Mazda MX-5 RF: first drive

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Talking points                       

  • Attractive appearance and lever roof folding.
  • RF retains all of the MX-5’s fun-to-drive nature.
  • Snug (some may say tight-fitting) cabin.
  • Some wind noise is noticeable.
  • No spare wheel, only a puncture repair kit.

Mazda broadens the appeal of its iconic, fourth-generation “ND” model MX-5 with a stylish-looking new fastback version featuring a retractable hardtop roof – hence the name MX-5 RF; with the RF standing for Retractable Fastback. 

The main focus of this new version is the beautifully balanced body lines created by the cleverly engineered and brilliantly packaged hardtop. This power-operated, retractable roof is made up of four sections – three lightweight roof panels and a rear glass window. The aluminium front and steel middle sections, as well as the rear-window glass, stow neatly into a compartment behind the seats, while the third roof panel, a moulded plastic arch, stays in place to retain the car’s fastback silhouette. At the push of a button the roof goes up or down in approximately 13 seconds, and adding to ease of operation, it can now be done on the move, at speeds up to 10 km/h. The RF’s fit and finish, roof up or down, is superb. 

To Mazda’s credit, it has all been achieved without really compromising the comfort space and dynamics that are so appealing about the soft-top Roadster versions. Unlike many convertibles, the folded roof does not intrude into the boot space. The snug two-seater cabin has a cosy but purposeful cockpit layout that fits like a comfortable glove. It is a familiar Mazda presentation with conveniently placed control and clear instrumentation. 

Two equipment grades are offered; the standard RF starts at $38,550 plus on-road costs for the manual version and $43,890 for the higher-spec RF GT manual. An automatic transmission adds another $2000 to each, while a black roof option on GT is an extra $1000 and includes premium nappa leather interior trim. With the release of the RF, Mazda Australia has upgraded safety equipment across the range. Blind-spot monitoring and rear cross traffic alert are now standard features on all variants. The base RF comes relatively well dressed with features including 17-inch alloy wheels, LED headlamps, Bluetooth, MZD Connect and satellite navigation. Stepping up to the RF GT delivers a premium feel with black or tan leather trim, climate control, heated seats and a new adaptive front-lighting system with lights that swivel up to 15 degrees when turning through a corner. Unfortunately there are also a couple of disappointing omissions from the standard features list, such as autonomous braking and a reversing camera.  

For the RF, Mazda has employed the 2.0-litre SkyActiv-G petrol engine only, rather than also providing the 1.5-litre option, as it does in the Roadster model. This 2.0-litre produces a respectable 118kW of power and 200Nm of torque. Transmission choices are a six-speed manual or six-speed automatic.  The rear-wheel-drive RF’s performance is sportingly civilised rather than breathtakingly quick. With the hardtop roof adding slightly less than 50 kilograms to the weight, acceleration times might be fractionally slower against the clock than the equivalent Roadster version, but it is not really noticeable in everyday driving. Likewise, there is a small increase in the ADR fuel consumption. In six-speed manual form, which is expected to account for 70 per cent of sales, it goes from 6.9L/100km for the soft top to 7.0L/100km in the hardtop. For the automatic models it’s 7.1L/100km to 7.4L/100km, which still shouldn’t put too much strain on the budget.   

To maintain the ride comfort, precise handling, sharp steering and great roadholding that make the Roadster an enjoyably civilised, fun-to-drive little sports car, Mazda has tweaked the suspension to suit the RF’s different body rigidity and weight. Despite work done to make the cabin quieter, the normal operating noise tends to be a touch higher than the average family sedan; but for most people this is all part of the sports car experience. Even with the hardtop up, however, there was more wind noise than we might have expected.    

Hardtop models offer the best of both worlds – the more substantial feel and extra security of a solid roof or the exhilaration of open-air driving – so it is not surprising that in past MX-5s they have proven more popular than the soft tops. Mazda expects the new hardtop versions to account for approximately 60 per cent of MX-5 sales.



$38,550 plus ORC. Model range $38,550 to $46,890. Premium paint $300. Built in Japan.


Five-star ANCAP, four airbags, rear parking sensors, hill-start assist, blind-spot monitoring, rear cross traffic alert


Capacity: 2.0 litre
Power: 118 kW @ 6000rpm
Torque: 200 Nm @ 4600rpm
Transmission: 6-speed manual/6-speed automatic
Fuel consumption (ADR figure): (manual) 7.0L/100km; (auto) 7.4L/100km
Fuel type: 95 RON premium-grade petrol
Tank capacity: 45 litres


7-inch touchscreen with Mazda’s MZD Connect, satellite navigation, cruise control, tyre pressure monitoring, LED headlights and daytime running lights.




Written by Greg Hill
February 19, 2019