Review: 2017 Mazda MX-5 RF

Review: 2017 Mazda MX-5 RF

When you have the World Car of the Year trophy in your cabinet, you can be sure that you have created something rather special. Mazda had to — after all, the previous generation of the MX-5 was the world’s best-selling two-seater roadster and is still a vehicle that many wish to own today.

The latest generation had plenty to live up to and it does. Then the company revealed its RF, or retractable fastback, which is not quite the full convertible of the roadster, instead offering a folding hard top that leaves the rear buttresses and cross bar in place. The pictures explain it properly, but think of it as being similar to a Targa in Porsche-speak.

That roof opens or closes in 13 seconds and can be operated at up to 10km/h, although honestly at such a low speed you might as well just stop. It is something of a work of art though and for those who would prefer a hard-top over the manual, traditional soft-top it is a well-engineered option that provides far greater noise insulation when the roof is in place.

In international markets, the new RF version is available with a six-speed manual or a six-speed automatic. Our motoring media colleagues in the UK have raved about the new model so we were really excited when it arrived at the office.

Clearly those raving about it drove the manual version. For some reason, Mazda SA has decided to only bring the automatic. And it’s terrible. I mean, really terrible. It takes everything that is great about the MX-5 and ruins it in one fell swoop. Gone are the days of having fun by controlling the power through the gearbox. The auto is as lazy as a bear on a hot day and therefore so is the car itself.

The fun factor that has been inherent in almost every MX-5 ever has gone and instead you have a vehicle that is designed only for those who want to look cool in the traffic or cruising along a coast road.

Except you don’t look cool, because the MX-5 has always been a driver’s car and this one is definitely not that, so to those who know, you will actually be totally uncool.

It is such a pity because while I personally prefer the superb soft-top version of the MX-5, the RF brings with it a unique design.

It goes beyond the simple idea of a folding hard-top which has been frowned on by some purists and creates a unique niche for itself. Every other aspect of the car is pure MX-5 with a perfect driving position, great interior layout and the roof barely even compromises the boot space.

But the gearbox spoils it to the point that I am not only disappointed but frankly annoyed. How dare Mazda ruin such a great car. Fortunately I could give it back and it was one car that I was glad to see the back of, even if the back does look rather nice. – Mark Smyth

Fast Facts: Mazda MX-5

Engine: 1998cc four-cylinder
Power: 118kW at 6000rpm
Torque: 200Nm at 4600rpm
Fuel consumption: 6.7l/100km (claimed combined)
CO2 emissions: 156 g/km (claimed)
0-100 km/h: 7.6 seconds (claimed)
Top speed: 194km/h
Price from: R532 800