By on January 31, 2017

The Mazda MX-5 RF, Image: PRNewsFoto/Mazda Motor Corporation

It’s one of those mysteries that’s really only mysterious to people who don’t understand the American auto market: Why didn’t Mazda bring us the NB-generation coupe? And why didn’t they make a true NC coupe at all? The answer, of course, is very simple. The United States is a big place with unique regulations. If you want to sell a car here, particularly one that would crash differently from the car you’re already selling, you’ve got to put in some real time and money for compliance with those regulations.

There’s also the matter of scale. It’s not that difficult for Mazda to release a small-batch car like the NB coupe in Japan where it has absolute control of the dealer networks and the ability to ship parts from a central warehouse to a service area that’s about 10 percent smaller than the state of California. Things are different in the land of the PowerStroke. Every new vehicle is a major commitment.

Mazda’s product planners didn’t think a hardtop Miata would sell in significant numbers, so they left it at home. The retractable-top NC Miata, on the other hand, was a great idea and it did very well. And now we have a far handsomer take on the same idea, built on a car that most of the pundits agree is a better and more enjoyable drive than its predecessor. So what’s the problem?

Well, there’s a little matter of weight. One hundred and thirteen pounds, to be exact. That’s the number being thrown around for the weight disadvantage the RF has over the soft-top ND-generation Miata.

This list, which I’ve put together after looking at various sources in the Miata community, should help put it in perspective:

  • NA 1.6L 2105lbs
  • NA 1.8L 2300lbs
  • ’99 NB 1.8L 2235lbs
  • ’01 NB 1.8L 2400lbs
  • NC 2.0L 2498lbs
  • NC 2.0L PRHT (hardtop) 2593lbs
  • ND 2.0L 2332lbs
  • ND 2.0L RF 2445lbs

I’ll confess that I’m not one of those people who “hates on” the NC Miata. I liked the street car and my wife owns an NC-gen MX-5 Playboy Cup racer. The slightly heretical third-gen roadster lacks the chrome-doorhandle charm of the 1990 original, but after just a few hours on a crowded freeway, surrounded by GMC Denalis and the like, you start to get a real appreciation for the idea of having just a tiny bit of crash structure built into the thing.

Nevertheless, as a street car the new-gen ND is simply better in every way, from looks to roadholding. Better yet, while the NC PRHT was a bit of an acquired taste visually, the ND RF is unambiguously gorgeous from every angle. They really did it right. The folding top is a marvel to watch, too. It looks more like a classic Italian sports car than any current Italian sports car on the market. As pretty as the Simpson Italia curved-window coupe might be, the RF Miata is arguably better — and it’s cheaper.

Cheaper, but not cheap. A Club-spec RF with the proper brakes will run you over $35,000. That’s Mustang GT money for a car that can’t stay close to a Mustang GT on a road course. (It’s true — we tried something similar ourselves a while back.) You have to really believe in the concept to pay that kind of money for a 155-horsepower two-seater that doesn’t say “Ducati” on the instrument panel.

The standard ND Miata is not rapid. The RF will be slower still, courtesy of that 113-pound weight gain. That’s like having Amy Schumer in the passenger seat, assuming Ms. Schumer is also holding an observation balloon like the one that took Felix Baumgartner to the very limits of the atmosphere. Another way to look at it: that’s the weight difference between me and Felipe Massa. Note that when Williams had an open seat for 2017, they called Felipe back instead of giving me a shot at it. There’s a reason for that. Fat don’t fly. Some people consider themselves “beautiful at any size”, but those people are not karting champions or long jumpers.

Perhaps the most damming thing you can say about the RF is this: by choosing it, you effectively negate all of the work Mazda put into making the Miata as light as possible, just so you can have a little more theft resistance. Doesn’t exactly make you feel good about your choice, does it? Talk about the triumph of form over function.

