2017 Mazda MX-5 Miata RF Grand Touring Review

Mazda makes the Miata an affordable exotic


Amos Kwon, Editor-In-Chief



Positives: Excellent driving dynamics, exotic looks with the retractable fastback, one of the best manual gear shifters in existence, great infotainment controls, solid build quality, hardtop mechanism is super-fun to watch
Negatives: Seat comfort needs improvement, parsimonious on storage, infotainment screen washes out in bright sunlight.
Bottom Line: The regular flavored Miata is a great convertible, but the RF takes it up a couple of notches from a functionality and styling perspective. Even with a modest weight gain due to the hardtop mechanism, it's still the same recipe for top-down driving fun thanks to the great chassis, steering and handling. The hardtop gives the Miata an exotic look that rivals some of the best sports cars out there and costs a mere pittance by comparison. No one buys this car for practical reasons because of the size and space, but there's no question this would make a superb daily driver because it seeks to thrill.
Mazda's Miata is legendary. It is, quite literally, the best-selling roadster in history with over a million units sold since its inception back in 1989. Not many cars, even conventional ones, can boast this kind of history. It's a car beloved by enthusiasts and one that bystanders love to watch. It's not overpowered, never loud (unless it's tuned to hell) and never pretentious (unless the driver is wearing a Harvard ball cap). Mazda takes the venerable Miata upmarket with the new RF (Retractable Fastback), and the result is a seriously attractive hardtop that's virtually exotic. We drove it for a week to see what the top trim flavor Miata really feels like.
 

Driving Experience

9.6

 

When the current Miata bowed for the 2016 model year, it cut weight by 148 lbs compared to the previous (and already light) model. The RF adds 113 lbs back on, but there's not much missed in the way of driving fun. There's nothing else in the convertible game at this price point that's as functional and entertaining to drive. The hardtop continues the Miata tradition of great roadsters.

Ride Quality: Firm and sporty but well dampered enought to handle bumps and gaps well. It never feels jarring, in spite of the short wheelbase.

Acceleration: It's no powerhouse, but thanks to an excellent manual tranny and a light curb weight, the Miata always feels spritely. It launches from 0-60 in a hair over six seconds. We'd love to see a turbocharged version that adds maybe 25 horses. Then, it'd be pretty much perfect.

Braking: Great progressive brakes that work well under hard driving. The RF's brakes are upgraded from the soft top model in the form of better feel thanks to a new booster. The pedal feel is very good, and it never feels mushy or grabby. Our tester didn't have the upgraded Brembo brake package, which aren't really necessary here.

Steering: The Miata's steering is one of our favorites, and the RF is even better thanks to increase assist when turning. It leans towards being light, but it's always sharp, and you can place the car exactly where you want it.

Handling: Miata engineers built in some body lean into the Miata, and though the RF has more weight up top, Mazda increased shock pressure and beefed up the front stabilizer bar and rear springs to balance things out. You can toss this thing all day and bring the rear end around like a pro.

Technology

8.4

 

If you want simplicity and functionality, it's hard to go wrong with Mazda's infotainment system. It looks good and works like a charm thanks to seamless physical controls. There are sexier systems out there, but you don't want anything complicated when you're roping through the gears with the top down, driving the Miata RF the way it was meant to be driven.

Infotainment System: The 7y-inch screen is great, except in bright sunlight. The fact that you can't operate it when you're driving seems like a safe idea, but it's frustrating, nonetheless.

Controls: The Mazda Commander Control system is one of the best. The knob actuation is excellent, and the adjacent buttons are perfectly placed. We love this system.

Bluetooth Pairing: Easy with no issues at all. Phone calls and streaming didn't present a problme, and pairing was quick.

Voice Call Quality: The phone call quality is good, and there were no hiccups. Just don't try a phone call with the top down at 70 mph. We tried.

Styling

9.9

 

As good as the soft top looks, the RF completely eclipses it thanks to the twin cowl hard top that make the car look almost Italian. Everything comes together beautifully because the hard top unifies the entire car with a body-colored 3-piece top whose balletic operation is downright mesmerizing.

Front: The RF has the exact same front end with the slender cat-eye LED headlights and the simple and handsome low grille.

