The Mazda MX-5 is the best-selling two-seater sports car in the world, and is now in its fourth generation. This version, the MX-5 Retractable Fastback (RF), uses a folding metal roof instead of the traditional soft-top. It is available in two model grades, RF and RF GT, both with a 2.0-litre four-cylinder engine producing 118kW and 200Nm. Pricing starts from $38,550.
- Fun. It’s what the MX-5 is so famous for. Mazda has stuck with a lightweight, rear-wheel-drive platform that gives the MX-5 its agility and will never get boring.
- Steering. Perhaps the most important element of a sports car is its steering, and the MX-5’s front end is precise and full of feel, with sharp turn-in and lots of grip.
- Roof. Nothing adds to the appeal of a sports car like an open roof, though soft-tops are noisier and less secure than hard-tops. The MX-5 RF is different to the normal MX-5 because it is both a hard-top and a convertible. Its hard-top can fold away to give the same big-sky sense of freedom that a convertible offers without the downsides.
- Refinement. The RF’s solid canopy makes its cabin a little quieter than the normal MX-5. It also feels more upmarket whether the roof is up or down thanks to its premium design and attention to detail.
- Styling. The long, tapering roofline of the MX-5 RF is more appealing from the outside than the standard MX-5. With the roof closed it is almost seamless enough to look like a coupe with a fixed roof.
- Noise. One by-product of the MX-5’s weight loss is less sound deadening. Tyre noise is a bit of an issue on some road surfaces, and even though the hard-top is quieter than the soft-top, there’s still some wind noise around the joins of the roof.
- Visibility. They may look amazing, but those thick rear buttresses sit in a tricky spot when trying to move out of a side street or car park. Mazda has added blind spot monitoring to the RF, which is good in traffic, but there are times when x-ray vision would be the only way to see what’s coming.
- Equipment. The MX-5 is quite good value, but there are some things that remain optional that some buyers might expect as standard. A reversing camera is one particular accessory, which costs an extra $485 regardless of which model you buy.
- Practicality. OK, the MX-5 isn’t exactly a family car, but it’s fair to imagine using one for a holiday somewhere. Well, there’s not much boot space or cabin storage, and while the RF’s roof design is very clever, it does take away a little of the precious boot space from the normal MX-5.
ANY RIVALS I SHOULD CONSIDER
Mazda builds the MX-5 with a different face on it for another company, it’s called the Abarth 124 Spider. That car pairs the MX-5’s masterful chassis with a 1.4-litre turbocharged engine and firmer suspension. Like the MX-5, the Abarth is fun to drive, though a little less friendly on bumpy roads and only available with a soft-top.
The Mercedes-Benz SLC180 is premium alternative to the MX-5. Similarly sized, with two-seats and a folding hard-top it’s a well-made car, though quite old underneath and more expensive to buy.
If the MX-5 appeals because of its affordable sports car status, then the Toyota 86 and Subaru BRZ coupes should be considered as they’re also former Wheels Car of the Year winners (like the MX-5), and are excellent fun to drive, though they’re not available in convertible form.