2017 Mazda MX-5 Miata RF


Shahed Hussain

The fourth generation of the MX-5 Miata is the sole sports car in Mazda's lineup of sedans and SUVs. Introduced in 1989, the Miata remains an affordable sports car, with a base price just under $25K. Despite its continued status as a niche vehicle, Mazda has regularly invested in updates to the MX-5.

The current MX-5 is available in two body variants: Soft Top convertible and RF (retractable fastback) with an articulated hard top that stows into the trunk. Soft Top trim levels consist of Sport ($24,915), Club ($28,800), and Grand Touring ($30,065). Opting for the MX-5 RF shifts the MSRP up to $31,555 (Club) and $32,620 (Grand Touring). We tested an MX-5 Miata Club RF with upgraded Brembo front brakes ($3,400). A no charge Appearance Package adds a front air dam, rear lip spoiler, rear bumper skirt, and side sill extensions. Including the delivery fee ($835), the MSRP totaled to $35,790.

Mazda fitted its all-aluminum 2.0L Skyactiv-G in the engine bay. With dual-overhead cams and variable valve-timing, power outputs peaks at 155 hp @ 6,000 RPM and maximum torque is rated at 148 lb.-ft. @ 4,600 RPM. Transmission choices consist of the standard 6-speed manual gearbox or a 6-speed automatic with manual shift paddles. The close ratio manual has a direct 6th gear (1.000), but the automatic has fifth (0.713) and sixth (0.582) ratios as overdrive ratios. A torque-sensing limited-slip differential is standard on manual transmission models only. For the manual transmission, fuel consumption estimates are 26/33 MPG (city/hwy.). The optional automatic is rated a 26/35 MPG (city/hwy.). The optional Brembo brake package also add 17-inch diameter BBS forged alloy wheels shod with Bridgestone Potenza summer tires. Due to the chilly winter weather during our test, Blizzak winter tires were substituted instead.

The Miata's front suspension consists of double wishbones with dampers, coil springs and stabilizer bar. At the rear is a multilink layout with coil springs, dampers and stabilizer bar. Gas-filled Bilstein dampers and a front damper (shock) tower brace are standard on manual transmission models. Disc brakes are at all four wheels. Steering is via a power-assisted rack-and-pinion setup. Stability and traction control are standard. Curb weight for the RF is only 2,445 lbs. with a manual gearbox, distributed 50/50 front/rear.

Mazda designed the MX-5 interior focused on the driver. Knobs, switches and levers are all close at hand. Aside from the analog speedometer and tachometer, digital bar graph coolant temperature, and fuel level gauges complete the instrument cluster. Mounted on the leather-wrapped steering wheel are audio, cruise and phone controls. USB ports on the console are convenient for charging mobile devices, but a 12V outlet is missing. Atop the dash is a 7" diagonal touchscreen display for climate control, audio and other infotainment options. Triple knobs on the center stack control the HVAC system. Behind the stubby shift lever are knobs and buttons for the touchscreen functions. Storage space is limited to a small bin and cubbyhole on the center console. Removable cupholders are located next to the console and between the seats.

Most interior surfaces are padded with contrasting stitching on the seats and door panels. Although the snug cloth upholstered seats provide excellent lateral support and comfort, larger drivers may find the seats too confining. Headroom is limited with the hardtop up; drivers taller than 5'-10" will brush the headliner.

Miata customers relish the driving experience of this compact sports car, so Mazda paid close attention to getting the details right. Although the standard Bridgestone Potenzas were replaced with Blizzaks, the Miata's sharp steering turn-in and response were barely affected. Changing gears was a pleasure, aided by a short throw shifter and progressive clutch, although engagement occurs near the bottom of pedal travel. The Skyactiv-G 2.0L is buzzy at cold idle, but engine vibrations are significantly reduced after warm up. The Miata's low curb weight makes the most of the available power and torque. So despite the modest engine output, low speed and midrange acceleration is better than expected.

As a convertible, the Miata's body structure is adequately solid, but patched and pitted road surfaces still cause significant body shake and vibration. With its short wheelbase, the Miata suffers from a rough, choppy ride that is simply uncomfortable on longer trips. Engine noise, even with the top up, is loud enough to make conversation difficult at highway speeds. Due to the chilly December weather, we were unable to evaluate the test vehicle with the hardtop retracted. Miata owners know that highway journeys are not its forte; this Mazda is at its best on winding roads with the top down on a summer day.

Mazda's dedication to the Miata is commendable because the MX-5 represents its core values. Without this unique convertible, Mazda would be just another small manufacturer struggling to compete with the giant automakers in the industry. As anyone who has driven a Miata can attest, this sports car is why "driving matters".