By on July 5, 2017


2017 Mazda MX-5 RF

2.0-liter inline-four, DOHC (155 horsepower @ 6,000 rpm; 148 lb-ft @ 4,600 rpm)

Six-speed manual, rear-wheel drive

26 city / 33 highway / 29 combined (EPA Rating, MPG)

8.9 city / 7.1 highway / 8.1 combined (NRCan Rating, L/100km)

35.1 mpg [6.7 L/100 km] (Observed)

Base Price: $32,430 (U.S) / $40,695 (Canada)

As Tested: $36,130 (U.S.) / $47,995 (Canada)

Prices include $875 destination charge in the United States and $40,695 for freight, PDI, and A/C tax in Canada and, because of cross-border equipment differences, can’t be directly compared.

Got $2,755?

That’s how much extra coin Mazda wants in order to swap out the 2017 MX-5 Miata’s soft top, install a pair of buttresses, and replace the soft top with a foldable, targa-style hard top.

You’re not just paying $2,755 extra for the seasonal benefits of a hard top. At least half of those two-thousand-seven-hundred-and-fifty-five additional dollars are surely attributed to the RF’s sense of style. Love it or loathe it, the 2017 Mazda MX-5 Miata RF is a far more eye-catching car than the regular, fourth-generation MX-5.

Nevertheless, the MX-5 Retractable Fastback, which isn’t a fastback and doesn’t have a retractable roof, would be a distinctly more enticing proposition if it could save Miata buyers $2,755, rather than cost Miata buyers an additional $2,755.

2017 Mazda MX-5 RF Soul Red - Image: © Timothy CainThough every moment of the Miata experience is altered by the RF’s major engineering switcheroo, most moments are only altered by an ounce or two.

For the most part, despite a little more than 100 additional pounds, you won’t be able to notice distinct ride and handling characteristics when switching back and forth from a regular fourth-gen ND MX-5 Miata to the RF. You’d need a tremendously calibrated backside to recognize Mazda’s slight retuning of the suspension. You won’t detect an extra tenth or two in the RF’s 0-60 mph time. You might notice a hint of extra steering weight.

This is all very good. You wouldn’t, shouldn’t, surely couldn’t want much in the way of change. Mazda nailed the fourth-gen Miata’s on-road behavior: better acceleration, sublime shifting, perfectly tolerable ride quality even with this test car’s $3,400 Brembo brakes/BBS wheels package, rapid turn-in, firm but progressive braking, and best of all, enhanced feedback.2017 Mazda MX-5 RF Soul Red - Image: © Timothy CainAll of the 2.0-liter four-cylinder’s 155 horsepower answer the call, brimming with enthusiasm, itching to rev. You’ll be stirring the shifter, no doubt, but such a delight is this six-speed that you’d do so even if there was a 2.0-liter turbo and enough torque to leave the shifter in third.

There’s no denying that the stiffer suspension of the basic MX-5 RF Club — which serves as the middle-spec model for non-RF MX-5s — brings a level of firmness to the proceedings. But it’s hard to imagine that anyone who’s interested in a roadster with such a short 90.9-inch wheelbase will think this particular package creates an overly stiff car. There’s still a surprising amount of body roll for a sporty car circa 2017, which could be interpreted as a level of cushiness that leaves plenty of room for Miata lovers to add greater track-worthiness.

Yet the characteristics that make the MX-5 such a desirable car — not necessarily the objectively measurable acceleration or grip or braking or lap times — also make the MX-5 RF a desirable car. “Connectivity” meant something to Miata drivers long before it became the means by which Ford talked about SYNC.2017 Mazda MX-5 RF Soul Red - Image: © Timothy CainIt’s not merely Mazda jinba ittai marketing speak either. There truly is a powerful man-machine connection in the 2017 MX-5 RF. It’s a bond forged by the proper seating position, the diameter and minimal thickness of the steering wheel, the understanding of the tachometer’s favorite shift points, the joy derived from driving at sane speeds, the rear suspension’s messaging during mid-corner adjustments.

These are not new aspects of the Miata experience. Central to the Miata theme since 1989 have been these very same key factors that have always generated such driver-oriented enjoyment. That’s why I bought a 2004 MX-5 Miata earlier this year.

Unfortunately, there are significant downsides on the RF side of Mazda’s current Miata ledger. Perhaps rather than downsides, they should be referred to as “other sides of the coin.” Weights on the end of a scale.2017 Mazda MX-5 RF Soul Red - Image: © Timothy CainRoof stowed, the 2017 Mazda MX-5 Miata RF simply does not offer the level of convertible involvement to which an MX-5 owner has become accustomed. In fact, in some ways, there’s too much convertible involvement.

Around town, at low speeds, the MX-5 RF feels more like a sports car with a large sunroof. Not only is the sense of the upper/rear bodywork pervasive, but visibility is sorely curtailed. Shoulder checks? Don’t even bother — there’s nothing there to see besides your own MX-5 RF.

