2020 Mazda MX-5 Miata RF

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2020 Mazda MX-5 Miata RF Test Drive Review: The Smaller, Lighter, More Grown-Up Miata

As far as sports cars go, the Mazda Miata is a legend. In just three decades, Mazda sold as many of its lightweight roadsters as Porsche has sold 911s in nearly six decades - you tell me which sports car is the most iconic? Now in its fourth iteration, the MX-5 Miata has returned to its roots, being the lightest and smallest iteration since the original. Unlike previous generations of the Miata in the US that were only offered in rag-top roadster form, the ND generation offers buyers a second style. Dubbed the RF - or Retractable Fastback - you get 911 Targa-like buttresses and a solid roof panel that opens up the sky above. For many, it's the coupe MX-5 they've dreamed of for years. But in the US it's also become a softer version of the Miata; seen as the grand tourer model, the RF sells as many automatic-equipped RFs as it does manuals. So we got behind the wheel of a Mazda MX-5 Miata RF with the six-speed auto for a week to see if an auto 'box can do the hallowed name any justice, or if it would ruin the allure of a naturally aspirated 181-horsepower motor and rear-wheel drive.

Read in this review:

8.2
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2020 Mazda MX-5 Miata RF Changes: 🚙What’s the difference vs 2019 MX-5 Miata RF?

Mazda has made a couple of suspension and feature upgrades to the MX-5 for 2020 while maintaining the car's lightweight architecture. The MX-5 Club trim now features both Apple CarPlay and Android Auto as standard equipment. In manual guise, the top-of-the-line Grand Touring trim now also gets a range of performance upgrades previously reserved for the Club - these include Bilstein dampers and a limited-slip differential, along with other tweaks like a shock tower brace in front and a suspension that is sport-tuned. The Grand Touring also gets enhancements like SiriusXM (including a trial subscription for three months) and door sills in black/stainless steel. All models receive additional safety features for 2020, too, with a full suite of i-Activsense safety features including blind spot monitoring, automatic emergency braking, and lane departure warning. A new color option, Polymetal Gray, has been added to the existing palette.

Pros and Cons

  • Distinctive targa styling works well
  • Improved refinement over the soft-top when roof is up
  • Great fun to drive, even at lower speeds
  • Delightful manual transmission
  • More standard equipment this year
  • High-quality cabin
  • Taller people will feel cramped
  • Not much room in the tiny trunk, either
  • Noisy with the roof open
  • Limited in-cabin storage
  • Slow automatic transmission
  • Not as balanced as previous generations

Best Deals on 2020 Mazda MX-5 Miata RF

2020 Mazda MX-5 Miata RF Trims

See trim levels and configurations:

Trim Engine Transmission Drivetrain Price (MSRP)
Club
2.0L Inline-4 Gas
6-Speed Automatic
6-Speed Manual
Rear-Wheel Drive
$33,045
Grand Touring
2.0L Inline-4 Gas
6-Speed Automatic
6-Speed Manual
Rear-Wheel Drive
$34,425
100th Anniversary
2.0L Inline-4 Gas
6-Speed Automatic
6-Speed Manual
Rear-Wheel Drive
$35,425
See All 2020 Mazda MX-5 Miata RF Trims and Specs

2020 MX-5 Miata RF Exterior

2020 Mazda MX-5 Miata RF Forward View CarBuzz
2020 Mazda MX-5 Miata RF Front Angle View CarBuzz
2020 Mazda MX-5 Miata RF Aft View CarBuzz
See All 2020 Mazda MX-5 Miata RF Exterior Photos

Dimensions

  • Length 154.1 in
  • Wheelbase 90.9 in
  • Height 49.0 in
  • Max Width 68.3 in
  • Front Width 58.9 in
  • Rear Width 59.2 in
  • Curb Weight 2,452.0 lbs

Exterior Colors

  • Soul Red Crystal Metallic
  • Jet Black Mica
  • Polymetal Gray
  • Machine Gray Metallic
  • Arctic White
  • Snowflake White Pearl Mica
  • Eternal Blue Mica

2020 MX-5 Miata RF Performance

2020 Mazda MX-5 Miata RF Front Angle View 1 CarBuzz
2020 Mazda MX-5 Miata RF Lateral View CarBuzz
2020 Mazda MX-5 Miata RF Wheel CarBuzz

Engine and Transmission

  • Engine
    2.0L Inline-4 Gas
  • Transmissions
    6-Speed Automatic, 6-Speed Manual
  • Drivetrain
    RWD

Handling and Driving Impressions

Being the lightest and most compact Miata since the original, there are obvious merits to the ND generation. With more power and less weight it feels more potent than it is, and with a near-perfect 51/49 weight balance front/rear, the RF was made to handle. The RF also benefits from the hard-top roof, which, when closed, adds more rigidity to the chassis, but unfortunately counters this by adding the 100-pound weight gain high up on the body, raising the center of gravity. It's not vastly noticeable compared to the soft-top, but the RF lacks the fluidity and predictability of the Roadster.

Balance the car right coming into a turn and you'll feel supernaturally talented - it'll carry speed and deliver a little bit of slip on corner exit just like a good sports car should. But the margin for error is slim and the tolerances of the chassis form a narrow window of operation. Come in slightly too heavy on the brakes and the suspension dips too much, the rear becomes too light, and you oversteer on corner entry. Jump on the throttle too early and the nose lifts, pushing the front end wide with understeer. The line is too fine for a sports car supposed to be enjoyed by the layman, and the unpredictability of it means you can never dive headlong into a corner with complete trust in the machine.