Yet I suspect that the RF will end up being the volume model for Mazda, the same way the PRHT kind of took over the Miata market when it appeared. It’s gorgeous. It’s quieter inside and you can park it in Manhattan without worrying too much about finding the top cut when you return. Yes, it’s a little slower, but most people aren’t driving around at full throttle all the time and an ND RF is still faster than an NA or NB.

Were I in the Miata market myself, I might find the RF Club just too pretty to resist. I hope you would all forgive me for making that choice. I could always get very sanctimonious and point out that my other Miata has no top at all. In truth, my concern about the RF is less about the car as it sits and more about what it might mean for the future of the MX-5.

‘Cause you know what would make the RF better? The engine and transmission from the NC Miata. But then you’ve got to beef up the differential, and the wheels, and the suspension uprights. And at that point the car’s slow again, so wouldn’t it be a good idea to turbocharge it? And once you’ve done the rounds getting the Miata to handle the increased power, how much does that car weigh? 2900 pounds? An even ton-and-a-half? Where does it stop? With a Miata-badged SUV powered by a twin-turbo V6 and capable of straining the scales to the 4,400-pound mark? At what point does something stop becoming a Miata and start becoming a travesty? I don’t know about you, but for me, the answer to that question truly is a mystery.

[Image: Mazda]

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70 Comments on “No Fixed Abode: One Hundred And Thirteen Pounds Of Pain...”

  • avatar

    Maybe instead of the Eunos sub brand, Mazda should make the Miata a sub brand. In fact, I can think of a couple of models that deserve their own sub brands:

    Prius (if people don’t stop buying them altogether)

    Etc…. models that are almost hamstrung by their parent brands. I can’t knock this though. Anything that puts more $$$ on Mazda’s bottom line is OK with me. Hopefully they can take this money and put some decent engines in their mainstreamers. Honda has made turbocharging OK.

  • avatar
    Jean-Pierre Sarti

    I’ve always been a sucker for the targa topped car so i am a moth to flame for this thing.

    It looks like the aftermarket has been very successful in squeezing out more HP and Torque out of the skyactiv engine even without forced induction so those that care can add more umph. In fact the conspiracy theorist in me thinks Mazda is sand bagging the current engine for a future mazdaspeed. Reading it just seems like they left a lot of power on the table in order to meet MPG targets.

  • avatar

    I wonder how hard it would be to remove the retraction equipment and have the roof fixed in place. That should remove a lot of the weight.

  • avatar

    The solution is to do a “Mazda Cosmo” on the Miata platform that uses the RF’s top and has a 3.0L Skyactiv I6.

  • avatar

    That retractable targa hardtop is sweet, and the regular retractable hardtop is the way to go if I would ever buy another one.

    The MX5/Miata is restricted to those who can actually fit in it (comfortably), and who have good knees to be able to enter and exit the car, especially in restricted spaces long term. That’s why the majority of older people who buy these only keep them for a couple of years (guilty as charged).

    However, one of Wifey’s friends has one as a daily driver when she’s not showing houses, not carrying a client around.

    Our 2007 MX5 was fun to drive around town, but being a sport model only had a 5 speed manual – it need 6 for the highway. That thing screamed 3500 rpms at 65. Not a comfortable ride on my long commute. The main reason we sold it. However, getting out of it in the garage (on the left side) was starting to affect my knee.

    I’m still enjoying my Impala for now, and my knee thanks me.

    My bigger issue with ours was that your lower half of your body tended to roast in hot weather. We were driving top down with A/C running just to maintain our sanity!

    They’re still really cool cars, however, and we did check out a beautiful red one at last year’s auto show, and we will probably again this year, but they need to be a bit larger, and neither one of us is overweight. I’m 5’10½” and she’s a lean 5’7″.

    • 0 avatar

      One of my frustrations was that the 6-speed had the same top gear and final drive as the 5-speed. In other words, they were no quieter nor fuel efficient, they just required more shifting to get there.

    • 0 avatar

      I hear you on that. I’m right-sized for a car like this (5’10” and athletic) and bought an S2000 a couple of years ago.

