The answer is always Miata (MX-5). At least that’s the stock answer when you ask an automotive enthusiast what car you should buy.
- You have St Bernard you need to haul around? The answer is Miata and pull out the passenger seat.
- You need to go to Home Depot or Lowes for lumber? The answer is Miata. Drop the top and bring some tie-downs.
- Want a good winter beater? A Miata with winter tires and you’ll be fine.
- Do you have a black tie formal event to attend with your special someone? Get them an Uber and take yourself in the Miata.
Having spent a week recently with the Olive Garden MX-5, otherwise known as the Fiat 124 Spider Abarth, I was swayed a bit in thinking the different styling and turbo motor may have had some advantage over the standard MX-5. A week in the MX-5 RF, however, had reminded me why you should stick with the original. Even if I’m still not the biggest fan of the styling with the RF, I concede that it may be the version to get over the standard soft top
When you get an MX-5 scheduled in Michigan at the back end of November, it’s a real crapshoot when it comes to weather. Fortunately, the weather cooperated a bit and I was able to get in some top-down driving. The temp gauge registered in the 40s to low 50s and the sun was shining. That means top down, windows up, and the seat heaters on medium.
While the fall colors had passed and most of the leaves were off the trees, a bright sun and blue sky paired with a nip in the air were enough to put the top down and explore the back roads. In this zone, as you might expect, the MX-5 does not disappoint.
Does it have a little too much body roll? Yes. While you don’t necessarily notice it that much while driving on normal roads, if you follow one around a race track like I did at the MAMA Fall Rally at the Autobahn Country Club, you can’t unsee just how much roll exists. Do you notice the extra 110 pounds of weight of the retractable hardtop and the extra sheet metal? If you a licensed Pro level driver on a racetrack, maybe. If you are driving on a winding road or hammering through a mountain road? No.
155 horsepower and 2,445 pounds of weight will never feel fast, but it’s enough power to keep you entertained. At least it was for the week I spent with the Mazda. Is this enough for the longer term? I just don’t know. It will depend greatly on where you live, the type of driving you do, and what else you are used to driving. Here in South East Michigan where the roads are long and straight and the best curves are found on the on and off ramps to the highways the answer is a big maybe.
The naturally aspirated 2.0-liter four-cylinder is a joy. The only fault with the Mazda motor is that it takes a good boot on the throttle to spin up the motor when you are blipping the throttle and changing down gears. Or, it does so if you are below five thousand revs. The gearbox is is not as slick as I’d expected, but it’s good enough if you’re not completely ham-fisted.
Where the RF really shines over the soft top version is when the weather is subpar. Due to how the soft top is fitted, the ingress and egress out of the hard top are much easier due to more headroom. Once inside, the cabin is much more quiet. If you’re using the Bluetooth hands-free, people can actually understand you.
While I’m almost always disappointed by a Bose sound system in a car, the one in the MX-5 RF was actually quite good. Forget about the speakers in the headrests, however, as those we just godawful. Once you changed the audio balance to bypass those, the sound improves dramatically. With the top down and the speedo at 80+ on the highway, you could crank up the jams and get on with enjoying the drive.
As equipped the Grand Touring model you see here stickers for $33,925 (including delivery). That’s certainly no bargain yet in today’s automotive world it’s pretty fair value for money. An entertaining car that is dead reliable and pulls 34 mpg on several highway runs, there’s little to compete with it. Sure you can get yourself a 2009-2010 non-S Porsche Boxster for that money, but when something goes wrong, be prepared to pay the Porsche tax. The other closest analog to the MX-5 RF in driving dynamics and price, if you don’t want to drive an MX-5, would be a ten-year-old Lotus Elise. The Elise has a very good community around it, the Toyota engine in it is dead reliable, but if you need any other parts, be prepared to wait weeks for them.
So does the RF truly perfect the perfection that is the MX-5? From where I stand yes. I’d have no problem “sacrificing” the 110 pounds of weight for all around four-seasons practicality that the retractable hardtop offers. You may not get 100% of the full top-down experience that the soft top offers, but 90% of that is just fine. If I want 100% then I’ll pull the helmet off the shelf and take my motorcycle out for a ride.