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2018 Mazda MX-5 RF GT Limited Edition review

By Ryan Lewis, 14 Feb 2018 Reviews

Australian-exclusive MX-5 special gains subtle enhancements and track-day cred

2018 Mazda MX-5 RF GT Limited Edition review

WHAT IS IT?

This Limited Edition is an Australian-exclusive specification of Mazda’s mature, coupe-like MX-5 Retractable Fastback. Based off the RS edition in Japan, it comes with a couple of extras that make it unique. Just 110 units are coming, and more than 10 percent are already sold.

WHY WE’RE DRIVING IT

Mazda has equipped all 110 MX-5 LEs with enhancements that promise an even better driving experience. It’s hard to imagine 2016’s COTY winner getting much better, so we had to see for ourselves.


MAIN RIVALS

Abarth 124 Spider, BMW 220i Convertible, Ford Mustang EcoBoost Convertible, Nissan 370Z Roadster

THE WHEELS VERDICT

Smartly curated upgrades give the MX-5 RF LE a performance and desirability edge, and an aesthetic leg-up, without taking anything away from Mazda’s proven formula. The LE is still a car that should be driven for driving’s sake, if you can justify the cost.


PLUS: Exclusivity, excellent Recaro seats, track-day readiness
MINUS: Hefty premium, only geeks will know, cabin noise

THE WHEELS REVIEW

BLINKERED fans of the everyperson’s sports car might find this hard to believe, but in the last 12 months the MX-5 Retractable Fastback (RF) has outsold Mazda’s iconic soft-top roadster in Oz. Yes, the folding metal lid version accounts for more than half of all MX-5s sold since its launch almost exactly one year ago.

Within those sales, the flagship RF GT model has taken the lion’s share. Clearly Mazda is right, then, when it says today’s MX-5 customer wants all of the bells and whistles while chasing a pure sports car experience.


Now, there’s an even more embellished RF to take their fancy. A run of 110 RF GT Limited Edition (LE) models sits at the very top of the line-up, priced at a lofty $55,790 driveaway, or roughly $8K more than a regular RF GT.

That’s quite a hefty impost, but the LE is the most significant upgrade the ND range has had from a performance point of view. Each one gets lightweight 17-inch BBS alloy wheels finished in gloss black, a specialist braking package from Brembo, Bilstein shock absorbers with revised springs, a more aerodynamic body styling kit, a strut tower brace and a pair of Recaro seats.

Engine outputs remain at 118kW/200Nm from a 2.0-litre four-cylinder (there’s no 1.5 in the RF) and all 110 LEs have a six-speed manual. Five exterior colour choices are available, all with a black roof, and equipment is otherwise identical to the RF GT.


The good news here, depending how you look at it, is that the subtle enhancements haven’t made a night-and-day transformation to what was already an extremely satisfying driving experience. Why pay for them, then? Well, if exclusivity is a factor in your shopping then there’s certainly a case to be made for the LE.

From inside the excellent leather and Alcantara-trimmed Recaro seats hug firmly without triggering claustrophobia. A re-profiled seat base with slimmer cushioning also seems to open a small amount of headroom in the intimate cabin.

Tweaks to the regular RF’s suspension introduced a thicker front anti-roll bar and more compliant rear bushes to account for the 47kg of extra weight in the roof. Bilstein dampers in the LE further tie-down some of the pitch and roll of the soft-top MX-5 Roadster.


Faster rebound and a shorter overall stroke mean body control is tighter, and the ride occasionally fidgety, but the more focused LE retains the MX-5’s steering precision and feels better suited to setting the odd track-day lap time than the normal car, without completely erasing that MX-5 character.

Those Brembos, too, are set-up with club-level track performance in mind. Mazda promises more control under heavy brake applications. Circular cooling fins within the rotors and low-steel brake pads improve fade resistance by as much as 26 percent. The braking package is also 2kg lighter than the factory MX-5 stoppers, which further reduces unsprung mass along with the lighter BBS wheels. On the road it’s hard to discern any meaningful difference, however. These are mods for those who like to test the limits.

Bugbears carry over from the regular RF, such as cabin noise and the lack of a standard reversing camera, but they’re minor complaints in context.


From an aesthetic standpoint the black ‘Kuroi’ lip kit bulks up the ND’s slender frame while the red calipers (an MX-5 first) add a welcome pop of colour behind the wheels, though some tasteful Limited Edition badging would have been welcome to help differentiate the new range-topper from garden-variety MX-5s.

That said, buyers taking delivery will receive a custom-made Seiko chronograph wristwatch and a signed letter from the MX-5 program manager as mementos.

For many, the pricey LE will be difficult to justify over a normal RF GT, but Mazda should have no problem finding 110 homes within the MX-5s healthy cult following. It’s a smartly sharpened and more desirable version of an icon, and it deserves to be driven for driving’s sake.


SPECS

Model: Mazda MX-5 RF GT Limited Edition
Engine: 1998cc 4-cyl, dohc, 16v
Max power: 118kW @ 6000rpm
Max torque: 200Nm @ 4600rpm
Transmission: 6-speed manual
Weight: 1080kg
0-100km/h: 7.5sec (est)
Fuel economy: 7.0L/100km
Price: From $55,790 driveaway
On sale: Now