Mazda MX-5 Retractable Fastback Review
Can the new MX-5 RF deliver thrills all-year round?
Mazda has created a hardtop variant of the latest Mk4 MX-5 called the Retractable Fastback (RF). The RF is much the same car underneath but with the addition of a folding hardtop roof. The roof mechanism folds into two parts before tucking behind the occupants head, stowed under two neatly formed buttresses. These buttresses help create a coupe-like form for the car, which, in turn, broadens the appeal of the RF to a larger amount of buyers. The metal roof can't be slashed like the convertible car but it does increase the overall weight by 40kg taking the total weight for a 1.5 litre MX-5 to 1090kg.
The new RF feels much like the regular convertible MX-5 but with a touch more point-and-go about it. This is due to the stiffer suspension that's been fitted to compensate for the added weight of the new roof. Just from driving down British B-roads it does seem to have worked in favour of the RF. The suspension allows you to exert the chassis while still feeling what's going on beneath you and you can still adjust your line mid-corner.
Over undulated ground, the RF turns in sharp and communicates where it is going but still suffers from body roll that is so familiar to the MX-5. The back tyres let you know when they’ve had enough and you can either let it slide or retake the control with as much ease as its perfect short-shifted gear change. When the MX-5 does bite, which isn’t very often and mostly caused by the driver, it communicates its slide into a skid before the traction control kicks in and you're left smiling with a black mark on the road.
Around town, any modern MX-5 will show off its small and charming proportions but it's the ergonomic cabin that sets the MK4 apart. Things like the steering wheel that turns with ease, the clutch that is super light and you'll be pleased to know that the gear change is still as good as ever. Around town this car is simple to use, it's never a chore and now it comes with added style and the option to close the metal roof.
Even though the metal roof helps eliminate a lot of the closed-top wind noise you get in the convertible car (e.g. driving on motorways) by the way of added sound deadening, it does suffer from a profound amount of wind noise with the retractable roof open. With the roof down the wind noise becomes noticeable at around 40mph where the wind hits the RF’s party-piece roof and sends the noise right into your ear.
There is, however, a solution; by lowering the driver's window it reduces the amount of wind hitting the material behind your head creating the unbearable noise. Now, most of the noise entering your ear is just the wind you’d get in any convertible.
However, on longer stints like motorways, the RF's insulated metal roof makes a real difference to the noise level and adds some refinement you just can't get in the fabric-top convertible. Adding the insulating and sound deadening material has helped the MX-5 RF manage longer journeys with ease, the Bose sound system and features like lane-assist help complete the whole premium feel while still keeping the weight down for when you get to the nitty-gritty back roads.
Inside the Mazda MX-5 RF, everything is located as per the convertible with the addition of the electronic roof switch. The interior is good quality with a lot of leather and not much shoddy plastic at all. The seats are comfortable but don't have quite enough support at the back and sides but the rest of the car is up to scratch. The pedals are well situated if the footwell isn't too cramped and the gearstick lies at an arms-reach from the driver. Mazda has invented a special cupholder item which slots into a hole between the two seats - making it hard to grab your drink but at least it's not in the way of the gearstick!
The 1.5 litre MX-5 Retractable Fastback starts at £22,295 OTR and rises to £24,895 for the Sport Nav model which adds 16" Gunmetal grey alloy wheels and an adaptive front light system for a better stance. On the inside, the upgrade will get you leather seats with a premium Bose sound system incorporating headrests in the speakers and also two-stage heated seats.
Or, for the ultimate MX-5, you can buy the launch addition which includes 17" BBS wheels, a black rear spoiler and alcantera interior (amongst other additions) for a touch over £29,000.
Engine 1496cc/1998cc both Naturally Aspirated
Torque 110lb ft/148lb ft
Base Price £22,295/£23,395