Mazda MX-5 RF Review
For those who want a quieter cabin, the Mazda MX-5 RF makes a fine choice, although many will find the cheaper cloth-roofed car perfectly adequate
This score is awarded by our team of expert reviewers after extensive testing of the car
- Superb handling
- Peppy engines
What's not so good
- Not a practical choice
- Standard cloth-roof MX-5 cheaper
- Standard safety kit
Mazda MX-5 RF: what would you like to read next?
The Mazda MX-5 is available in two forms: either the more popular cloth-roofed version, or this folding metal-roof Mazda MX-5 RF model. The latter is designed to offer a quieter cabin at high speeds and a slightly different look on the outside.
Inside, the Mazda MX-5 RF looks and feels suitably high quality. The top and mid section of the dash is made of soft, textured plastic and even the lower section doesn’t feel too scratchy. The switches and rotary dials for the climate controls all feel nicely damped too. Little details such as the satin-chrome air vents surrounds are also a nice touch.
SE-L Nav+ trim comes with cloth seats, but for a more premium experience Sport Nav+ and GT Nav+ car’s get their seats covered in leather instead.
Mazda’s infotainment system is amongst the best on sale. It consists of a 7.0-inch screen, which can be operated either by touch or via a rotary controller and menu shortcut buttons located between the front seats. Also included is DAB radio, Bluetooth and sat-nav, and Mazda dealers can add Apple CarPlay and Android Auto capability as an optional extra.
Having both dial and touch operation means it’s simple to use when stationary or driving, and thanks to a clear menu structure and large on screen icons you can use it confidently on the move.
The Mazda MX-5 RF is a strict two-seater, but even tall adults will find plenty of room to stretch their legs and space above their heads when the MX-5’s roof is closed. Shoulder room is more modest, but there’s enough to feel comfortable.
Importantly, the driver gets a great driving position, now improved by the recent addition of steering wheel adjustment towards and away from the driver as well as up and down. The Mazda MX-5’s seats are relatively thin to save weight but are widely adjustable and hold you in place well through corners. It’s a shame that lumbar adjustment doesn’t feature, mind you.
The boot is generous enough, with 130 litres of space beneath a flip-up boot lid at the rear of the car. Inside you’ll fit two carry on cases plus some extra soft items such as coats, but not a lot more. Certainly not a set of golf clubs or a pushchair.
There’s an automatic gearbox option, but unless you can’t live without it, the standard six-speed manual is fantastic and more in-keeping with the Mazda MX-5
You have the choice of two engines – there’s a four-cylinder, 132hp 1.5-litre unit or a 184hp 2.0-litre engine powers the top-of-the-range models. The 1.5’s power output may sound very modest for a modern sports car, but in such a light car it still offers sprightly performance.
You really notice the 2.0-litre’s extra power and torque out on the road (it’s nearly two seconds quicker to 62mph in a sprint than the 1.5), and it’ll pull itself more readily from slower corners in higher gears, feeling noticeably stronger up at high revs – where it’s equally happy to be.
Whichever engine you go for, the Mazda MX-5’s manual gearshift is brilliant, offering short, light and positive shifts. There’s the option of a six-speed automatic gearbox, but it isn’t worth it unless absolutely necessary because you’ll want to be as involved in the driving as possible when it’s this good.
Both engines are impressively frugal given the MX-5’s sporting intent – the 1.5 offering an official combined figure of around 45mpg and the 2.0 not much worse at 41mpg. In both cars, achieving an mpg figure in the high 30s is easy stuff in the real world.
Although the Mazda MX-5 RF weighs slightly more than the standard car, there’s very little between them in how they feel to drive. The MX-5’s steering is now an electrically assisted setup but it’s still really good, being quick but feeling naturally weighted, and communicating the necessary information to give the driver confidence.
Unlike the 1.5, the 2.0 model comes a limited slip differential for better deployment of power through corners, while Sport Nav+ models get stiffer sports suspension. As such, the 1.5 rolls a little more as it barrels through bends, but never to the extent that it detriments the driving experience.
The 2.0-litre cars are slightly more efficient at getting its power down to the road out of slow bends, while Sport Nav+ models stay a little more upright through tight bends, but don’t suffer an overly-harsh ride. In fact, although the 1.5 is ultimately the softer, more comfortable choice, both models are exceptionally comfortable across potted Tarmac given how agile they feel..
Roof-up, the Mazda MX-5 RF is quieter on the move than its cloth-roofed stablemate, while with it down the two passengers onboard are well sheltered from buffeting, even at 70mph. Putting the roof down in the cloth-roof car requires unclipping it at the top of the windscreen and simply pushing it back behind you until it locks down with a click. In the RF, you simply flick a switch on the dashboard – much easier.
In terms of safety, the Mazda MX-5 scored four stars from five in Euro NCAP’s crash tests which isn’t bad for such a small car. That said, the tests were carried out in 2015 and have become more stringent these days.
It’s disappointing, too, that automatic emergency city braking only comes as standard from Sport Nav+ trim an up, while a safety pack has to be added to get blind spot monitoring, adaptive headlights and rear cross traffic alert. This pack comes as standard on GT Sport Nav+ cars, but once again isn’t available on the two lower trim levels at all.