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Dublin: 14 °C Tuesday 7 April, 2020
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Mazda's new MX-5 has a very slick folding roof - so we put it to the test

We’ve tested the new MX-5 RF ahead of its Irish launch.

THIS IS THE new Mazda MX-5 RF.

The RF stands for ‘retractable fastback’: its electronic folding metal roof and coupe silhouette. But this isn’t just an MX-5 with a hard-top, it’s a more mature and sophisticated variant of the world’s best-selling roadster.

The three-piece electrically retractable roof works by simply holding a button down on the centre console. The rear roof with its buttresses rises and moves back to make room for the front and centre sections of the roof to retract into the rear deck.

This mechanical dance takes 13 seconds and can be operated at speeds up to 10km/h. The RF’s distinctive gently sloping flying rear buttresses remain even when the roof has been lowered.

Source: Mazda Media

Just like the roadster, the cabin is quite compact, but it is very driver-centric and functional. The dials are big and stylish and the seven-inch Tsunakuru Display is perfectly placed and easy to read.

New on the RF model is a 4.6-inch colour TFT display that can display various driving data such as engine temperature and fuel level. There’s also a neat visual of the roof opening and closing so you can check on its operation without having to turn around.

The seats are supportive and cosseting and come in black with red stitching as standard.

Storage is very limited inside the cabin – no door bins or glovebox – but there is a cubby hole behind the two seats and space for your keys in the armrest.

Source: Mazda Media

At 127 litres, the boot is only three litres smaller than its equivalent in the soft top. (The roof stows away into its own section so boot space is not affected.) Overall the total length, width, and wheelbase of the RF are also the same.

What is different to the soft-top model is the open-top driving experience. Even with the roof open, the MX-5 RF doesn’t quite give you the carefree, wind-in-your-hair, movie-style convertible driving experience of the soft-top MX-5.

What you get is quite an irritating drive due to how the wind catches and whips up around those buttresses. Once the car starts picking up speed the noise just builds and builds until you are forced to slow down or put the roof back up just to get some peace and quiet. At lower speeds, it is as enjoyable as ever to have the roof down. But the MX-5 RF comes alive at speed and when pushed hard.

Source: Mazda Media

The addition of the roof makes the RF 45.5kg heavier than the soft top and raises the centre of gravity of the car. It does help to stiffen up the bodyshell, which makes it more composed with less pronounced body roll than the soft-top model.

The steering feels well weighted and, as ever, it’s engaging and fun to drive. It inspires confidence, which in turn puts a bigger smile on your face.

There are other benefits to the hardtop, too. The cabin is quieter and more refined than the Roadster and there is an added sense of security and protection from the elements. It is a more sophisticated product but just not with the roof down.

This test car was powered by the same 131hp 1.5-litre engine that’s already available in the MX-5 Roadster and it was mated to a great six-speed manual gearbox which has precise, short, sporty gear changes. Whilst 131hp might not sound like a lot of power there isn’t much weight to push around as the MX-5 RF just weighs 1,050kg.

Source: Mazda Media

In Ireland, the car will be offered in standard and GT grade. Standard features across the range include alloy wheels, LED headlights, MZD Connect, cruise control plus automatic air conditioning.

Mazda MX-5 RF GT models get 16-inch gunmetal alloy wheels and piano black wing mirrors, rain sensing wipers, rear parking sensors, smart keyless entry, nine-speaker Premium Bose Surround-Sound and some of the hottest heated leather seats that I have ever sat in.

The entry-level model is priced from €31,495 and costs €390 a year to tax.

There is a more powerful 160hp 2.0-litre SKYACTIV-G engine, which has sweeter sound and gives a better drive. This would be my pick of the two. Not only is it more powerful but it also comes with 17-inch wheels, a limited slip differential as well as Bilstein dampers and strut brace to further enhance the dynamic set up. This engine is only available in GT grade and is priced from €36,695 with an annual motor tax cost of €570.

Source: Mazda Media

Is this the right car for you?

If you love the idea of the fun soft-top Roadster but want something a bit more mature and secure – which you won’t necessarily be driving fast with the roof down – then take the MX-5 RF for a test drive. But if you want a car to enjoy with the roof down at every opportunity then you are better off sticking with the soft-top, which is priced from €27,995.

If your pockets are a bit deeper and you are after something a bit more luxurious then check out the BMW Z4 Roadster, priced from €48,400.

The MX-5 RF is on sale in Ireland from next month.

READ: Car review – the new Mazda MX-5 is a glorious convertible >

READ: Car review – we test Audi’s premium A3 hatchback on Irish roads >

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About the author:

Melanie May  / https://www.melaniemay.com

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