2020 Mazda MX-5 RF
As Bob Hall, then General Manager of Product Planning and Tom Matano, the former Vice President of Design designed a small, low-to-the-ground, lightweight, two-seat roadster, they probably did not imagine the scale of success they cultivated. The MX-5, aka Miata in North America, debuted at the Chicago Motor Show in 1989. This model was a huge success from the beginning. In 2000, it went into the Guinness Book of World Records as the best-selling two-seater sports car in history with 531,890 units. In 2016, Mazda produced the one-millionth MX-5 thus setting a new world record. With the MX-5, Mazda reinvented the British and Italian sports cars from the 1960s and 1970s such as Lotus Elan and Fiat Spider. First of all, it is about driving pleasure. A lightweight sports car with a minimalist design. It is not a coincidence that today’s Fiat Spider is also based on the MX-5 and in some sense owes its second life to Mazda’s success.
The current (and 4th generation) MX-5 was introduced in 2014. The hardtop (RF) version we tested was launched in 2017. And unlike the previous generations, Mazda offered two variations of the MX-5, with soft or hardtop. Our tester, called “RF” delivers the same fun driving experience regardless of where you drive, and how you drive it.
Engine and Drivetrain
We must start with the heart of the MX-5, as it is what makes the MX-5 unique. It is one of the most well-known sports cars without having impressive numbers on the spec sheet. MX-5 proved that you don’t need to have 1000 horsepower to make driving experience fun. There is only one engine option, which is a Skyactiv-G 2.0L naturally aspirated 4 cylinder engine that produces 181 horsepower and 151 lb-ft of torque. This engine is also used in other Mazda vehicles, and known as a very reliable platform. If you are coming from a muscle car world, this engine will feel slow. As it has a small displacement with naturally aspirated engine, there is no explosive torque curve which makes it a very predictable car.
However, MX-5 is not for straight lines, it never meant to be. It is a true driver’s car and you will appreciate it on twisty roads. The manual transmission also helps with this situation, as it has pretty short gear ratios. The car feels more alive with the shorter ratios, and easier to drive it at higher gears. This means it will be higher RPMs on the highway, so if you are going at 120 km/h, the car revs closer to 4000 RPM, which means it will be a slightly louder driving experience.
Of course, shorter gear ratios have one more disadvantage, which means it will have higher fuel consumption on the highway. Luckily, due to its overall weight and fuel-sipping naturally aspirated engine, you will still get very impressive fuel economy numbers. In our test, we were able to get an average of 7.5L / 100km, which you may get better results if you be more careful on the throttle. This is not a deal breaker, as MX-5 isn’t meant for long straight highways, it belongs to twisties and curvy backroads.
Exterior and Interior
You don’t see MX-5 every day, at least here in Canada. However, as soon as you get inside the MX-5, you realize it is a very small car, inside and outside. It feels like a toy, but one thing is for sure that it looks great from the outside. Mazda did a great job matching the overall design, the rear, the front and the interior. It has an aggressive design in the front, and in the rear, it has a more elite silhouette with round shapes. It is very interesting how they combined different styles in one tiny car and the overall result is pretty impressive.
One important thing is, when you get inside the MX-5 for the first time, this is one of the best “driver-focused” interiors pretty much anything out there without going to a high price point. The level of simplicity is another unique feature that you don’t find it in other cars anymore. Like the exterior, it is uniquely Mazda. Take off the badge and 10 out of 10 people will tell this is a Mazda. All essential features have dedicated physical buttons, and the infotainment system can be controlled through the buttons or touchscreen when the car stops. Infotainment buttons are placed in the center console, which sometimes can be annoying as you keep pushing the buttons without noticing it when you put your arm on it, and when you shift.
Of course, we need to talk about the hardtop. MX-5 is historically known to have a soft top, and it is manually operated. With the latest gen MX-5, now you have two options. Like our tester, you can get it with a hardtop. The advantage is that it offers a more comfortable driving experience, as it cuts down the additional tire, road and wind noises. However, it comes with a weight penalty. It is almost 60 kg heavier than the soft-top version. Granted, even with the RF the curb weight is not that bad, it’s just a little bit more than 1100 kg.