Increase your speed and the MX-5 RF is saturated with too much of a top-down reality. Buffeting is excessive, and the noise created by wind entering the buttresses and bouncing around behind your ears is decidedly unpleasant.

Conversations can be had if you shout, but make sure you enunciate.

Put the roof up and you’re now driving a proper coupe, free from the roof-up soft-top implications of a regular Miata. But don’t expect much in the way of added refinement. This is not a BMW 2 Series. Wind whistle around the A-pillar and the tops of the windows is un-2017-like. Noises you couldn’t have noticed when the roof was down are now obvious: plenty of engine and undercarriage sounds, plus a chorus of tires humming, make their way into the tiny cabin and don’t seem to find an exit point.

You’re a bit annoyed now, and Miatas should never annoy.

The sun comes out so you put the roof down, but you don’t get the full top-down rush. It’s been raining for a couple of days, so the roof stayed up and your daily driver didn’t quite feel like the kind of easy-going daily driver coupe you’d hoped it would be. Rather than being a best-of-both-worlds roadster/coupe, the 2017 Mazda MX-5 Miata RF requires compromise on both counts.

Does it matter? Maybe not, as the RF is still an astonishingly good car. Quick, connected, capable, wildly more attractive in person than in pictures, and wonderfully efficient given the aggression with which I drove it, the MX-5 RF would be a highly recommendable car if it weren’t for the standard non-RF Miata.2017 Mazda MX-5 RF Soul Red - Image: © Timothy CainBut that other Miata does exist. It’s the better car. And it’s the cheaper car.

The 2017 Mazda MX-5 Sport’s base price is $25,970; a $1,300 automatic removes a hefty chunk of the car’s appeal.

The Sport trim isn’t available in the RF, which enters the ballpark at $32,430 in Club spec, $2,755 more than the $29,675 soft top MX-5 Club. The MX-5 RF Grand Touring is priced from $33,495, a $3,430 premium above the soft top Grand Touring.

Style clearly comes at a cost. Not all of that cost can be measured monetarily.

[Image: ©2017 Timothy Cain/The Truth About Cars]

Timothy Cain is a contributing analyst at The Truth About Cars and and the founder and former editor of Follow on Twitter @timcaincars.

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30 Comments on “2017 Mazda MX-5 Miata RF Review – How Much Extra Will You Pay for Less Convertible?...”

  • avatar

    $2800 bucks can buy a decent amount of tire, brake and suspension for this car. Maybe even a tune for more power. I guess it depends where your priorities lie. I know where I’d put my money.

  • avatar

    Gorgeous? Yes. Could I justify the additional expense to myself if I were in the market for a Miata? No.

    BTW is it just me or does the current Miata when viewed from the rear and the side look like an updated 1st generation BMW Z4?

  • avatar

    You might say that for $ 2,755 extra you get two cars: a coupé and a roadster. Plus you can save on having to need an extra parking place too. Others would argue that for a bit more money you get two cars that aren’t really good at being a sports coupé or convertible.

  • avatar

    $36,130 as tested… DAMN!

    I completely understand all of the reasons why Miatas attract so many enthusiasts… But $36k? Is it me or is this price absurd? Even if $26k, out the door, I’d still feel like it would be over priced.

  • avatar

    Targa tops make the most sense for people who want the top down only on special occasions, not during regular driving. As you wrote, they _always_ get noisy and blustery at speed. A 2 seat convertible with a high deck right behind the seats, is problematic to begin with. Add structure to catch wind up high, right behind people’s head, and wind management at freeway speeds become darned near impossible.

    • 0 avatar

      I think you are absolutely correct, but it also means most convertible owners. I’m always struck by how many have the top up even on beautiful days that are perfect for open air motoring. Why buy a ragtop is you almost never put the top down? Whenever I have had a convertible I never put the top up unless it was snowing/raining significantly.

    • 0 avatar

      I’m having flashbacks to my t-top ’86 Monte Carlo SS, which, if the tops were off, created a tornado in the backseat if you were driving at highway speeds. So noisy. And any receipt or piece of paper gets sucked into the vortex.

  • avatar
    Kyree S. Williams

    I think I would just buy the regular roadster.

  • avatar

    I still want a hatchback coupe version of this car.

    • 0 avatar

      Me too! I’d pay the extra coin for a shooting brake/lift back Miata. And keep the targa option please, as I assume asking for a T-Top would be too old school.

      In general I hate the look of convertibles – the top always looks floppy and in a few years they are all cracked or torn anyway.

  • avatar

    I see a few of these at work now and I find them much more attractive than the original convertible.

    I’d say the RF would be worth it if Mazda nailed the execution or if the the premium was very small (even if the compromises in the review remain).

