2017 Mazda MX-5 Miata RF: Top-selling Roadster adds a power-folding hardtop

By Mike Blake - Carlisle Events
Thursday, October 26, 2017

According to the record-keepers at the Guinness Book of World Records, Mazda’s Miata, also known as the MX-5, is the most popular two-seat convertible sports car in the world, with more than a million vehicles sold since it was introduced in 1989 as a 1990 model.

For 28 years, the MX-5 Miata, built by Mazda in Japan, has offered sports car enthusiasts a pure, simple, fun-focused aggressively priced roadster, and following last year’s all-new, fourth-generation MX-5, Miata has added even more fun to the mix in 2017, with the new MX-5 Miata RF for 2017. “RF” stands for “Retractable Fastback,” which refers to this model’s power-folding hardtop. And a new “Machine Gray” paint color option is new and exclusive to the RF model.

What used to be referred to as the Miata, and simplified to an alpha-numeric MX-5, is now often called the Mazda Roadster. This year’s Roadster is the sixth model in Mazda's line-up of new-generation vehicles that feature the full range of SKYACTIV Technology and “KODO-Soul of Motion” design. Originally designed with a feeling and cues borrowed from the Lotus Elan, Miata developed this lightweight two-seat rear-wheel drive sports car with a goal of delivering pure “Jinba-ittai” driving fun, and development engineers designed MX-5 to appeal, on deeper level, “to the senses and the sensations through which people enjoy cars”.

For the 2017 model year, Mazda adds the power-folding hardtop, which is unlike the previous power-folding hardtop that closely mimicked the design of the standard manual-folding soft-top. The 2017 Mazda MX-5 Miata RF features a new roof design with flying buttress elements behind the seats which remain even when the roof is open. The roof section immediately above the passengers folds and stows below the buttresses, which lift temporarily out of the way. The glass rear window between the buttresses rolls down to give a more open-air feel and the entire power-folding roof mechanism occupies the same space as the standard manual-folding soft-top, so there’s no loss of trunk space.

Originally designed with the demeanor and cues borrowed from the Lotus Elan, Miata remains an iconic two-seater that represents Mazda’s vehicle engineering philosophy: “the pursuit of driving pleasure”. The current design adds another Mazda motto: “innovate in order to preserve,” by incorporating SKYACTIV Technology, “KODO -- Soul of Motion” design, a 7-inch touchscreen, and a more sculpted, elegant, refined, sleek and powerful personality throughout the exterior, while ridding itself of its old “smiley face” grille. And the base Mazda, in its three trims, is packed with standard amenities.

In the second year of its fourth-generation, MX-5 remains 154.1 inches long, 68.3 inches wide and 48.6 inches high, on a 90.9-inch wheelbase. And it continues to be light at 2429 pounds (for my test model, and some trims go as low as 2335 pounds).

Inside, headroom remains the same as last year, at 37.4 inches, as does legroom at 43.1 inches. Shoulder continues to be 52.2 inches.

MX-5 power comes from a 2.0.-liter DOHC 16-valve in-line 4 VVT multi-port electronic fuel injection engine, coupled to a 6-speed manual transmission. The system hums out 155hp and 148 lbs.-ft. of torque, enabling the lightweight 2429-lb. Miata to dash from zero to 60mph in 6.5 seconds during my track tests, with the quarter-mile accomplished in 15 seconds-flat.

The system is EPA rated at 27mpg in city driving and 34mpg on the highway, and my week of open-air tests came in at a pedal-mashing, high-speed-jaunt average of 30.0mpg.

On the road, the 2017 Mazda MX-5 Miata was balanced, though quick auto-cross turns exhibited some exciting-to-compensate-for body roll. The suspension allows you feel the road beneath you for full driver engagement.

The 2017 Mazda MX-5 comes in three trims – Sport, Club and Grand Touring. Sport bases at $24,915 for a manual transmission and 26,395 for automatic. The Club goes $28,800 for manual and $29,530 for automatic and the Grand Touring trim bumps up to $30,065 for manual and $31,270 for automatic. But I went with the RF with two trims offered, starting with the Club in manual at $31,555 (automatic at $32,285) and the Touring at $32,630/manual ($33,825/automatic).

Hey, automatic might be easier, but the manual is tons more fun to drive, and, come on, a roadster deserves to be manual with great feel for the road and more personal control. Without being overly dramatic, a roadster’s destiny could be in manual configuration … just saying.

My test MX-5 Miata RF Club in with a manual transmission came with a Jet Black Mica exterior matched to a black cloth with red stitching interior. Though the Soul Red Metallic exterior (a $300 option) is really sporty, the Jet Black was sexy and classy. The fun-to-drive manual saved $730 and several hundred pounds in weight by not going automatic. The Appearance Package ($800), with Side Sill Extensions and Black Rear Bumper Skirt was added, as were the Interior Lighting Kit ($350) with understated white accent lighting, all-weather floor mats ($90) and MX-5 logo door sill trim plates ($150). With a destination fee of $875, my test MX-5 Miata RF stickered at $34,700.

Visit www.CarlisleEvents.com for more on the automotive hobby.

Mike Blake, former editor of KIT CAR magazine, joined Carlisle Events as senior automotive journalist in 2004. He's been a "car guy" since the 1960s and has been writing professionally for about 30 years.

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