Mazda MX-5 RF has 4.5 cubic feet (or 130 lt) of cargo space, which is kind of expected from a roadster. The interesting part is, you get the same cargo space no matter the top is up or down, as it has its own dedicated space. You should consider yourself lucky if you are able to put anything bigger than carry-on luggage, even that would be a challenge. Functionality-wise, it is not that different inside the MX-5, as you get very little storage spaces and just two cupholders.
Driving Impressions and Features
The driving experience is truly unique to the MX-5. It is not specific for Mazda, but all 2 seater roadsters have a special place in the car world when it comes to driving dynamics. Compared to regular MX-5, our tester had the Grand Sport Package, which comes with Brembo brakes, BBS rims and Bridgestone S001 performance tires. So it has significantly more grip and braking performance, and it is not that hard to feel the difference. This also means it is harder to get oversteering, and handling limits are very high.
Right off the bat, Mazda MX-5 feels very agile due to its smaller size and light curb weight. It does not matter how fast or slow you go, it feels like a sports car but in a comfortable way. The suspension is tuned more for daily driving more and it has some body roll but it is very controllable in the mid-corner. If you take it to twisties, the car feels very balanced and the communication between you and the chassis is excellent. You would never get overwhelmed with the power, but at the same time, it is not boring unless you are just looking for pure straight-line acceleration and power. If you are a beginner, this car would teach you a lot of important things about the rear-wheel-drive car.
As mentioned above, the hardtop not only has a weight penalty, but it takes more time to go up and down. With the soft-top version, it is a manual operation and it literally takes less than 5 seconds to put it down. However, that’s not the case with the hardtop. You need to stop and don’t exceed 10 km/h otherwise it would stop working. I wish you could be able to use it at slightly higher speeds. If I have to pick one, I would definitely go with the soft top version as it is cheaper, lightweight and takes less overall time to complete its operation.
Before we go to the conclusion, we need to talk about the features, especially the infotainment system. Unlike other new Mazda models, MX-5 still uses the old generation infotainment system, and it looks old. There is a significant amount of lag when you go through the menu. Fortunately, Apple CarPlay and Android Auto are standard, but sometimes it can take a lot of time to start the application. We hope that Mazda would implement the latest infotainment system in the future.
Bose Premium Audio system is standard on RF models, and it is a pretty impressive system. Granted, the interior space is pretty small, so you can get the most out of the audio system without losing any frequencies inside the cabin. There are also speakers integrated into the seats which only works when you call somebody. The idea is, even the top is down, you would still be able to hear when you are on the phone.
Pricing and Conclusion
One of the few disadvantages of the MX-5, aside from the slightly outdated infotainment system, is its price tag. MX-5 Soft Top starts at $33,100, but if you choose the RF, you need to pay $7000 premium for that. Our tester has an MSRP of $43,150 and with all the options, you are looking at almost $50k. With this price tag, it is getting into the American V8 muscle car territory, so you need to choose which one fits best for you, for almost the same price.
Unfortunately, we won’t see cars like the Mazda MX-5 in the future. In today’s world, manufacturers keep pushing more electronics, more technology, and more of everything that makes you feel disconnected from the car. It’s not about implementing new technologies, but as a result, the cars get bigger and heavier. For better fuel economy and stricter emission regulations, the design and tune the cars in a boring way.
The MX-5 is not one of them. It is a great enthusiast’s car that can still be fun to drive without having several hundreds of horsepower. As of 2020, there aren’t many options as a direct competitor. Subaru BRZ platform comes to mind, but that’s not convertible. The only option would be the Fiat 124 Spider, which is a derivative of the MX-5. If you are looking for an affordable, fun-to-drive two-seater, the MX-5 is one of the few options and I hope Mazda keeps the MX-5 in its model range in the future for car enthusiasts.
For details of pricing and specifications please see the window sticker below:
For the story of the one-millionth Mazda MX-5 in Canada please visit:
For more detailed and up-to-date information, please visit http://www.mazda.ca
Article and photos by Dan Gunay and Varol McKars