by Gerhard Horn
Say you love the Mazda Miata but can't quite get to grips with a soft-top convertible? Well, that's why the 2022 Mazda MX-5 Miata RF exists. We at CarBuzz, like most of the motoring fraternity, have strong feelings about the Mazda MX-5 Miata; two of us drive a Miata as a daily car and several staffers have owned these cars in the past. Six years into the fourth generation, and the Miata RF - or Retractable Fastback - is the closest thing you can get to a Miata coupe with which to rival the Toyota GR86 and Subaru BRZ.
Following the basic concept on which the Miata ethos was founded - a small two-seater roadster with an engine up front, a manual gearbox in the middle, and drive to the rear, the RF adds some extra style and convenience to the occasion, courtesy of a power-retractable hardtop roof that opens to reveal Targa-style buttresses on the rear haunches. For these enhancements, you pay in losing some practicality as far as storage and headroom go. But the basics remain the same, and the 181 horsepower from a 2.0-liter naturally aspirated engine pairs beautifully with the six-speed manual gearbox, although an automatic is also available. The question is, is a hardtop Miata really a Miata? Or does the experience compromise the core ethos of wind-in-your-hair motoring?
For 2022, all Miata RFs now come standard with Kinematic Posture Control. This system will brake the inside rear wheel when cornering vigorously to pin down the inner rear corner and maximize grip, enhancing the effects of the limited-slip differential on Club derivatives and mimicking its effect on the Grand Touring.
Mazda also made some trim changes. The Club is now the top-tier model, available in manual and on order only. Club models now come standard with the previously-optional Brembo BBS Recaro Package, making it more expensive than the Grand Touring. A new paint color called Platinum Quartz Metallic has been added, while the Club gets wireless Apple CarPlay for the new year.
Despite technically being a lower trim level, the price of the Mazda Miata RF in Club form is $38,550 - but at the time of writing, was already sold out for the 2022 model year - while the 'top-spec' Grand Touring retails for $35,350. These prices exclude the $1,015 destination charge.
For the record, you didn't read that wrong. The entry-level model is more expensive than the Grand Touring because Mazda chose to include the Brembo/BBS Recaro Package as standard on all Club models. That pushed the starting price up significantly, but it was a smart move. The 2022 Club is already sold out, and Mazda only takes Grand Touring orders.
See trim levels and configurations:
Mazda did a fantastic job with the weight distribution of the current-generation Miata RF. All major components are contained within the wheelbase, resulting in near-perfect weight distribution. The RF adds 110 lbs to the car's highest point, which slightly increases the center of gravity. It doesn't spoil the handling, however.
The Miata RF is not the kind of car you can get in and drive to the limit immediately. Or you can, at least with the traction and stability control switched on. With the nannies deactivated, however, you have to spend some time finding the limit. The suspension is firm but not as bone-crushing as some modern performance cars. It leans a bit and Mazda engineered in miles of wheel travel to let the suspension do its job properly, but we prefer that. That little bit of lean is yet another hint that you're getting close to the limit.
Once you know where that limit is, you can have some serious fun in this car. And because it's (relatively) slow, all of the fun stuff happens at a manageable pace. If you spin off the road in a Miata, it likely won't kill you unless you're driving up Pikes Peak or some other mountain road. That said, the ND generation car isn't a ten-tenths car. It's happier at eight-tenths on a twisting road where you can flow rather than hustle.
The steering provides feedback, but the brakes tend to fade quickly on a track day. That's likely why Mazda decided to include the BBS/Brembo package as standard on the popular Club model. Problem sorted.
Spending time with the Miata RF is also a reminder of how silly modern supercars are. Cars like the McLaren 720S and Ferrari F8 Tributo are glorious, but you can't exploit everything they have to offer on a public road. The speeds at which these cars start feeling fun are bonkers.
A McLaren 720S driving at 30 mph around a tight corner is about as exhilarating as a Camry on the school run. You can go around that corner sideways in the Miata RF, grinning from ear to ear.
We're not going to pretend the Miata isn't capable of breaking the law. But if the police catch you going full-tilt in a Miata RF, you'll likely get a hefty fine. If the cops catch you going full-tilt in the Big Mac, you'll spend some time in a cell with an obese burglar called Maurice.
NHTSA safety ratings are not available at this time.
There's nothing else quite like the Miata RF. The GR 86 and BRZ are apparent rivals, but neither gives you the option of dropping the top. Therefore, the Miata RF sits in its little segment of one.
There are other sporty cars out there for the same money. You can certainly buy something faster in a straight line and something that will set a blistering track time. But nothing else in this price bracket will give you the distilled essence of motoring. The Miata RF is reliable and cheap to run, making it the perfect weekend toy. That being said, Mazda made sure it's comfortable enough to use daily.
The question is whether the RF is worth the extra cost over the standard MX-5 Miata RF? It's less practical, but sound insulation is better. In colder states, the RF is the obvious answer.
To us, the original remains the best. We like a drop-top that goes all the way down, but that's just personal preference.
It doesn't matter what Miata you get, as long as you get it with a manual.
The Club trim with the Brembo/BBS Recaro Package used to be the default answer to this question, but that option is no longer available unless you can persuade somebody else to part with their car. The 2022 allocation is sold out, and only Grand Touring models are left.
There's nothing wrong with the Grand Touring, however. We'd take it as is, no optional accessories included. If you are going to track the car, it may be worth investigating more powerful brake options. Get the manual, not just because it's better than the auto, but because it comes with a limited-slip diff if you do and Bilstein sports suspension.
Mazda built the Miata RF because it realized there was a gap in the market for an affordable drop-top sports car for the English market. The English love drop-top motoring despite the weather, but all of the cars available, until the Miata came along, were horrible and unreliable. It was an immediate success, and it became the top-selling drop-top ever.
The RF refines the experience with added style and hard-top refinement, but we have to wonder whether that matters. If refinement is high on your list of needs, several other cars out there do a better job. The solid roof and the fixed wind blocker aft of the seats reduce cargo volume as there's no longer a parcel shelf for you, and we found taller drivers to have a little less headroom in the RF than the Roadster. The weight balance is also slightly different in the RF with its slight extra amount of weight positioned higher.
To us, the best Miata is the cheapest Miata. As long as you have the essential mechanical bits and a thin layer of comfort, it's perfect. The entry-level Sport with soft-top is more than $10,000 cheaper than the RF in Club trim. We'd save that cash, buy the Roadster Sport and upgrade the brakes.
The RF wades into this battle with one hand tied behind its back. If you want an RF, there's a good chance you're willing to go the whole nine yards and get a coupe instead.
The new GR86 is better in every way. The previous-generation model felt a bit asthmatic, but the new 2.4-liter naturally aspirated engine produced 228 hp and 184 lb-ft of torque. That's a vast improvement over the old model and much better than the Miata RF's 181 hp and 151 lb-ft. The manual gearbox in the GR86 is equally satisfying, and Toyota even offers a short-throw kit straight from the factory.
Then there's the larger trunk and usable storage in the rear seats and the fact that taller occupants fit better in the Toyota.
Mazda will need a new Miata to catch up to the GR86.