gen ND MX-5 Miata to the RF. You’d need a tremendously calibrated backside to recognize Mazda’s slight retuning of the suspension. You won’t detect an extra tenth or two in the RF’s 0-60 mph time. You might notice a hint of extra steering weight.

This is all very good. You wouldn’t, shouldn’t, surely couldn’t want much in the way of change. Mazda nailed the fourth-gen Miata’s on-road behavior: better acceleration, sublime shifting, perfectly tolerable ride quality even with this test car’s $3,400 Brembo brakes/BBS wheels package, rapid turn-in, firm but progressive braking, and best of all, enhanced feedback.All of the 2.0-liter four-cylinder’s 155 horsepower answer the call, brimming with enthusiasm, itching to rev. You’ll be stirring the shifter, no doubt, but such a delight is this six-speed that you’d do so even if there was a 2.0-liter turbo and enough torque to leave the shifter in third.

There’s no denying that the stiffer suspension of the basic MX-5 RF Club — which serves as the middle-spec model for non-RF MX-5s — brings a level of firmness to the proceedings. But it’s hard to imagine that anyone who’s interested in a roadster with such a short 90.9-inch wheelbase will think this particular package creates an overly stiff car. There’s still a surprising amount of body roll for a sporty car circa 2017, which could be interpreted as a level of cushiness that leaves plenty of room for Miata lovers to add greater track-worthiness.

Yet the characteristics that make the MX-5 such a desirable car — not necessarily the objectively measurable acceleration or grip or braking or lap times — also make the MX-5 RF a desirable car. “Connectivity” meant something to Miata drivers long before it became the means by which Ford talked about SYNC.It’s not merely Mazda jinba ittai marketing speak either. There truly is a powerful man-machine connection in the 2017 MX-5 RF. It’s a bond forged by the proper seating position, the diameter and minimal thickness of the steering wheel, the understanding of the tachometer’s favorite shift points, the joy derived from driving at sane speeds, the rear suspension’s messaging during mid-corner adjustments.

These are not new aspects of the Miata experience. Central to the Miata theme since 1989 have been these very same key factors that have always generated such driver-oriented enjoyment. That’s why I bought a 2004 MX-5 Miata earlier this year.

Unfortunately, there are significant downsides on the RF side of Mazda’s current Miata ledger. Perhaps rather than downsides, they should be referred to as “other sides of the coin.” Weights on the end of a scale.Roof stowed, the 2017 Mazda MX-5 Miata RF simply does not offer the level of convertible involvement to which an MX-5 owner has become accustomed. In fact, in some ways, there’s too much convertible involvement.

Around town, at low speeds, the MX-5 RF feels more like a sports car with a large sunroof. Not only is the sense of the upper/rear bodywork pervasive, but visibility is sorely curtailed. Shoulder checks? Don’t even bother — there’s nothing there to see besides your own MX-5 RF.

Increase your speed and the MX-5 RF is saturated with too much of a top-down reality. Buffeting is excessive, and the noise created by wind entering the buttresses and bouncing around behind your ears is decidedly unpleasant.

Conversations can be had if you shout, but make sure you enunciate.

Put the roof up and you’re now driving a proper coupe, free from the roof-up soft-top implications of a regular Miata. But don’t expect much in the way of added refinement. This is not a BMW 2 Series. Wind whistle around the A-pillar and the tops of the windows is un-2017-like. Noises you couldn’t have noticed when the roof was down are now obvious: plenty of engine and undercarriage sounds, plus a chorus of tires humming, make their way into the tiny cabin and don’t seem to find an exit point.

You’re a bit annoyed now, and Miatas should never annoy.

The sun comes out so you put the roof down, but you don’t get the full top-down rush. It’s been raining for a couple of days, so the roof stayed up and your daily driver didn’t quite feel like the kind of easy-going daily driver coupe you’d hoped it would be. Rather than being a best-of-both-worlds roadster/coupe, the 2017 Mazda MX-5 Miata RF requires compromise on both counts.

Does it matter? Maybe not, as the RF is still an astonishingly good car. Quick, connected, capable, wildly more attractive in person than in pictures, and wonderfully efficient given the aggression with which I drove it, the MX-5 RF would be a highly recommendable car if it weren’t for the standard non-RF Miata.But that other Miata does exist. It’s the better car. And it’s the cheaper car.

The 2017 Mazda MX-5 Sport’s base price is $25,970; a $1,300 automatic removes a hefty chunk of the car’s appeal.

The Sport trim isn’t available in the RF, which enters the ballpark at $32,430 in Club spec, $2,755 more than the $29,675 soft top MX-5 Club. The MX-5 RF Grand Touring is priced from $33,495, a $3,430 premium above the soft top Grand Touring.

Style clearly comes at a cost. Not all of that cost can be measured monetarily.

[Image: ©2017 Timothy Cain/The Truth About Cars]

Timothy Cain is a contributing analyst at The Truth About Cars and Autofocus.ca and the founder and former editor of GoodCarBadCar.net. Follow on Twitter @timcaincars.

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