      I picked up my dad from the airport in it a couple years ago, he’s 6’2″ with a bad knee. Needless to say, fitting inside and ingress/egress were difficult at best. So now I use my wife’s SUV for airport runs.

      Also, I hear you on the highway gearing. The S2k is just as bad, revving close to 4k in the low 70s. Granted, I don’t commute in it, so it doesn’t bother me often. I only take it out on good days for top-down fun anyway.

      • 0 avatar
        Middle-Aged Miata Man

        I owned a 2001 MR2 Spyder before my current NC1 roadster. In top (5th) gear at 75 mph indicated, the tach needle was pegged right at 4,000 RPM, which was also at the 12 o’clock position on the dial (if not a deliberate move by Toyota, then it was a nice coincidence.)

        As noted above, the Miata’s engine runs 3500 RPM at the same speed, which yields a noticeable but still negligible difference in the driving experience. Still, I found the Spyder to actually be slightly more comfortable as a road car.

  • avatar

    I mean, ignoring the fact that a ragtop is by definition lighter than a retractable metal roof (and the extra mechanics that go along with it), what is the actual weight delta between the two cars when accounting for the roof bits? As far as we know no extra weight reduction went on for the RF model, any delta is just in the roof bits. They’re already ‘verts, so topless stiffening in the chassis has been accounted for. Didn’t Mazda say the weight difference is entirely in the roof and its mechanics?

    Even then, those 113 pounds are probably managed quite a bit compared to other cars, since weight reduction is always #1 in any iteration of Miata. Given your chart of Miata curb weights over the years, the car’s admirably stayed under 2500 pounds with the exception of the NC power hardtop, and the ND RF is almost 150 pounds lighter than that. Both classes of the car have gone down in weight, not up, so harping on the RF being heavier than the ragtop is missing the point in my opinion. The Miata is a rare car that went down in weight when going up a generation.

    Also, the RF isn’t just about theft resistance, if someone lived in a colder clime a retractable hardtop is a much better choice for day-to-day driving. There’s a lot of people up here in the north who daily Miatas, even in the winter. It also, IMO, looks a lot cooler with the top up.

    Also, there’s already examples of this same chassis with (slightly) more powerful equipment, and that’s the Fiat Spider. The Fiat is 2400 pounds in ragtop form with the 1.4L turbo. The Abarth is 2436. We’re talking 70-100 pounds here, for an extra thirty-ish ft-lbs and a few extra horses. It’s probably negated in terms of power-to-weight but the motors do behave differently compared to the Skyactiv.

    • 0 avatar

      One thing that I would wonder is how this jives with the HPDE track day crowd. If I could avoid ripping out the rear interior to put a rollbar in by paying the premium for a RF, that’s a real benifit over the soft top. At least on the east coast, most track day organizations won’t let you pass safety with just the hoops.

  • avatar

    Being in the northeast, the RF extends the driving season. Put on winter tires and kitty litter in the back, and you have an all-season ride. So I wouldn’t mind added weight.

    The RF would also let me play Transformer to little ones. Bonus, it acts as a filter to my dates. If she don’t fit, I’m gonna’ split.

    And to answer your question “At what point does something stop becoming a Miata and start becoming a travesty?”, just look toward MINI.

  • avatar

    It’s still 140 lbs. lighter than the PRHT. That’s the right direction to be moving. I don’t see the big deal.

    Also, food for thought: you mention the Mustang GT, but for open-top cars the price point is closer to a typically equipped Mustang EcoBoost Convertible. This car’s weight-to-power isn’t that much worse than a Mustang EcoBoost, and (without having driven one) I feel certain it’s vastly more fun.

    For me, though, the competition to this would be a used Boxster. This is a better car than the used Boxster in most respects but I don’t think I could resist the flat-six or MR layout.

    • 0 avatar

      Yes, exactly, and yes again. Thank you for comparing on the basis of power : weight.

