When the Mazda MX-5 Miata hit the streets in 1989, it showed the world that an affordable, reliable, and extremely fun sports car wasn't an oxymoron. Consequently it sold like hotcakes, to the point where Mazda is unapologetic about the fact that the MX-5 saved the company. The MX-5 is in its fourth generation, known as the ND to Miataphiles, and the latest variant—the Mazda MX-5 Miata RF—is finally here.
RF stands for "retractable fastback," which means this is an MX-5 with a hardtop that folds away. It's not the first MX-5 with a folding hardtop; that was an option with the previous-generation car. But this is the first one to look quite different from the regular soft-top car. While the roof above your head can be stowed in seconds, the car retains its fastback shape thanks to the buttresses that slope down behind the doors.
The MX-5 Miata RF wowed everyone when we first saw it almost a year ago at the New York International Auto Show. Changes versus the soft top mostly amount to the new roof, which adds 113lbs (51kg) to the car. Beyond that, there have been a couple of tiny tweaks to the rear suspension and a slight recalibration of the steering, mainly to compensate for the small increase in weight and change to the car's center of gravity. That means the same 16-valve, 2.0L inline four-cylinder engine making 155hp (115kW) and 148ft-lbs (200Nm), which gets sent to the rear wheels either by a six-speed manual (the one you should want) or a six-speed automatic.
Snuggly ensconced in the driver's seat, a few things become apparent. I hadn't driven a recent MX-5, but I spent 14 happy years with a 1996 NA version, and although 21 years separate that car and this, the driving experience is all but identical. The steering wheel and gear stick are perfectly located for your hands. The action of that gearshift is as sublime as ever; I'd use the "rifle bolt" cliche but for never having fired a bolt-action rifle. You feel the relationship between car and road surface through the seat, the steering wheel, and pedals. And it's pretty frugal; a mix of freeways and back roads delivered 30mpg.
That means the new car is just as engaging on a twisty road—all it takes is 15 minutes driving on a good stretch of curves to realize why more than a million MX-5s have left the factory in Hiroshima, Japan over the past 28 years.
Source: Ars Technica Addendum