Miata hair, don’t care.
The Mazda Miata RF is the best of both worlds: Convertible and hard top roadster. It’s a two-seater that is super fun to drive and a favorite of practically every car critic and enthusiast. And while it’s on the cutting edge of technology, it harkens to a simpler, quieter time when driving was a thrill, even when simply heading to the grocery store for milk.
The Miata is rooted in this philosophy and has maintained its reputation throughout its 30 year history. So tinkering with what it does so well is a risk, but Mazda’s designers and engineers have mastered it.
Just when we can’t believe we could love this car any more, the Miata is tweaked, and we do. That’s the magic of the RF edition, which may be my favorite Miata.
What We Loved
- The hard top convertible
- Easy one-touch retractable top
- A fixed rear window keeps down wind and noise
- The top doesn’t impede on trunk space
- Super, super fun to drive
- Available in a stick shift (or automatic)
- Room for two. And that’s it. So you can be selective about who you spend time with
- Heated seats, a feature that every convertible needs
- The tan leather seats in our test model. No convertible should have black seats, ever, for any reason
- Mazda’s command control infotainment system
- Bose sound system that sounds great top up or down— and has speakers built into the headrests!
- A smart key lock/unlock system; with the key in your handbag or pocket, just touch the button on the door handle to lock or unlock the car
What’s In a Name?
For such a small car, the Mazda MX-5 Miata RF has a huge name. So let’s break it down: You all know the Mazda Miata, the sporty two-seat convertible that makes a child-free Starbucks run or a drive to the beach with your sweetie something of a dream sequence.
But the car’s name technically is the MX-5, which is what it’s called in everywhere except North America. Here we like to put names on our cars, so Mazda dubbed it the Miata for this market (which is what I call it, because that is what it is). And in adding a hard top convertible edition Mazda’s engineers revised the shape with retractable top and a stationary rear window, giving the car a swooping fastback shape, or RF for retractable fastback.
Meet the RF: The Best of Both Worlds in a Convertible Hardtop
The RF was introduced a few years ago and continues to be a popular choice among Miata buyers. It’s all that Miata is— 189 horsepower, which is plenty of power for a car this size— stick shift (there’s an automatic option, too), a tight, sporty drive feel, a throaty engine growl and enough conveniences to make this car comfortable and convenient for everyday driving.
And, then, it’s a hard top. It is quieter on the highway, warmer in winter and lacks the threat of leaking in the rain (yes, I know modern soft top convertibles are not supposed to leak but my own personal experience leads me to believe that it’ll happen eventually.)
The RF is easy to retract and replace with the simple push of a button. And, the top has its own storage space behind the seats so it doesn’t take up precious trunk space, something that many hardtop convertibles (sone sometimes soft tops) can do.
Is a Hard Top Really as Good as a Soft Top Convertible?
Yes. See, here’s the thing: convertibles are fun but not practical for about 90% of driving. You have to put the top down and that takes a minute (30 seconds, really). You have to put the top up, and that takes a minute. Your hair gets messed up. You probably want to wear a hat, which ruins your ‘do. The weather needs to be good… not too cold, not to hot, and certainly not wet. That immediately eliminates many days on the calendar unless you live in California.
And you need a lot of the road to yourself or you’ll be breathing in who knows what that’s spewing from tailpipes or worse, that people are blowing out their windows. Being in an open-cabin car on the highway or in crawling traffic can be unpleasant. The sanctuary of a car cabin saves you from that.
And then there’s the music. You want to sing along to the Frozen sound track but not to all your neighbors on the road? Put the top up and the concert hall is all yours.
What’s This Car Like to Drive?
OMG. So fun.
Exhilarating. It sticks to the road’s curves. It’s close to the pavement. In the stick shift model, which is what I test drove, you’re part of the machine and you’re in charge (which is why manuals are so much fun). In automatic, which has paddle shifters, it’s fun too (but I’m biased; I think the manual option is more fun).
With the top down the RF edition isn’t overwhelmingly loud or windy; the back window keeps the wind from whipping past you it and makes things a bit more civil, yet open, airy and sun-soaking. It was easy enough to have a conversation and listen to music.
And, you can have your choice of automatic or manual transmission. I prefer a manual transmission, but that’s me. I like the way a manual makes you feel closer to the road, sparks your ‘machine thinking’ and is a bit demanding of you physically as a driver. You have muscle in the game.
What This Car Costs
The top of the line Mazda Miata RF edition we drove had a 4-cylinder 181 horsepower engine and was priced at just under $36,000 including delivery but not taxes, tags and title. For buyers who want the traditional cloth top, pricing starts at about $27,000 and tops out at about $33,000. The RF model is available in Club or Grand Touring editions, outfitted similar to the same versions in the soft top Miata. This is how the pricing for the RF breaks down:
- RF Club, which includes sport tuned suspension, leather wrapped steering wheel, shifter and parking brake, LED headlights and running lights, smart keyless entry, 7” touchscreen with command control infotainment system, voice commands, cloth seats, 2 USB ports, blind spot monitors, rear cross traffic alert and lane departure warning, Apple CarPlay or Android Auto, and 17” wheels, $33,990
- RF Grand Touring adds rain sensing wipers, leather seats, leather trimmed seats, navigation, SiriusXM Traffic and Travel (real time traffic, weather, sports scores and fuel prices), heated seats and a Bose premium sound system, $35,370
- Automatic transmission with paddle shifters, add $600
- Soul Red paint, add $595
- You can also add a rear spoiler, front air dam, side sill extensions for $1,550 or shiny metal pedals and door sill trim plates for $425.
The price of the model we tested with $945 delivery charge, $35,965.
What You Need to Know
- EPA fuel economy estimate for the Miata is 29 MPG city/34MPG on the highway
- Seating for two and very limited places to put a handbag or other small item
- Seats are manually adjustable, even in the top of the line model
- The trunk is small; a week’s worth of groceries filled the trunk and the passenger’s seat
- There is a small, lockable box between the seats where you can keep a few small things, but not much
- There are two cup holders that attach to the center console near your elbow
- This car is low to the ground and drivers have a low center of gravity. While fun for driving, getting in and out gracefully takes practice
Oh, Miata. Just the thought of it makes me smile. I’m forever 17 behind the wheel, but grown up enough to appreciate leather seats and a push button convertible top. The red color sparks my interest but the deep reflective nature of Soul Red grabs my heart. Behind the wheel I’m one with the machine taking on the road ahead. The wind whips my hair and whistles in my ears. The sun warms my shoulders and reminds me how glorious the day is. That’s how driving should be.
What We Listened to in the Mazda MX-5 Miata RF
Disclosure: Mazda provided the Miata RF for this review. All opinions are my own.