    • 0 avatar

      Consumable costs on the Boxster are going to be night and day compared to the ND though. Assuming a similar $30k price point you’re looking at a 06-10 depending on mileage and trim. based on the tire sizes (18-19″, 235/265 stagger) you’re easily looking at $1000/set versus the $500 a Miata will set you back for good rubber, and there’s the same price differential with the brakes. Plus you’re dealing with mid-engine service complication when anything goes wrong.

      That said, 99% of buyers making this comparison probably aren’t thinking about long term maintenance costs, even though they probably will have a car note on it at the time too.

  • avatar

    What surprises me is that the RF top weighs so much more than the PHRT top. People praise the RF, while the PHRT was less of a weight penalty and was thrashed nonstop by enthusiasts.

    I’m just not a fan of the RF. It doesn’t give you the looks or weight reduction of a coupe. It no longer gives you the benefits of a convertible, just a targa top.

    And the ND seems more cramped than the NC. I was pretty much at the limit, height-wise, for fitting in my NC PHRT. I’d like to buy a new Miata one day, but I’ll probably looking at used NCs when the Mustang is paid off.

    • 0 avatar

      Exactly. The RF, while gorgeous, is pretty stupid in my book. This is a Honda Del Sol 20 years later and made by Mazda. I’m supposed to believe half a convertible is better than a coupe or a real convertible? Please….

      I’ve owned an NA Miata as an only car for years. My father has an NB. The convertible is a huge part of the brilliance in these cars. A fancy folding roof to give you a targa in this car is beyond dumb to me.

      The PRHT is far far better than the RF in every way except top-up styling. Security when up, full convertible when down. Miata brilliance maintained.

      The RF to me is a “why bother”. If you want a coupe or targa, you’re probably already shopping elsewhere.

    • 0 avatar

      Frankly, the RF is terrible. It may look good, but it has large blind spots when the “top” is down, and some reviews indicate that there is alot of wind buffeting at highway speeds. So it is mediocre as a convertible. Some are excited about the RF because they want a Miata coupe. But the RF is a poor coupe, because it has the weight and complexity of the retracting equipment, along with having to have a place for the top pieces to retract into.

      • 0 avatar

        I agree.

        The RF is an odd misstep from Mazda that’s wholly inconsistent with their traditional MX5 ethos.

        • 0 avatar

          But you have the option to buy the convertible without the expense or weight. If it doesn`t sell it will get dropped.

          • 0 avatar

            Yeah, but you don’t have the option to buy a fully retractable hardtop convertible. The packaging on the hardtop NC was brilliant. When the top was down, it wasn’t just a folder up piece of black cloth. It looked like never had a top to begin with.

            And I loved the way it looked like a coupe with the top up. The fact that it matched the rest of the car was a huge factor in me buying one. Much better than the “all black top, all the time” look of the softop. One of the reasons I didn’t like the NC Club trim – the hardtop was black, regardless of which of the 4 colors you picked.

            Also, the ND Miata really needs an expansion of its color palette. It’s really dull. Blue only available on the top trim, with no performance options? Get outta here.

  • avatar

    I saw the retractable-roof Mazda MX-5 at the local auto show, and the first thing I thought was, “Damn, that car would look great as a convertible!” (I know, it’s old. But someone had to say it.)

  • avatar

    I love funny women, so, yeah, I’d do Amy Schumer. Absolutely. I wouldn’t screw up my marriage for her, but…

    • 0 avatar
      Big Al From 'Murica

      I’d do her with your scaling a Trump mask on maybe. Yeah, I’m drunk in Belgium tonight so why not

    • 0 avatar

      Oh ho, it’s a JackyB article, and it’s almost entirely car content, can’t let that slide. Let’s jam an overly complicated fat joke in there! Ha ha, pot shots! I mean, I realize she’s not the waifishly thin specimen devoid of intelligence who think’s their CRV is ‘sporty’ that Jack suggests that he shags on the reg in other editorials. So, Ad hominem ahoy!

