The Mazda Miata has always been a party on four wheels. Its two-seat, front-engine, rear-drive layout and light weight conspire to generate sensational handling. Its low price makes it accessible, particularly in the aftermarket. Its modest dimensions have barely budged in a quarter century — other cars are plagued by constantly growing dimensions, not it. And its drop-top takes advantage of that low overall mass by making you feel somehow even airier and lighter than other convertibles.
But perhaps its greatest trick has been retaining its populist (the good kind) street-cred. Other convertible sports cars tend come freighted with snooty aspirations or aggressively billboarded lifestyle statements (“CHECK OUT MY CAMARO CONVERTIBLE, YOU LAME BASTARDS!”). But the Miata occupies a rare spot of honest, guileless fun. You harbor no grudges toward the man motoring in a Miata.
2017 Mazda Miata RF
Engine: 2.0-liter inline-four
Transmission: 6-speed manual; 6-speed automatic
Horsepower: 155 horsepower
Torque: 148 lb-ft
0-60 mph: 5.8 seconds
MPG: 26/35, city/highway
MSRP: $31,555 (base)
Even so, Mazda decided to inject a bit of edge into its design with the new RF variant, short for “retractable fastback.” The hardtop convertible — a $2,555 premium — features a brisk motorized retraction mechanism that will inhale the roof in about 13 seconds and tuck it underneath a rear deck, all without compromising the already compromised luggage space. (The hardtop’s motors have been re-engineered from the previous versions to be more compact, and to also automatically operate the roof latch prior to retraction.) What the process leaves behind is a targa-like buttress behind the occupants that affords a hint of privacy while subtracting a commensurate hint of open-airiness.
No matter. I happen to prefer both the more aggressive, if not menacing, look of a targa and the feeling it generates. You might have to look a bit more concertedly when changing lanes in the thing, but you look better doing it. It has a more robust and fully cooked aura to it. This is the Miata‘s evil twin.
On the road, beyond the introduction of the welcome new blind spot, there’s little evidence that Mazda has had to compensate much for the new top. The 2,445-pound car is 112 pounds heavier than the soft-top, thanks to the beefier roof and the retraction mechanism, but the suspension has been tuned to help compensate for the extra weight. Driving around the surprisingly green hills outside San Diego, the car felt every bit as bright and fun as its softer sibling, and as always, the 5.8-second 0–60 time feels much more energetic in a car this size. It feels like a 4.8-second Porsche. (It never stops amazing me what you can do with a modest 155 horsepower when it’s applied in all the right ways.) The steering has also been tweaked in this model to be a hair heavier, in order to match the personality of the car, Mazda says.
It’s a suite of suitable refinements, especially given your new evil-twin lifestyle (a lifestyle, by the way, that’s worth billboard-ing as aggressively as that lame Camaro-riding bastard above).