No Fixed Abode: One Hundred And Thirteen Pounds Of Pain

Jack Baruth
by Jack Baruth

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]

Jack Baruth
Jack Baruth

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  • Stevelovescars Stevelovescars on Feb 01, 2017

    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?

    • Snooder Snooder on Feb 01, 2017

      It's 2017. You think people are going to pay money to drop the top themsleves?

  • Brett Woods Brett Woods on Feb 09, 2017

    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.

  • Milton Rented one for about a month. Very solid EV. Not as fun as my Polestar, but for a go to family car, solid. Practical EV ownership is only made possible with a home charger.
  • J Love mine, but the steering wheel blocks dashboard a bit, can't see turn signals nor headlights icons. They could use the upper corners of the screen for the turn signals. Mileage is much lower than shown too, disappointing
  • Aja8888 NO!
  • OrpheusSail I once did. My first four cars were American made, and through an odd set of circumstances surrounding a divorce, I wound up with a '95 Nissan Maxima which was fourteen years old and had about 150,000 miles on it.It was drove better, had an amazing engine, and was more reliable than any of my American cars. This included a new '95 GMC pickup that went through five alternators in under two years while the dealership insisted that there was no underlying electrical problem while they tried to run the clock on the warranty.That was the end of 'buy American'. I've bought from Honda and VW since, and I'll consider just about anything except American now.
  • Ajla A Saab that isn't a convertible. 😏