      You know Jack, you could probably get rid of weight if you took the comically large chip off your shoulder that’s been weighing you down since Herr Trumpster got the vote. Of course, then it wouldn’t be The Truth About Thinly Veiled Code Politics, would it?

      • 0 avatar
        Big Al From 'Murica

        First off, shove it.

        Secondly, get over yourself,

        Lastly, “Thinly Veiled”? Nothing thin about any of this

        Ba dum crash…I’m here til’ Tuesday…Tip your waitress.

  • avatar

    I’ve always loved the Miata (from afar) and wouldn’t mind owning one someday.

    Maybe the Miata would really benefit from aluminum construction instead of F150s and CT6 Cadillacs.

  • avatar

    I own a base spec 2016 MX-5 Miata. It’s my only car and thus my daily driver.

    Have had no problems in the cold, though granted I don’t live somewhere where it snows. It has an extremely powerful heater like the Sebring convertible I used to own. It can get plenty hot.

    • 0 avatar
      Big Al From 'Murica

      I drove a 1.6 NA in Fort Drum NY year round. Only issue I ever had was the plastic rear window broke one -30 morning when i brushed the snow off. A glass window replacement too fixed that. I never even ran winter tires. It is fine anywhere in the Continental US for sure.

  • avatar

    I dislike convertibles: ugly with the top up and the they are always ripped with yellow windows after a few years. And yeah I know these things can be fixed via aftermarket solutions. So I would love a Miata hatchback / shooting brake with a removable targa would be ideal. As for power Fiat got things right: drop a turbo in there!

    • 0 avatar

      Most convertibles have glass rear windows now, so yellowing is not an issue. The cloth top does tend to rip every 5-10 years though.

      • 0 avatar
        S2k Chris

        My S2000’s top has a 3″ gash where they all rip, right behind the passenger window. The OCD part of me wants to replace it for ~$1500, but the rational part of me knows I don’t ever drive the car in the rain anyways, and almost never raise the top aside from storing it, so I just avert my eyes and protect my checkbook.

  • avatar

    I’m curious about your comment regarding the car being quieter than the convertible. Is it really noticeably quieter? Has anyone done a real measurement of that?

    My only Miata hardtop experience was with an NA 1.6 and I didn’t think the uninsulated plastic top made any improvement in noise levels. If the RF is really quieter at freeway speeds, that would make a big difference in my desire to own one. I’ve made two cross country trips in NA Miatas. While I still love them dearly, I don’t have fond memories of the freeway sections of those trips.

    • 0 avatar

      It isn’t truly an apples to apples comparison, but the 2007 PRHT NC I test drove was significantly quieter than my ’99 Miata.

      As much as I love simplicity, a 20 hour road trip from San Diego to Dallas made me swear I’d get a PRHT if I purchased another Miata. Ear plugs were a savior that trip, though they get uncomfortable after a few hours.

      • 0 avatar

        I only made the 6-hour drive to Ohio once in my PHRT. And once was enough. Even with the top up, it’s loud. It’s not insulated at all. I can’t imagine how much worse a softtop would be.

    • 0 avatar
      Jack Baruth

      Nobody’s measured it yet, but the PRHT was much quieter than the ragtop NC.

    • 0 avatar

      I got curious and looked up the numbers at Car and Driver.

      Nothing on the new hardtop yet. For the ND, the automatic version is the quietest. The Fiat is quieter than the ND.

      The NC PRHT is the quietest Miata they’ve measured at 70 mph. It’s also far quieter at idle than any other Miata.

      The NBs appear to be the quietest soft-top Miatas.

      The ND might be the loudest cruiser since the NA, and is easily the loudest at full throttle.

      Idle/WOT/70mph (dBA)

      2017 Fiat 124 Abarth Spyder 50/84/75
      2016 MX5 49/89/77
      2016 MX5 Club 48/90/77
      2016 MX5 Club 50/88/78
      2016 MX5 Automatic 49/80/75
      2010 MX5 Grand Touring 48/82/78
      2007 MX5 PHRT 39/79/74
      2006 MX5 47/80/76
      2004 MX5 Mazdaspeed 50/78/76
      2004 MX5 Mazdaspeed 47/79/75
      1998 MX5 53/80/75
      1990 MX5 48/85/79

  • avatar

    FWIW, the NC ‘2’ supposedly retuned some of the slop that the NC1 was birthed with. I spent cash and skinned knuckles on mine trying to capture that NA magic and never got close. The ND beats it out of the box in that regard, hands down.