Rear: We love the RF's combo LED taillights that have round and ellipsoide sections that are joined together. The lower reflectors' downward slant match the front foglights, but we wish they were simple circles to mimic the taillights.

Profile: The fastback style of the hardtop looks great here, top down or up since the flying buttresses behind the headrests stays in place.

Cabin: The RF's cabin is improved over the previous Miata, but it's by no means opulent. That being said, it's not what Miata owners care about, anyway. The steering wheel and manual shift knob are just about perfect, and our tester's tan leather seats complement the red paint very well like a small, cheap Ferrari.

Comfort

8

 

Thoug 6-footers can fit in the Miata without too much trouble, no one buys this thing for comfort. But for something this tiny and thrashable, it's pretty good. We wouldn't call it road trip-worthy, but it's not bad to sit in for a couple of hours. We had hoped the hardtop would be much better with wind buffeting, but we were mistaken... not that we care.

Front Seats: The Miata's seats aren't as good as we had hoped. They hold you in just fine in the turns, but the seat back is on the flat side. The legroom is pretty good, and headroom with the top up is more than respectable.

Rear Seats: Not applicable. This is a two-seater only.

NVH (noise/vibration/harshness): There's minimal sound deadening in the RF (and the regular Miata, too). There's not much difference between this one and the soft top. Highway speeds and hard acceleration make it much more noticeable. At least it's well built, and there's really no cowl shake or vibration we noticed.

Visibility: The hardtop makes it more difficult to see when the top is down since the buttresses remain in place. The blind spot warning is helpful since it's tough to see over your shoulder when changing lanes.

Climate: The climate control system works well, but no one will expect it to keep you toasty when you drive in 50-degree weather with the top down. At least it has heated seats.

Safety

6.6

 

The current Miata soft top and RF have not been crash tested, but a good set of standard safety features are included on the roadster.

IIHS Rating: Not tested

NHTSA Rating: Not tested

Standard Tech: Our tester came outfitted with a tire pressure monitoring system, blind spot monitoring, ABS brakes with electronic brake distribution and brake assist, rear cross traffic alert, rain sensing wipers, auto-dimming driver side mirror, adaptive front lighting, high beam control, and a lane departure warning system. No crash avoidance tech comes on the Miata.

Optional Tech: None

Storage/Cargo

5.5

 

If it's capacious storage you're looking for, you're not a Miata shopper. The car's first and foremost purpose is driving fun, and true practicality is sacrificed in pursuit of this. No one will care all that much, anyway because they'll be busy having the time of their lives behind the wheel.

Storage Space: The small, flast cubby at the base of the center stack is good for small items, but it can't hold a larger smartphone. We would've like to have seen the USB ports moved to the small center armrest, but cords would get in the way of the gearshift knob. There's also no conventional glovebox, only a locking compartment between the seatbacks.

Cargo Room: There's 4.48 cubic feet of trunk space in the RF, down from 4.59 cubic feet. We realize this is hair-splitting since you can really only carry a couple of small weekend bags or three grocery bags in it. Forget any Home Depot runs unless you're just getting a bag of potting soil and some light bulbs.

Fuel Economy

8.9

 

The Miata RF is the kind of car you want to drive hard all the time. It's that much fun, and it won't blow you into the weeds from being overpowered. That being said, it's surprising how good the gas mileage is.

Observed: 24.8 mpg

Distance Driven: 273 miles

Driving Factors: We pretty much drove this thing balls-to-the wall whenever there was an opportunity. There is no "sport" mode since it's pretty much in that mode 24/7.We drove it in city and highway conditions, but most of the time was spent on local roads.

Audio

7.8

 

The Bose system is good, but we weren't blown away by it primarily because we hardly ever used it. Instead, we just put the top down and enjoyed the open air driving. It could use an upgrade, but honestly you won't care all that much.



Final Thoughts

As much as we love the soft top Miata, the one thing it lacks (other than a tad more power) is a more upscale look. The RF does that in spades without making the car a ridiculous mess. The twin buttresses add flair in both top up and top down modes, and the driving fun isn't affected by the added weight of the roof. It's easily the best convertible you can buy for the money today, and you'll get rewarded with four-season driving fun thanks to the brilliant hard top. We'd get out and buy this car right now if it weren't for our three small children and slightly disapproving wife.

Check out our 1-Minute Video Review:

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