Mazda MX-5 RF review – A sporty reminder of what makes cars great – TopAuto
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Wednesday / 8 December 2021
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Mazda MX-5 RF review – A sporty reminder of what makes cars great

I recently borrowed a MX-5 RF from Mazda to find out what one of the country’s cheapest convertibles has to offer.

When it comes to driving press cars, checking the delivery mileage is a good benchmark for how engaging the car is.

With 11,000km accumulated in five months, this Mazda MX-5 was clearly a car that wanted to be driven by everyone who received it.

Hard to find

The Mazda MX-5 has an enviable trophy cabinet, with more than 200 awards from over 20 countries – but for all its accolades, it has been easy to forget.

Sales have slowly declined and even with Mazda’s attempt to breathe life into the line-up with the MX-5 RF – RF for retractable fastback – the era of the small roadster has all but died.

It is made worse if you want to actually go buy one, because it is incredibly difficult to do so.

The page on Mazda’s local website does not feature any price lists and a visit to a dealership results in non-committal answers from salespeople.

Is the MX-5 RF still for sale? I think so.

At the very least there are some on used car lots at decent prices – around R400,000 – making the Mazda MX-5 RF one of the last open-top sports cars for this price.

Inside, however, there’s no Apple CarPlay or Android Auto. Purists also won’t enjoy the automatic gearbox and the fact that the limited-slip differential has been dropped.

The engine is then a naturally-aspirated, 2.0-litre with 118kW – and after all the engineering it took to make the ND-platform MX-5 lighter than the previous generation, Mazda has added 40kg of hard-top to cover your head with the RF.

The ride is also soft by modern sports car standards. The MX-5 rolls in corners and pitches and dives a little under braking and acceleration.

Additionally, there’s nothing that prepares you for its size.

Compared with modern cars, this MX-5 is tiny. In the time that this Mazda has been around, everything alongside it has grown.

It is easy then to understand how it has lost some of its allure and why it’s so difficult to buy in South Africa.

Grown up

This does not mean the MX-5 is a bad car, by any stretch.

In RF form, it has grown up slightly.

It was specced for what Mazda assumed customers were asking for: something that could be used as a daily driver and still do duty as a fun weekender.

It has definitely achieved this, and out on twisty tarmac the Mazda gives out rewards – even for average drivers like me.

Modern sports cars have too much power to use on a public road. The little Mazda is not super powerful, but it has enough to make every drive fun.

It rides more softly-sprung thanks to the lightweight body and the daily commute benefits greatly from this.

Being low-slung also amplifies much of what’s going around the car – and the road noise that eats at you on the highway adds to the experience on back roads.

Cocooned in the compact cockpit you see the bulging wheel arches out front while the haunches are a prominent feature in the rearview mirror.

But most importantly, you can feel what’s happening in the four corners while the rev-thirsty engine begs to be wrung.

The lack of turbocharging and a “mere” 118kW means that power is delivered the old way, by gearing down a click or two and winding the engine up.

Its minuscule weight means that despite the low output it gathers pace quickly, and while it will be out-dragged by bakkies at traffic lights, you can still break the skinny tyres loose in corners without fear.

There’s also little to match it when the road becomes a ribbon of tarmac, leaving the modern digital world behind it.

The multitasker

The MX-5 was the original multitasker. It was a cheap weekend sports car that could also do the daily commute.

Nowadays, we have fast SUVs, hot hatches, and even sporty bakkies with turbocharged engines and heaps of technology.

As a result, the MX-5 RF is the last of its breed.

With the rapid move towards electrification, it’s unlikely there will be another naturally-aspirated small roadster from Mazda.

It does not share a platform with anything else in the Mazda stable, either.

As I handed back the keys after a week it was easy to see why the press car has so many kilometres on it.

It is a reminder of what made cars good in the past – delivering simple and honest driver enjoyment.

Mazda MX-5 RF


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