The last of the affordable roadsters, the Miata continues to deliver the best driving experience for the money. Mazda threw us a curveball this year by introducing a power-operated targa roof with dramatic flying buttresses rather than the sleek power-folding hardtop we have come to expect.
Adding about 100 pounds (45 kg) to the featherweight sporty car, the power roof stows in the same space as the standard cloth roof. Being light and compact, the roof doesn’t add any structural stiffness to the chassis, but the added weight requires compensation elsewhere. Mazda retuned its springs, shocks, and electric power steering for the RF to account for the new roof.
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Power, however, remains the same. The 2.0-liter four-cylinder is unchanged at 155 horsepower and 148 lb-ft of torque, and it drives the rear wheels through a six-speed manual. Being a Club model, it also gets a standard limited-slip differential, an under-hood shock tower brace, Bilstein shocks, Brembo brakes, and BBS wheels.
With a slightly heftier weight-to-power ratio, the Miata RF needs 6.4 seconds to hit 60 mph from a stop and 14.9 seconds to clear the quarter mile, where it will be doing 92.4 mph (149 km/h). Stopping from 60 mph takes 109 feet. On the skidpad, it’ll pull 0.91 g average, and on the figure eight it’ll put down a 25.9-second lap at 0.71 g average. But you’ll be hard pressed to find a more fun car to do it in.
“I wanted to love it, reward it, and rank it higher than the bottom quartile, but in the end I couldn’t. I love the styling—I can’t stand convertibles—and with the roof up it looks hardtop-coupey swooptastic. I couldn’t get into the driving sensations, which are old hat by now. Huge power/torque disparity aside (not that much of an issue because it delivers the sensation of speed just fine), it simply feels looser and softer sprung than nearly everything here. Admittedly it leans way over and gives you plenty of notice before it lets go, but that got a little old for me after a while (especially on the downhill). I kept thinking that this couldn’t be the fastest setup for this car; couldn’t it be a little stiffer—a little more buttoned down—and thus, even faster feeling? (Or was the sense of speed—the inner ear trickery—tied to the squat and roll and early onset tire howl?) One new criticism: I was surprised to find it is not as easy to place on the road. Steering is slowish and lacks precision.” – Ed Loh
“I’m not nearly as in love with the Miata as I thought I’d be. Maybe it’s fast car fatigue, but it felt unsettled to me, like it’s always dancing on the top of its springs and edge of its tires. I think less rotation on turn-in would help. Every time you crack the wheel, the rear end jumps over. It sticks, but it makes you think it’s going to dance around on you. The ESC grabbing at the brakes doesn’t help confidence. It’s especially frustrating because when you do turn it off, it’s fine. Yeah, the rear end is playful, but it’s not trying to swap ends on you. I like that there’s a bit more roll stiffness on this one so you don’t flop onto the outside tire, but I think a little more stiffness would be better.” – Scott Evans
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“So why is this underpowered Pokémon even considered in this field of ridiculous 600 horsepower cars? Because the chassis is so composed, it is impossible to over-drive it. I basically had the throttle mashed the entire way uphill Highway 198 and was carrying a good amount of speed, but no need for worry. The downside is that this means the engine is underpowered, and I wish Mazda would provide more thrust so that I could see just where the chassis limits are.”– Mark Rechtin
“Wheeeeeeeeeee!” – Jonny Lieberman
“This car reminds me so much of the 1990, the Gen I, in terms of its light weight, body roll, that oversteering personality, especially on entry. It has very not-sticky tires on it. But it still does everything well anyway because of its light weight. It’s stable in braking when you’re straight, but if you’re braking when you turn, woo! You get sideways real quick and real easy. It has a lot of entry oversteer. It’s extremely well balanced on power. It’s loose off power, which is how the original Miata was too, the 1990.
“On the street, it’s not as big a deal. But then there’s that entry oversteer, and part of where it’s coming from is that roll. The speed of it and the amount of it—it’s roll over steer, right? And when you turn, it rolls, and that roll has momentum. And that momentum brings the weight down on the outside tire. It shocks that tire, and the tire says, ‘Nope.’
“The car stopped well. It has a lot of brake dive. The pedal was a little long, which is unusual for a Miata.
“A lot of these 500-horsepower cars are pretty much ridiculous on the street. And it’s so satisfying to be able to just track a car out, run it to redline, and snap off a quick shift with that great shifter. You look down, and you’re doing 64 miles an hour (103 km/h), not 120 (193 km/h).
“It is a nice drift car, though. I drifted all the way around turn two on purpose, just for the hell of it because it is such a fun, fun, fun, fun car. High on the fun factor. Low on the fast factor, but it is a superb driver’s car.”
|2017 Mazda MX-5 Miata (RF Club 6MT)|
|DRIVETRAIN LAYOUT||Front-engine, RWD|
|ENGINE TYPE||I-4, alum block/head|
|VALVETRAIN||DOHC, 4 valves/cyl|
|DISPLACEMENT||121.9 cu in/1,998 cc|
|POWER (SAE NET)||155 hp @ 6,000 rpm|
|TORQUE (SAE NET)||148 lb-ft @ 4,600 rpm|
|WEIGHT TO POWER||15.6 lb/hp|
|SUSPENSION, FRONT; REAR||Control arms, coil springs, anti-roll bar; multilink, coil springs, anti-roll bar|
|BRAKES, F; R||11.0-in vented disc; 11.0-in disc, ABS|
|WHEELS||7.0 x 17-in cast aluminum|
|TIRES||205/45R17 84W Bridgestone Potenza S001 (Tread 280)|
|TRACK, F/R||58.9/59.2 in|
|LENGTH x WIDTH x HEIGHT||154.1 x 68.3 x 49.0 in|
|TURNING CIRCLE||30.8 ft|
|CURB WEIGHT||2,420 lb|
|WEIGHT DIST, F/R||50/50%|
|HEADROOM, F/R||36.8/— in|
|LEGROOM, F/R||43.1/— in|
|SHOULDER ROOM, F/R||52.0/— in|
|CARGO VOLUME||4.5 cu ft|
|ACCELERATION TO MPH|
|PASSING, 45-65 MPH||3.5|
|QUARTER MILE||14.9 sec @ 92.4 mph|
|BRAKING, 60-0 MPH||109 ft|
|LATERAL ACCELERATION||0.91 g (avg)|
|MT FIGURE EIGHT||25.9 sec @ 0.71 g (avg)|
|2.2-MI ROAD COURSE LAP||1:51.43 sec|
|TOP-GEAR REVS @ 60 MPH||2,500 rpm|
|PRICE AS TESTED||$35,830|
|AIRBAGS||4: Dual front, front side/head|
|BASIC WARRANTY||3 yrs/36,000 miles|
|POWERTRAIN WARRANTY||5 yrs/60,000 miles|
|ROADSIDE ASSISTANCE||3 yrs/36,000 miles|
|FUEL CAPACITY||11.9 gal|
|EPA CITY/HWY/COMB ECON||26/33/29 mpg|
|ENERGY CONS, CITY/HWY||130/102 kW-hrs/100 miles|
|CO2 EMISSIONS, COMB||0.67 lb/mile|
|RECOMMENDED FUEL||Unleaded premium|