Like the great Peter Egan once said, "The rag top convertible is a car of occasion." That's what the soft top Miata has always been to me, a car to drive under special circumstances. Now I know dozens of people who daily drive their Miata, all year-round, even in winter conditions. Yes, they survive, but it's like living in a tent. As much as I like camping, I need a roof over my head to call a place home. So when Mazda revealed the power retractable metal Targa top Miata RF, I quickly checked my credit score and prepared to storm my local Mazda dealer. However, I have other more important expenses and I realized I might not even like the more civilized Miata. This week I had an opportunity to test the new Miata RF and see how a folding metal roof affects Mazda's gift to the motoring world.
The Miata RF sacrifices some of the car's Miataness in the quest for comfort. A soft top Miata is a fun toy but it has its drawbacks. Namely, its loud cabin which is a nuisance on long highway drives. The RF, however, is a far better car than its ragtop brethren, but is it worth it? Should a Miata be civilized?
Well, luckily you can decide with your hard earned dollars. The Miata RF starts at $31,550 or an extra $2,955 over a soft top Miata in the "club" trim. This extra money gets you a superb folding metal roof and a slightly tweaked suspension, but that's basically it. All other options follow traditional Miata trim levels.
The folding metal roof transforms the Miata. It's still the same basic car but there's something special about this metal roof. When it's up the car is reasonably quiet and the heating and A/C can easily manage the interior temperature. More importantly, the metal roof finally makes the Miata a livable highway cruiser. During my last test with a ragtop Miata, I loved the car, but I saw it as a perfect second car. I could never live with a car that loud on a daily basis for my long highway commute. The RF's metal roof remedies this problem without sacrificing the car's soul.
The Miata RF could easily be your only car. As someone who lives in the northeastern United States, living with a soft top Miata seems too difficult. However, the RF makes the best case yet for year-round Miata ownership. If you purchase the correct tires and don't expect to carry many people or things, the Miata RF could easily be your only car. It still suffers from the soft top Miata's lack of storage But storage space is a worthy sacrifice for a driving experience this good.
This isn't a Miata that needs to sit out on long commutes or cold winter days, it can handle anything. On the first day with the Miata, I spent the entire afternoon attacking back roads with the top down. This is the type of driving that makes a Miata worth it, open air and immersion into the countryside. The next day Pennsylvania was drenched in 2 inches of April rain and the RF handled it like a normal car. My commute that rainy morning was livable and I arrived at work with my hearing intact. That afternoon the sun came out and I escaped my office on a beautiful sunny day.
The last generation NC Miata had a folding metal roof but it looked like a bar of soap with a bubble in the middle. The RF, however, is gorgeous, sharing design cues with the 488 Spyder and 911 Targa. With the roof up it's a handsome coupe but when the roof is down, the RF is pure class. For a car as common as Miata, the RF is a real head turner. I was surprised to see so many people checking out the little red vehicle. The Targa top is actually a compromise due to space issues, but I think it works in the car's favor. It doesn't take up any extra trunk space and fits in the same location as the ragtop.
The Metal roof takes 13 seconds to fold down which might be longer than the manual ragtop, but the engineering ballet of metal origami captivates onlookers. When the top is folding you can see the exposed gears and pulleys needed to move the metal roof. It's easily one of the most exposed mechanical elements of a stock car I've ever seen clearly in the quest for weight savings.
It doesn't matter what roof the Miata has, you're going to want to drive one with the top down. The whole point of the Miata is to drive in the open air. Although the metal roof is more practical its still not as fun as driving without a roof impeding your views. Luckily the RF can accommodate your vitamin D addiction and provides the same roof free driving experience we've come to expect from the Miata. I used to believe that Mazda needed to build a Miata coupe, but after experiencing the RF I've changed my mind.
Although this metal top adds a little over 100lbs to the Miata you'd be hard-pressed to find its impact on the driving experience. I didn't have the opportunity to drive the RF and soft top back to back but I can tell you I didn't feel a significant difference from the last soft top ND I drove. Mazda revised the suspension to make the RF drive like the roadster by increasing the gas pressure in the shocks to compensate for the added weight. Driving the Miata RF is classic Miata bliss. It's still one of the most fun cars you can buy to tear down some back roads. The precise steering and buttoned-down chassis make the RF a joy to drive. Although the RF is more civilized it still encourages you to take a long way home or just go out for a drive.
Buying a Miata is a selfish purchase. You don't buy it to impress anyone. You don't buy it to carry around your friends and family. You buy a Miata because you want to have fun and the RF delivers on that front. The Maita RF makes your selfish act of Miata ownership possible year round. The Miata is the ultimate gift to yourself, it allows you to drive alone enjoying the world around you. There's no one who's impressed by a Miata, nobody wants to see you do a burnout or slide into a crowd at Cars and Coffee. Instead, you slip by in your personal driving capsule isolated from the world and included at the same time. The Miata RF allows you to drive a Miata more often and because of that, it's a fantastic automobile.