Hard top, for the win

Mazda's MX5 RF heads to the winner's circle

April 21, 2017
by Emily Atkins


The MX5 RF is a delight to drive, and clearly capable year round. Images courtesy of Emily Atkins

The little convertible is soaring over crests, hopping a little on the frost-heaved Muskoka roads. It responds crisply to my inputs, the shocks absorbing bumps, steering staying tight, four wheels seeking and finding grip with every twist and turn, rise and dip.

It may not be the kind of abuse you’d envision for your own Mazda MX5 RF, the carmaker’s latest mechanical hard-top addition to the sports car line, but we were doing it for a great cause—and we were in a hurry. Together, my driving and problem-solving team-mate and I were competing for $10,000 for our charity of choice in the 2017 Mazda Adventure Rally, an event hosted by the manufacturer to showcase their cars and raise funds for good causes.

We were in a hurry because we had spent a fair bit of time backtracking to double check sightings of things we had to cross off a ‘bingo’ card, (and hiding from competitors while were doing so), and lateness incurred significant penalties. It’s a very competitive event, with two-person teams of auto journalists vying for charity money and bragging rights—plus the guarantee of an invitation to the next event if you finish in the top three.

We were also in a hurry, admittedly, because the RF is so much fun to drive. While it’s not a high-horsepower car, by any stretch, it is both lightweight and endowed with a silky smooth transmission that transfers the available grunt to the wheels in a most satisfying way. It’s very easy to get wheel spin when taking off in gravel, and when you drop it down a gear to pass or take a corner the RF settles down and digs in, with a pleasing, not rough, push in your lower back.

The luck of the draw gave us the top of the line GT Grand Sport package in Soul Red Metallic paint with black accents. This car only comes with a manual transmission, which is paired with amenities like a nine-speaker Bose sound system, heated leather seats, 17-inch black BBS wheels and big Brembo brakes with flashy red calipers. The car looks magnificent in this combination, but honestly, it’s a sexy little number no matter how it’s appointed.

The car only comes with a manual transmission, paired with amenities like a nine-speaker Bose sound system, heated leather seats, 17-inch black BBS wheels and big Brembo brakes with flashy red calipers.

The mechanical hard top makes all the difference to the MX5’s appearance. While purists may complain that it has added weight to Mazda’s fourth generation bestseller, it also adds sophistication in the form of a sharper silhouette for the coupe. It’s also a marvel to watch, as its three-piece design origamis together faster than any other hard-top mechanism, Mazda claims. It also affords plenty of headroom—although my partner did whine that he had bumped his head when I hopped the car.

The RF is not perfect. My driving partner and I are both tall, and with long legs the passenger seat is not somewhere you want to spend a lot of time. The transmission hump encroaches into your space, forcing an awkward bent seating position, with strangely high feet. The driving position, by contrast, is superb. Space is at a premium everywhere in this car, with little cabin stowage and a truly tiny trunk.

There’s also quite a bit of wind noise when driving top-down on the highway. We tried it all the way from Muskoka to Toronto on four-lane roads, and by the time we arrived after about two hours, I felt temporarily deafened.

But these are quibbles when you look at the big picture. The MX5 RF is a truly fine, small sportscar. It’s a delight to drive, and clearly capable year round, as our test on late March icy roads and cold temps proved.
Best of all, it propelled our team to the top of the podium at the 2017 Mazda Adventure Rally. Team Supernova is delighted to be able to make a $10,000 donation to the Cornerstone Family Violence Prevention Centre in Cobourg, Ontario courtesy of Mazda Canada.

By the Numbers:
2017 Mazda MX5 RF
Base: $38,800; As driven: $45,800
Style: Hard-top convertible sports coupe
Engine: 2.0-litre, Inline 4 cylinder
Power /Torque: 155 lb-ft at 6,000 rpm; 148 lb-ft at 4,600 rpm
Transmission: 6-speed manual
Configuration: Front engine, RWD
Fuel Economy: Manual 8.9l/100km city; 7.1 highway