The Mazda MX-5 Miata RF (Retractable Fastback) is an even more stylish version of the Japanese brand's enduring - and endearing - lightweight convertible that has proved for decades that driving fun need not be the preserve of high-powered exotics. Not a true coupe, the MX-5 Miata RF comes close by replacing the regular model's soft top with a retractable hard top. The result is a more refined Miata with an undeniably unique, appealing design. Two trim levels - Club and Grand Touring - are both fitted with the willing 2.0-liter four-cylinder engine producing 155 horsepower and 148 lb-ft of torque. While both trims are well equipped and the MX-5 Miata RF is excellently constructed, this is a car that's less about practicality and more about old-school driving thrills. From the superb engine response to the brilliant manual gearbox (an automatic transmission is also available) and chuckable handling, the little Mazda continues to be one of the best driver's cars at any price point. At around $2,000 more expensive than an equivalent MX-5 Miata soft top, the RF's distinctive design seems well worth the additional outlay.
The MX-5 Miata RF continues in 2018 with only minimal changes. Inside, the Club now gets heated cloth seats, while manual transmission models get advanced keyless entry as standard. The color palette also gets an update, with three colors dropped in favor of three newer shades (Soul Red Crystal, Snowflake White Pearl, and Eternal Blue). The Brembo/BBS optional package now includes leather-trimmed, heated seats.
The MX-5 Miata RF starts with the Club variant at an MSRP of $31,910 before tax, registration, and licensing. The price also excludes a destination and delivery fee of $890. Offering more luxury is the Grand Touring model at an MSRP of $32,750. Overall, the RF commands a price premium of approximately $2,000 over the equivalent soft top versions.
See trim levels and configurations:
Dynamically, the RF sparkles. Without needing to toggle through a myriad of driving modes, the MX-5 Miata is ideally set up to instantly get in and drive, as the basics are just as they should be. The 2.0L produces just enough power to have fun but lacks the fireworks to upset the rear axle, ensuring that the MX-5 Miata always feels composed and controllable. The steering system is excellent, with the RF responding keenly and accurately to driver inputs. While some may prefer more heft to the steering system, it does mean that the Miata is a superb daily driver and doesn't feel taxing after an extended period behind the wheel. The car is at its very best through a series of smooth, flowing curves, when you can ring the motor to its limit and appreciate the rorty exhaust sound.
In a more civilized setting, the RF surprises too. A small convertible designed to excite isn't a recipe for ride comfort, but the RF effectively deals with minor imperfections and certainly isn't overly harsh. Larger potholes will be felt through the body, but this isn't unexpected in a car of this kind. Cruising with the RF's hardtop closed reveals another benefit of this variant: it's quieter than its soft top cousin. The difference in road noise isn't enormous, but it's enough to make the RF the slightly more relaxing cruiser.
NHTSA safety ratings are not available at this time.
The Mazda MX-5 Miata remains one of the purest and most entertaining driving experiences available at any price. In RF form, Mazda's little sports car gains even more style and provides greater insulation and refinement at speed. Dynamically, the RF shines as much as the soft top - rear-wheel drive, sharp steering, compact dimensions, and one of the best manual gearboxes on the market make this a true driver's car. The engine plays its part too, but one can't help but wonder what level of driving nirvana an MX-5 with more power would provide. Despite a focus on being a sporty performer, the MX-5 is also well-appointed inside, with most of the features you'd expect and comfortable seating. Taller people will however feel cramped and both storage and trunk space are poor. The RF's hard top appears to be a well-engineered piece of design and folds away quickly without reducing trunk space. Overall, Mazda should be commended for maintaining the hallmarks of the MX-5 that have made this model so popular for decades.
Mazda keeps things simple with just two trims, the more driver-focused Club and the more comfort-oriented Grand Touring. Our first suggestion would be selecting the manual transmission, as this significantly adds to the enjoyment factor from behind the wheel. There's no wrong choice between Club and Grand Touring trims, although the additional suspension upgrades (such as those Bilstein shock absorbers) of the manual Club will be appealing for true enthusiasts.
Much like the MX-5, the 86 is Toyota's attempt to offer driving thrills at an affordable price. In that sense, the 86 gets off to a good start because not only can it be had for over $5,000 less than the Club MX-5 RF, but it also offers more power from its flat-4 2.0-liter engine. However, the MX-5 provides similar performance and just about has the edge for the driving experience with its better-sounding engine and exceptional manual gearbox. A traditional coupe with seats at the back, it's the 86 that offers more space, practicality, and refinement at speed. However, the MX-5 fights back with smarter interior materials and a more modern design. Plus, there's no doubting the novelty of the RF's eye-catching folding hard top.
A less mainstream competitor, the Fiat 124 Spider is based on the fourth generation Mazda MX-5 Miata. As such, it provides admirable dynamics, with pleasantly weighty steering and a slightly better ride quality than the MX-5. The Fiat also benefits from a more powerful turbocharged engine. However, the MX-5 remains the more sprightly feeling of the two, and while the 124 is certainly a bold design, the MX-5 - especially in RF form - is the tauter, sportier looking machine. The interiors are nearly identical, but the 124 is a longer car and therefore manages to provide almost half a cubic foot of additional space - this may not sound like much, but it matters considering the very tiny trunks of each car. While the 124 is an excellent small convertible, the MX-5 Miata - and even more so in RF guise - remains the more emotive offering.
Check out some informative Mazda MX-5 Miata RF video reviews below.