Christopher Little

Quick Spin: 2017 Mazda MX-5 RF

Perhaps you aren’t a fan of fabric-topped roadsters. Or maybe you’ve really wanted a Miata coupe ever since you saw the concept car back in 1996. In the previous generation, Mazda offered a power retractable hard top (PHRT) that appeared coupeish with the top up, but left the roadster’s appearance unchanged with the top down. For 2017, however, Mazda has unveiled the RF.

2017 Mazda MX-5 RF 2

Short for retractable fastback, this MX-5 has fixed C-pillars and a targa top. The visual shakeup turns the diminutive roadster into something else entirely. Mazda has been careful not to alter the lightweight ethos of the MX-5. The RF only adds 113lbs to the Miata’s curb weight and actually improves weight distribution to a perfect 50/50 split when equipped with a manual transmission. Engineers have fitted slightly stiffer springs and returned steering to account for these changes. Everything else is completely unchanged, including the 155hp SKYACTIV engine and the fun-loving personality.

2017 Mazda MX-5 RF 6

Unlike our first drive of the new MX-5 in March of 2016, this RF Grand Touring arrived in October on its Bridgestone Potenza high performance tire. With warm weather still part of the forecast, the top was down and the tires were sticky. The Miata is dynamically near perfect. The car changes direction with upmost confidence, allowing you to carry more speed through your favorite corners. This truly is a driver’s car. But the Mazda’s diminutive power output left us wanting more. Coming on the heels of our test of the Toyota 86, the MX-5 felt less powerful despite identical 0-60 times.

2017 Mazda MX-5 RF 5

Compared to the roadster, the RF’s c-pillars create some additional wind noise at speed. With the top up, it isn’t that much quieter than the soft-top either. And the RF’s targa top cuts 0.6 inches of headroom when the roof is in place. That might not seem like much, but with the seat all the way back and my knees just skimming the dashboard, my 6’2” frame needed every half-inch it could find. And that summarizes my general opinion of the new MX-5, roadster and fastback alike. It’s a car in 5/6 scale. It hides behind every other car in the parking lot. Perhaps the RF’s extra structure magnifies that feeling with its over-shoulder blind spots and rear arch, but it feels too small for me. I find myself sitting on the car rather than in it, as if I was a child that had finally outgrown my Power Wheels. This is an odd sensation, because I have no trouble fitting into the Subaru BRZ or my Porsche Cayman. Even the previous generation MX-5 felt ok.

2017 Mazda MX-5 RF 7

Size complaints aside, the RF adds a new dimension to the MX-5 lineup. The electronically-retracting targa top means there’s fewer excuses to not drive your Miata. With the push of a button, the targa top and rear glass fold beneath the rear deck lid. Like the PRHT, the RF does lose a bit of trunk space, but there’s still room for a weekend getaway. So if you fit into the MX-5, then there really isn’t a better targa for anywhere near this price point. The driving experience continues to be the segment benchmark both in feedback and authenticity. And those hallmarks have always been what the Miata has always been about.

-Christopher Little

2017 Mazda MX-5 Miata Grand Touring RF
Gray Paint Charge $300
Keyless Entry Sytem $130
Interior Package for M/T $425
Destination Charges $835
As Tested MSRP $34,310


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