• 2017 Mazda MX-5 RF
  • 2017 Mazda MX-5 RF
  • 2017 Mazda MX-5 RF
  • 2017 Mazda MX-5 RF

Road Test: 2017 Mazda MX-5 RF

Million-seller Going Strong

Twenty-five years ago, I piloted my first Mazda Miata sports car–and fell for it immediately. I grew up riding in my father’s Austin-Healey roadster, so cruising in a little open-top two-seater brought back happy memories.

2017 Mazda MX-5 RF

This is why the MX-5 exists–the open road

The Miata, now known as the MX-5, was designed to include the driver as a participant, not to isolate him or her from the experience. Twenty-eight years down the road, Mazda still sells a little sports car that’s much like the original, although the inaugural model’s simplicity and technology have moved forward with each generation.

I first tested one of the latest generation cars nearly two years ago. With its sharply defined “Kodo” styling, it looked meaner than the sweet little original, but in truth, it’s not much different in size or proportions.

The Latest Model

I’ve just had a turn with the new-for 2017 Mazda MX-5 RF model, which features a power folding hardtop, the only one in a car in this price range. Press a button and, in 13 seconds, a rear panel lifts, the top rises and drops in, and the panel covers it. Despite this magic, there’s still a little trunk space!

2017 Mazda MX-5 RF

The RF magic–caught in the act

If you want nothing but sky above the tops of the door panels, opt for the traditional cloth top, because the RF (Retractable Fastback) retains its side pillars. And even though the original cloth top folds down easily—from the driver’s seat—the totally automatic experience of the RF is easy to get used to.

The interior of the latest MX-5 evokes the general proportions of the original Miata, but today’s car designs are much more complex. My car’s black interior was businesslike, not cute, with the tachometer in the center of the three-gauge instrument panel and everything arrayed where a driver would want to find it. Naturally, there’s a center screen, permanently popped up on the dash, so you can have the electronic display for navigation, entertainment and vehicle configuration that we expect these days.

The Power Below

Today’s MX-5 uses a 2.0-liter inline four-cylinder that puts out 155 horsepower and 148 pounds-feet of torque, which is fine for a 2,300-pound little car. The original, if I’m not mistaken, had 115 horsepower, but likely weighed short of a ton. The experience remains immediate and accessible, though, and open air above you makes everything feel more exciting.

2017 Mazda MX-5 RF

Where the MX-5 fun begins

Part of the charm of an MX-5/Miata is in shifting your own gears with the available manual six-speed. However, my test car came with the automatic. I understand that many buyers today don’t even know how to drive a manual, and I can’t complain about this automatic, but if I were signing the paperwork, I’d order the famously exquisite do-it-yourself lever.

Numbers are good, partly because of Mazda’s Skyactiv program. In brief, this is the company’s way of honing every aspect of their cars to perfection. This means removing extra weight—a gram at a time—and making changes to the mechanical pieces that promote efficiency. This new car gets 26 city/35 highway/29 combined per the EPA. I averaged 31.3 mpg myself. That’d definitely better than the old cars. Green scores are 6 for Smog and 7 for Greenhouse Gas, likely because of the small scale of the car—and those Skyactiv efficiencies.

The Options

Pick from three models—Sport, Club, and Grand Touring. The Sport is closest to the original, with cloth seats, 16-inch alloy wheels and fewer gizmos. The Grand Touring

2017 Mazda MX-5 RF

Spoiler alert–the bar is built into the RF, but you can get a full soft top

adds leather seats and much more. There is a special Launch Edition of the RF, limited to 1,000, that includes the Machine Gray Metallic paint that’s was optional on my test car ($300), Auburn Nappa leather seats and a hand-painted black top.

My car came to $34,960, with the optional paint. The Sport with cloth top and manual transmission starts at $25,750. Both prices include shipping. Considering that the 1992 model I tested was priced at about $15,000, the car remains remarkably affordable.

Although climbing in and out of a low little sports car is more of a challenge now than it was 25 years ago, the little thing makes an efficient commuter. With the hard top in place, wind and road noise are reduced, so it’s quieter on the freeway. Of course, you’ll be looking out at the alloy wheels of the SUVs in the next lane, but with modern tech like blind spot monitoring, rear cross traffic alert, and lane departure warning, not to mention various airbags, you’re likely to get to your destination in one piece.

Of course, taking your car out on a sunny weekend remains where the 2017 Mazda MX-5 RF continues to shine brightly. At this price, you could tuck a basic Sport model in your garage for entertainment purposes only (and commute in an electric car during the week).

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Smarticd is loaned free test vehicles from automakers to evaluate, typically for a week at a time. Our road tests are based on this one-week drive of a new vehicle. Because of this we don’t address issues such as long-term reliability or total cost of ownership. In addition, we are often invited to manufacturer events highlighting new vehicles or technology. As part of these events we may be offered free transportation, lodging or meals. We do our best to present our unvarnished evaluations of vehicles and news irrespective of these inducements.

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About Author:

Steve Schaefer has written a weekly automotive column for 26 years, testing more than 1,250 cars. Now, he’s focusing on EVs and hybrids. Steve remembers the joy of riding in his father’s Austin-Healey. After discovering the August, 1963 issue of Motor Trend, he became entranced with the annual model change, and began stalking dealers’ back lots to catch the new models as they rolled off the transporter. Coming from a family that owned three Corvairs, Steve was one of the first Saturn buyers, earning him a prominent spot in their 1994 product catalogue. To continue the GM tradition, Steve now has a Chevrolet Bolt EV. Steve is a founding member of the Western Automotive Journalists. Recently, Steve became a Climate Reality Leader, trained by Al Gore, and is focused on moving to EVs and 100% renewable energy. Read his EV/hybrid blog at stevegoesgreen.com.

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