2021 Mazda MX-5 RF Grand Touring Review

A truly sublime sports car, regardless of price


Amos Kwon, Editor-In-Chief



Positives: Gets smiles wherever it goes, total blast to drive hard, engine finally has the right output, telepathic steering and handling, balletic roof deployment, analog automotive experience is hard to beat.
Negatives: A little tight for six-footers, rearview mirrors is too large for such a small windshield, a bit too much black plastic in the center console.
Bottom Line: The MX-5 RF is a near exotic without the price. It's excellent to drive hard all day long, and it's also a truly attractive little targa roadster. There's no other convertible rear-wheel drive sports car for this price anymore now that the sibling Fiat 124 is coming to and end.
The MX-5 RF stands alone, truly. Not only is it the only retractable hardtop roadster in existence for this price (the BMW 4-Series is next, but it costs $53k), it's about as fun of a driving experience as you can get without getting arrested. Power is 181 hp massaged from the former 155-hp naturally-aspirated four-cylinder engine. The retractable fastback version adds a touch of the exotic to the Miata that improves on the old hardtop with seamless operation and stunning flying buttresses behind the headrests. We drove the RF in top Grand Touring trim for a week to see if it could continue its intoxicating driving experience that we loved so much in our last review of the roadster.
 

Driving Experience

9.6

 

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 isn't a rocket in the way that the now defunct Alfa Romeo 4C Spyder was, but it's still plenty quick, launching to 60 in under six seconds. Shifts are quick with the short-throw manual shift knob, and it's a sheer pleasure to rope through the gears.

Braking: The RF's brakes deliver excellent progression and bite. Modulating them super-easy, and they add to the MX-5's awesome driving experience.

Steering: The Miata RF's steering is on the light light side, but the precision, turn-in, and effort are very good. The feedback provided through the steering wheel matches the Miata's capabilities well.

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

7.5

 

The MX-5 RF doesn't have the updated infotainment system found on the CX-30, but it's still pretty good. The graphics are on the dull side, and the menu doesn't look great, but it's very simple to operate with the control knob and buttons between the seats.

Infotainment System: The 7-inch screen is the right size for the RF. It's not exactly vivid, but it's easy to navigate. Mazda does need to update the software and graphics, but it's not a deal-breaker.

Controls: The Mazda Commander Control rotary knob on the center console actuates well and is easy to operate without looking. Steering wheel control buttons are similarly easy, as well.

Styling

9.7

 

We love what Mazda has done with the Miata and the RF. It's not overstyled, but it looks sharp from every angle. The addition of the hardtop provides a dash of exotic supercar to the little roadster, and we think it's the best-looking Miata to date. The interior clad in white Nappa leather is upscale, but the plastic trim bits in the center console could be improved in the materials department.

Front: Everything in front is tastefully done with cateye-style headlights, and a nicely creased hood. We would've like to see round foglights, but you can't have it all.

Rear: Top up or down, the RF looks so good from the rear and rear three-quarters view thanks to those sloping flying buttresses. The simple taillights and round exhaust tips add to the classic roadster look.

Profile: The proportions are perfect with short overhangs and the slinky curved beltline. The dark chrome wheels also look fantastic, and the side turn signal element aft of the front wheel should be copied by others.

Cabin: We love the artful door panels and the beautiful white leather seats. Too bad there's a bit too much cheap plastic between the seats. The short, round shift knob is pretty much perfect.

Comfort

8

 

You really can't be more than 6'2" in this car. You can't slide the seats far back enough and optimize performance driving moves like heel-and-toeing. The seats are great, especially with soft leather. We just wish you could get the great Recaro seats in the RF. Sadly, they're only available on the Club trim.

Front Seats: The Nappa seats are soft and supple. Bolstering and cushioning are just right. If we could just get an inch more of rearward travel, that'd be great.

Rear Seats: The MX-5 is a two-seater only.

NVH (noise/vibration/harshness): Wind noise is minimal with the top up, and build quality is very good. 80 mph with the top down and side windows up does have some minor buffeting, but it doesn't ruin the convertible experience.

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 wouldn't put the top down if the temps are lower than 50 degrees. The hard top, on the other hand, helps when the temps get really cold. Far better than the cloth top from the regular Miata.

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

6.8

 

Don't road trip with more than a couple of small bags because the trunk space is small, even smaller than the soft top. Interior storage options are also limited, but that's a roadster for you.

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, but they work just fine if your cup/mug isn't giant.

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

8.2

 

The Miata RF gets pretty good efficiency if you can manage to avoid driving it like you stole it. Our numbers weren't bad, given the fact that we mashed the gas whenever we could.

Observed: 20.2 mpg

Distance Driven: 115 miles

Audio

7.7

 

The 9-speaker Bose sound system comes standard on the Grand Touring trim model, and it does churn out good sound quality. It's no powerhouse, though, and it seems to lack the chops to deliver when the top is down and you're driving at highway speeds.



Final Thoughts

There's no car on the market like the MX-5 RF. Not only is it a true sports car for a bargain price, but it's also beautiful to look at. No car will make you feel like a kid again the way this car will. It's a truly exhilarating driving experience, and it manages to keep the analog experience alive and well. Could it use even more power? Sure, but no one will complain about how fun it is to drive. We also would be remiss to leave out the MX-5's awesome reliability. When other sports cars are in the junk heap, the MX-5 will soldier on. We love it for so many reasons, and you'd be best served to get one now befor they make it electric.

Check out our 1-Minute Video Review:

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