    The base (Sport) NDs are a steal. The 2.0 is apparently very responsive to aftermarket tuning. Edelbrock even showed a supercharger at this year’s SEMA.

    The appeal of the RF is purely aesthetic. Besides being heavy (and weight up high to boot) and complicated, it offers none of the main advantages of a real targa. That hoop is plastic so no roll protection or improved body stiffness. Some report high wind buffeting with the top open as well.

    Personally, I’d prefer a 1.5 with mods to get to 2100#, but that’s a no-go for North America.

  • avatar

    Saw one of these at the Boston auto show and thought it ruined the looks, the regular convertible is much better imho. Then checked out the fiat, I might just like that one the best. Had an NA for 12 years, I might be ready for a newer one.

  • avatar

    I can see Mazda’s point. They already sell a convertible, so why not a Targa? They should do a coupe as well, properly stiffened and cage-ready for the track set.

    And a, for all that is right and just, proper shooting brake. It’s not like people buy FiSTs and the like for the rear seats, after all.

  • avatar

    its not just theft resistance. its also NVH, sound deadening, winter insulation and long term cost of ownership

  • avatar

    I hate to break it to you tubby, but the reason Williams didn’t contact you wasn’t an excess of avoirdupois but a lack of talento….

  • avatar

    Simply apply the law of “No Fat Chicks” and schumer’s history. I loves me some targa. Always have. Always will.

  • avatar

    Fat bottomed girls they make the rockin’ world go ’round!

  • avatar

    What about weight distribution? Does that additional weight in the back when the top is down actually provide more balanced handling?

  • avatar
    White Shadow

    The extra 100 or so pounds wouldn’t bother me at all because any car near or under 3000 pounds these days is still an absolute lightweight compared to the majority of cars today.

  • avatar

    My first thought after reading that headline was “is this the story of a past conquest…maybe a ballerina this time?”

  • avatar

    Very disappointed to see that you didn’t use this opportunity to title the piece “The 113-Pound Marriage”. Unless you’re not a fan of Irving.

  • avatar

    I like this, but could the same thing have been accomplished without the complex power top? Why not affix the roof pillars and just use a removable targa section? Couldn’t that have saved weight and cost while making for an even stiffer body structure?

  • avatar
    Brett Woods

    I’d want to drive it before I weighed in. I am a convert to the retractable hard-top (2003 SL55). I would like to say that there is no substitute.

    But looking at this…. Do the back pillars stay in place and reveal just a targa? I am reminded of seeing Donald Trump on TV judging the renovations done by a team of apprentices. They knocked out one wall upstairs to make a kick-ass master bedroom, and turned the place into a really nice two bedroom.

    The Donald got pretty mock upset with the team for turning a 3 bedroom house into a 2 bedroom house.

    I’m confused. Does this version make it safer in a roll over? ‘Cause if you want to go targa, then why not have a solid removable roof like on the Corvette? I think I don’t understand all the abbreviations but I do like the Ducati comparison. The last mx-5 was a tight and sophisticated automobile. This new one I just sat in and it felt more angular and flimsy. I do agree that it’s a tough call when comparing head-to-head with the Mustang, but the mx-5 interior is much more serious about driving.

    Guess I don’t totally get this major structural change. The last model seemed to have an awesome top, but I never tested it. I test drove the soft-top with only the top down and really, I want to drive it again. I have never had the pleasure of owning a true soft-top convertible. One of my nicest memories is of riding down the highway in the back of a full size yanky yacht with a massive white retractable top and bumpy white vinyl seats and the best company you could ever want.

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