2020 Mazda MX-5 Miata Grand Touring RF Review

One of the world's best cars for a pittance


Amos Kwon, Editor-In-Chief



Positives: Thrilling to drive at any speed, exotic looks with the targa roof, sublime manual transmission, new engine is transformative, steering and handling are much-improved, everything you need and nothing you don't.
Negatives: A bit tight for 6+ footers, needs a frameless rearview mirror, infotainment screen is looking dated, could have a sportier exhaust.
Bottom Line: The Miata is the best-selling roadster in history for a reason. In RF trim, it's borderline exotic and remarkably practical. For 2020, the car has changed dramatically in terms of driveability. If you want the best sports car for less than the average price of a new car today, the RF is it.
Mazda went all out with the current generation of the Miata. Its design departed from the previous generation significantly without losing the DNA that makes the Miata so great. The retractable fastback version (RF) is a brilliant targa top that you don't have to pull off and stow, and it gives the Miata an exotic look for a non-exotic price. As of 2019, the Miata gets pumped from 155 to 181 horsepower thanks to some massaging of the 2.0-liter four-cylinder Skyactiv-G engine. We drove the retractable fastback (RF) in top Grand Touring trim for a week. Read on for our full evaluation of the world's most popular roadster.
 

Driving Experience

9.8

 

Whereas the previous 155-horsepower engine in the 2018 Miata was a good one, we knew no one would complain about the power upgrade to 181. While we don't find the engine mindblowing, it is an excellent match for the Miata's chassis and suspension that didn't do the old engine justice.

Ride Quality: The Miata RF's ride can feel choppy over gaps, but we won't complain. The payoff is excellent road feel and a solid understanding of how a sports car should drive.

Acceleration: The RF never feels blistering, but sprints and passing speeds are plenty lively with 0-60 in under six seconds. The extra 26 horses make a real difference and make the Miata truly thrilling. The six-speed manual shifter is sublime and always feels spot on. We enjoy the play between the engine and transmission one of the most intoxicating experiences that can be had in the car industry today.

Braking: The RF's brakes are very good with smooth delivery and progression. They're more than adequate for spirited driving and bring the car to a stop very well.

Steering: The Miata RF's steering feels light, but there is increased effort from the 2018 model. It's super-precise, and turn-in is quick, too. It's well-matched for the chassis.

Handling: The car feels balanced and pivots with authority around corners. The body-roll is very manageable, and there's just the right amount of understeer.

Technology

8.4

 

You don't buy a roadster to get a massive touchscreen and distracting tech, so what you find in the Miata is appropriately sized and has good functionality. That said, we would like to see crisper graphics.

Infotainment System: The 7-inch screen that's perched atop the dash is a good size and has easy menus. We'd like to see a standard menu grid instead of the cascading arch of selections.

Controls: The Mazda Commander Control rotary knob on the center console is really easy to use, and it's a good size. Graduated clicks make it a cinch to find and select what you want with minimal distraction.

Styling

9.9

 

The Miata in RF guise is a stunner from virtually every angle. The roof and its flying buttresses adds a level of Italian exotic flair that's not present on the soft top. The rest of the car is well-executed, and the Soul Red Crystal Metallic paint adds just the right amount of drama.

Front: The front fascia has a big grille that's downplayed by the black slats, and the hood creases and fender bulges look great paired with the slender cateye headlights.

Rear: The view of the hardtop targa roof from the back looks great with the seatrest hoops peeking through. The simple LED taillights look great, as do the dual exhaust ports.

Profile: The classic roaster profile is elegant and sporty, and the dark chrome wheels pick up the black tint in the paint. We also love the way the RF looks top up or top down. The lines are clean and elegant, while the muscularity of the curves in front and back make the tight dimensions work in the RF's favor.

Cabin: The RF's is everything you need and nothing you don't. It's never overstyled, and materials are good for this price point. The door trim and dash trim match the seats and unify the interior. We also love the body-colored door trim.

Comfort

8.2

 

If you're over six feet tall, fitting in comfortably will be a challenge, but we did fine. Wearing thin-soled driving shoes will help in more than one way.

Front Seats: The stock seats hug you in the turns, and they're plenty comfortable. Adjustability is minimal, but you don't really need much, anyway.

Rear Seats: Not applicable. All Miatas have been and are two-seaters only.

NVH (noise/vibration/harshness): While it's not as loud as a Alfa Romeo 4C, you can still pretty much hear everything, but that's part of the joy of driving a roaster.

Visibility: The rearview mirror's frame is too thick for a car like this with limited windshield height. You can get a frameless mirror for other Mazda models, so why not this one? Also, rear-side visibility is impeded by the RF's roof buttresses, but who cares. This thing is spectacular.

Climate: The climate control system works well, but we would love to see an "air-scarf" type of setup like Mercedes' that blows hot air around your neck from the seats.

Safety

6.6

 

The Miata has not been crash tested by either body, but it does have decent safety tech.

IIHS Rating: Not tested

NHTSA Rating: Not tested

Standard Tech: Our Grand Touring tester 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.

Optional Tech: None

Storage/Cargo

5.5

 

The Miata is small in terms of overall storage and cargo, but that's not what you buy a roadster for. We thought it was just fine for our needs, but others might find it restrictive.

Storage Space: There's a small armrest compartment in the center console, but it doesn't hold much. Opt to use the bigger glovebox between the seats, and you can toss in more gear. The removable cupholders that dock just aft of the armrest compartment are definitely afterthoughts.

Cargo Room: There's 4.48 cubic feet of trunk space in the RF, down from the soft-top's 4.59 cubic feet. No one will notice the difference, really. You still can go to the grocery store and get a couple of bags in, thankfully, and even take a weekend trip with a couple of medium-sized duffels.

Fuel Economy

8.5

 

We didn't bother to get good gas mileage because we wanted to exploit the Miata RF's driving dynamics every minute we were behind the wheel. That said, it still manages more than respectable numbers for a sporty car.

Observed: 25.9 mpg

Distance Driven: 98 miles

Audio

7.7

 

The 9-speaker Bose sound system is standard and has good sound quality, but it could use more power to mitigate wind and road noise when the top is down. That said, we're not sure where a bigger, more powerful system would fit.



Final Thoughts

The Miata RF is one of the few mainstream, affordable cars that stirs the soul beyond its price point. There's just so much to love about it, from the driving dynamics to the design. It might not be a capacious vehicle, but that's not why you buy it. The build quality, design, and fun factor are unmatched for $35K. Even the Toyota 86 can't match it (maybe the next-gen), and there certainly is no retractable hard-top roadster that costs this little to buy (you have to spend $119K for a Porsche 911 Targa 4 to get the next cheapest one). The 181 horses in the Miata are perfect for this little roadster, and you'll get smiles for miles. It's a car everyone should drive in their lifetime, and the lucky ones will own one.

Check out our 1-Minute Video Review:

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