‘What’s the best car out there?”
It’s a question I’ve been asked countless times in the 17 years I’ve been reviewing new vehicles. And to date, I don’t think I’ve ever provided a concise response.
For that, there are a few reasons. First, there are very few genuinely bad vehicles on the market. Some achieve their respective goals better than others, of course, which brings me to my second point.
“Depends what you want,” I reply. Sure, it’s not helpful to anyone looking for a quick answer, but it’s true nonetheless.
But if someone genuinely needs help deciding what to buy, and they give me enough information to help them narrow it down, there is one adjective that must apply to any model I recommend.
Whatever you drive, it should be memorable. Believe it or not, that trait can apply to sedans, crossovers, hybrids, you name it.
And when a car shows up for a test drive and leaves as strong an impression on me as has this new Mazda MX-5 RF, well, it’s one that will make it onto my “best” list as often as possible. It’s only too bad that its name isn’t memorable: many people return a blank stare when I tell them it’s an MX-5, but nod approvingly when I say “Miata.”
For starters, the new RF — or “retractable fastback,” as the awkward naming practice continues — doesn’t look like anything else on the road, not even the MX-5 soft top. While that last statement may be a stretch (from the front the two cars are identical), this new bodywork gives the MX-5 a strikingly exotic profile.
But seriously, would it be so difficult to call it a Miata coupe or Miata hard-top?
I digress. The bottom line is this: after months of driving too many crossovers, hybrids and trucks, the MX-5 is the perfect antidote, a palate cleanser that resets my expectations and reminds me why I’ve loved driving all this time.
What makes this the RF is a trick new top mechanism that takes just 12 seconds to transform this shapely coupe into an equally attractive targa-style roadster. And as if the car’s shape alone weren’t enough to draw a crowd, the roof’s graceful disappearing act surely will.
Beyond that, the MX-5 RF is still a wonderfully pure expression of what a modern sports car should be. It shares its powertrain with the standard MX-5: a 2.0-litre naturally aspirated four-banger driving the rear wheels through a six-speed manual gearbox. A six-speed automatic is a no-cost option on all models, but please: don’t even consider it for this car.
With this powertrain, the MX-5 won’t be setting any speed records, but rest assured that its 155 horsepower and 148 foot-pounds of torque is perfectly suited to hustling this 1,114-kilogram roadster around with surprising ease. Besides, speed has never been a focus of the MX-5’s performance proposition.
Rather, it’s all about responsiveness. Balance. The immediacy of its actions. A short-throw shifter that requires nothing more than a flick of the wrist to operate. Throttle response, brake feel and overall pedal placement that found me shifting up and down through the gears even more than I needed to, just because.
Accessible performance is what defines the MX-5. There’s simply no better way to have fun at legal speeds than booting around in this car. OK, I’m done drooling all over its Soul Red Metallic paint.
The base price of the RF GS is $38,800, which exceeds that of a similarly equipped soft top by $3,000. Major standard equipment includes 17-inch alloy wheels, Bilstein shocks, a limited-slip differential, LED lighting, a seven-inch touch screen display, navigation, push-button start, rain-sensing wipers, blind-spot monitoring and rear cross-traffic alert.
Our tester was a GS with the $4,400 Sport package, which adds BBS wheels, Brembo front brakes and heated Recaro sport seats.
The $42,200 GT adds leather seats, premium audio with nine speakers, adaptive front lighting, automatic climate control and a host of other goodies.
It’s clear the MX-5 was a hoot to drive around town during the time I had it. But what about out on the open road?
Let me preface this by first pointing out there are plenty of people who would happily drive across our fine country in a 1975 MGB. I am not one of those people. For a car to qualify as a good long-distance driver, I demand good seats, a proper sense of straight ahead, good control of road and wind noise — and a decent sound system.
The MX-5 certainly has the seats: one doesn’t get into this car so much as put it on. The Recaros were a perfect fit for me with minimal adjustments. And it certainly has that sense of straight ahead. By every dynamic measure, this car can do it.
But I tried to enjoy top-down motoring at highway speeds while also enjoying my favourite road trip music, and the MX-5 didn’t quite cut it. Perhaps the enhanced sound system found in the GT might have solved this issue, but the car is just too noisy—top up or down—on the highway to make it an enjoyable ride. I was impressed, though, by how well hands-free phone conversations went under these conditions.
The name may be forgettable, but the drive is anything but.