    Maybe Mazda should have gone with a manual targa to keep costs down.

  • avatar

    $48,000 for a 4cyl car that I can drive 3 months out of the year in Canada?
    no thanks.

    You can buy a 2 series for this kind of money.

    • 0 avatar

      What part of Canada are you living in where a hard-topped new car can only be driven 3 months out of the year?

      I was riding my sport motorcycle 6-7 months out of the year in Montreal, and the only thing which has kept me from running my soft top ’99 Miata in the winter is the knowledge that the road salt would ruin the 90s era Mazda steel.

    • 0 avatar

      Base-for-base, a 2 series convertible starts at CAD$ 10,000 more than the RF (after delivery, before tax), can be had only in white and Automatic (any other colour adds $895), and weighs 900 lbs more. Although I also question the value proposition of the RF, I don’t see it being cross-shopped with the Bimmer.

      • 0 avatar

        Since this is the Montreal section of the comments…I’m in MTL too and I’m debating between the RF and the Golf R. Even though they’re close in price it’s a silly comparison in many ways. I agree that the RF is not enough car for the money, but we probably won’t get a low-miles used RF for another year. I keep imagining the repair bills in year seven of Golf R ownership, and those beautiful thin performance tires (tyres!) hitting our famous potholes.

    • 0 avatar

      Base 2017 230i starts at $37,500 CAD.
      The Mazda starts at $38,800 CAD.

      I am remiss about the 3 months.
      Live in AB, so may, june, july, aug, sept (sometimes), oct (sometimes). April & Nov. (occasionally if you are willing to risk rust)

      Mainly its about avoiding the salt or snow melting stuff they pile on the roads here. Even when its dry and that stuff hasn’t been removed, any contact with water and metal its rust time. Plus rusty mazda rep.

      It also bugs me the mx-5 is so expensive for what you get. Don’t get me wrong, I really like the look, its like the new jag but damn spending close to 40k on something I cannot drive daily.

  • avatar

    Nice pictures, but I hope you parked over the line in the last one for some sort of artistic reason!

  • avatar

    Its the better looking car to me. But having no experience driving one, I can’t say whether the extra cost is worth it. It sounds like there no significant other upgrades from the soft top on a trim level to trim level comparison that makes it a better overall experience for the money.

    Still, if I were in the market for a Miata, this is the only one I’d consider. My wife daily drives a convertible and loves it, but the soft top is far too noisy for me to ever use as a more regularly driven car and not go nuts. While Tim says there is still a lot of noise, I don’t see a mention of whether its less than the soft top, only that its different noise. Is it quieter than your Miata, Tim?

    • 0 avatar

      I made this point in another comment but I’ll make it here again. To say the RF is better looking than the standard Miata doesn’t do it justice. On style points alone, the RF stands out in any crowd. You can park it next to a Mini convertible and it will get the attention. You can park it next to a Boxter or Cayman or TT and it will get the attention. You can probably park it next to an exotic and it will get attention. Sure, this style costs less than the standard Miata. But you would have to pay a whole lot more than the RF to get equivalent style elsewhere.

  • avatar

    Why couldn’t Mazda leave well enough alone and just make this car simply a hardtop? If I wanted open air driving, I’d purchase the ‘vert or a sunroof if I wanted to enjoy letting the sun in.

  • avatar

    I just hope that Mazda isn’t going all Mini Cooper with the sub-models because of declining sales of their iconic original product…

  • avatar

    The FT86/BRZ is still a better Miata coupe than this.

  • avatar

    The car that needed a targa roof badly was the airblade R8. Not the Miata.

  • avatar

    I’ve got a NC Miata with the powered retractable hardtop (PRHT). It’s my daily driver, and in the summer the top is up only if it is raining. In the winter, the top goes down if the temperature is above 57 degrees F (which happens at least a few times each winter month). While I really like my PRHT, I would never buy the RF. Heck, I’ll probably just keep my current car instead of buying a new Miata.

  • avatar

    I just wonder how they only get 155hp out of a 2 liter.

  • avatar

    This review nails it. The folding top is the RF’s big trick but it’s still not as great as the regular Miata’s top that folds faster than I can finish typing this sentence.

    Still, the RF is stunning. Simply stating that it looks better than the standard Miata is true but doesn’t tell the complete story. The RF looks better than just about anything on the road. I saw it at the NY Auto show where it was across the aisle from a Bugatti Chiron. The two cars were about 25 ft apart and all the attention was on the RF. The crowd around the RF was 3 deep while the Chiron had one or two people looking at it. So yes, the RF is all about style and that style will cost you $2,755 more than standard Miata. But the RF will save you about $2,970,000 vs. the Chiron. Obviously these cars will not be cross-shopped. But the point is that the RF will turn heads in any setting. I’d take the standard Miata but if style is your priority, the RF is a screaming good deal.

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