Contrary to this lack of trustability, the steering is sublimely weighted. There's also a surprisingly large amount of feedback from the road surface, with dimples delivered to your fingertips. But when pushing on at eight-tenths or more, there's very little communication as to where the front tires are in terms of their limits. The same can be said of the brakes, which feel great under general use but tend to lose their luster when pushing on too much. There is an available Brembo brake package to improve this, though, and with a manual gearbox, the added limited slip differential improves handling slightly.

It's a strange combination of traits endowed upon the Miata RF, and it stands at odds with the original ethos. Yes, it's enjoyable - but only to a point, and the lack of predictability is at odds with the firm suspension that seems to ride a little too harshly over broken surfaces. Old MX-5s had a bit of bounce and were a lot more forgiving; the ND takes itself too seriously, losing the whimsicality of the old cars but without having the raw talent at full blast to back up the seriousness.

2020 MX-5 Miata RF Interior

2020 Mazda MX-5 Miata RF Dashboard Mazda
2020 Mazda MX-5 Miata RF Steering Wheel Mazda
2020 Mazda MX-5 Miata RF Central Console Mazda
See All 2020 Mazda MX-5 Miata RF Interior Photos

Seating and Interior Space

  • Seating capacity
    2-seater
  • Front Leg Room 43.1 in
  • Front Head Room 36.8 in

2020 MX-5 Miata RF Trunk and Cargo Space

2020 Mazda MX-5 Miata RF Top View CarBuzz
2020 Mazda MX-5 Miata RF Open Trunk Lid CarBuzz
2020 Mazda MX-5 Miata RF Trunk Space CarBuzz
  • Trunk Volume
    4.5 ft³

2020 MX-5 Miata RF Safety and Reliability

Warranty

  • Basic:
    3 Years \ 36,000 Miles
  • Drivetrain:
    5 Years \ 60,000 Miles
  • Corrosion:
    5 Years \ Unlimited Miles
  • Roadside Assistance:
    3 Years \ Unlimited Miles

US NHTSA Crash Test Result

NHTSA safety ratings are not available at this time.

Verdict: 🏁Is the 2020 Mazda MX-5 Miata RF a good car?

The MX-5 Miata has grown up; despite being smaller and lighter than it's been in decades. In no model is this more apparent than the RF, which adds the tranquility of a coupe roof and sells nearly half of all units with an automatic gearbox. In its newly-found middle-age, the Miata has lost the whimsicality that made more than a million people love it over the last three decades - it's become more focused and less playful, and yet the seriousness is belied by a lack of consistency when pushing its limits. It's more refined than before, and lack of storage space aside, more practical to live with on a daily basis, but we can't help but feel the RF loses some of the magic of the soft-top Miata Roadster. Don't get us wrong - there are few cars that will have you smiling this much after a stretch of twisting road is left in your rearview mirror, but you'd have more fun in the soft-top, and for the love of the car gods, make sure you don't get the automatic.

Check out other Mazda MX-5 Miata Styles

2020 Mazda MX-5 Miata RF Comparisons

Mazda MX-5 Miata CarBuzz
Toyota GR86 Toyota
CompetitorHorsepowerMPGPrice (MSRP)
Mazda MX-5 Miata RF181 hp26/34 mpg$35,350
Mazda MX-5 Miata 181 hp26/34 mpg$27,650
Toyota GR86 228 hp20/27 mpg$27,700

2020 Mazda MX-5 Miata RF vs Mazda MX-5 Miata

The soft-top may be the default choice, but does that mean it's still better than the RF? It's certainly the more affordable option since the base Sport trim isn't available on the RF. This means that you can get into an MX-5 soft-top for as little as $26,580, whereas the cheapest RF is the manual Club variant at $33,045. In the RF's defense, the roof has no discernible impact on performance and handling, yet offers extra refinement when closed, along with even sportier styling. With the roof up, the RF is more refined, but the Roadster has a little more storage on the rear parcel shelf. With the roof down, the Roadster is vastly more refined, and there's less weight carried high up. While the RF looks spectacular, we'd still recommend the soft-top, not just for better visibility and a little more practicality, but because it stays truest to the Miata formula.

See Mazda MX-5 Miata Review

2020 Mazda MX-5 Miata RF vs Toyota GR86

Like the Miata, the Toyota 86 aims to offer RWD thrills in an affordable package. The 86 also uses a 2.0-liter four-cylinder engine with 205 hp, a solid 24 hp up on the Mazda's output. The MX-5 fights back with a lighter weight, though, so the two end up being similarly matched in a straight line. There's no drop-top 86, so the Mazda adds a bit more glamor to its sporty dynamics, but the Toyota does have a more accommodating 2+2 interior layout and trunk that make it the more versatile choice. If you aren't too tall and you can actually fit into the Mazda, you'll find that its cabin is more elegant than the Toyota's, with a nicer layout and a better infotainment system. Despite its downscale interior and lack of a convertible roof, we'd pick the 86 this time out as a purer RWD sports car, but it's a close call between these two Japanese rivals, and on any other day we might feel differently about it.

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