Does the extra weight (and price) of a metal top kill the appeal of the world’s favourite affordable roadster? We’ll be finding out over the next few months
Hold down a switch on the MX-5 RF’s dashboard and 15 seconds later the three-part metal roof will be tucked away in its compartment.
It takes a lot less time to fold away the standard MX-5’s soft-top using that five-fingered appliance on the end of your arm, but the idea of the tin top is to add refinement – and also to create a new identity for the most successful sports car of all time.
The old MX-5 could be had with a hard-top, but the rear pillars that remain on the RF (Retractable Fastback) when the top is down give it an entirely different look, and indeed feel from the driver’s seat. It feels more like you’re inside a car, rather than on it, which can often be the way with drop-tops.
That goes double when the roof is up. The MX-5 feels like an open-top sports car with a roof for bad weather, whereas the MX-5 RF feels like a closed car that you can open up to the skies. That, plus the extra sensation of security conferred by the metal, should give the RF better credentials for everyday life.
Just two glitches really. One is the 40kg increase in weight, and the other is the £2,000 premium Mazda charges for the RF.
Extra weight can compromise many car dynamics, principally the ride, handling and balance that are such a core part of the soft-top MX-5 proposition, but Mazda has got a jump on this by altering the RF’s anti-roll bar and damper settings to maintain the correct MX-5 attitude. There’s no obvious reduction in fun.
There is a reduction in accessibility though. It’s very easy to headbutt the rearview mirror in the course of folding yourself into the RF’s cabin. And wind sealing is far from optimal. Making motorway phone calls on the hands-free Bluetooth infotainment system is often a forlorn hope because of the wind roar. Ironically, buffeting is commendably low when the top is down, but the price in this case is a droning noise.
Our RF has the 129bhp 1.5-litre engine rather than the more powerful 2.0 but, in combination with the superbly satisfying six-speed manual gearbox, there’s never any sensation of being short-changed on performance. Indeed, some might say it’s a purer MX-5 experience with the 1.5-litre engine.
Sport Nav trim includes heated seats, alloy wheels, automatic lights, lane departure warning and a Bose audio system. With the boxes for Soul Red metallic paint and nappa leather seats ticked, the on-the-road price of our car has ended up at £25,965. Let’s see if it can justify that sort of outlay over the next few months.