2017 Mazda MX-5 Miata RF Grand Touring: A new version of the Miata, sans full convertible top.
Price: $34,310 as tested. ($32,620 for the Grand Touring; options include $300 for gray paint, $130 for keyless entry, and $425 interior package for M/T, including alloy pedals, oil cap, and door dill trim plates.)
Marketer’s pitch: “Designed to awaken your senses.”
Conventional wisdom: Car and Driver’s headline exclaims, “The Mazda you’ve been waiting for, only better.” Car and Driver doesn’t usually shout that enthusiastically.
Reality: C&D and Mazda are right. Senses woke.
Surprise visit: A fleet company representative contacted me about borrowing a Mazda MX-5 RF available during an otherwise open week. Would I be interested in trying it?
I needed a car anyway, so I accepted, though I hesitated a bit. I mean, I’d already been in and enjoyed the new MX-5 convertible and the similar-but-different Fiat 124 Spider, so how much better could the new fastback-style MX-5 be?
Surprise reaction: RF evidently stands for really fun. Really, it’s Retractable Fastback, but my name might work just as well.
The RF changes the aerodynamics a bit, adds some structural reinforcement with the roof, and voilà! the sporty roadster really turns into a sporty ride.
The roof does retract, leaving drivers in kind of an MX-5 hot tub or something. The rear window opens a bit, allowing some wind to blow through your hair. Operating the power top is easy.
Chick car? I had a drawn-out, almost-heated discussion with a colleague about “chick cars,” something I firmly do not believe exist. Perhaps some people are not so comfortable with anything but the manliest men and girliest women. (This was a female colleague taking the chick car POV, not a male.)
As a car guy, a home-remodeler guy, and the assistant developer of Sturgis Kids 1.0 through 4.0, my own manhood does not feel threatened by some gravel-voiced announcer selling me the virtues of riding the latest giant Tonka. It can be threatened, slightly, by the Hallmark Movies and Mysteries I secretly enjoy.
But a svelte, fun-to-drive car? Not a problem. An MX-5 is — like the 1970s Slinky ad song says — fun for a girl and a boy, but, clearly, neither sex would want to be very tall and/or large.
Up to speed: The 155-horsepower, 2.0-liter four-cylinder is not as punchy as the 124 Spider’s torque-ier version. And neither car races headlong to arrest-level speeds.
But it totally doesn’t matter. You’re down here near the road and the suspension is twisted tight, so it’s fun getting there, and feels faster.
Play some tunes: The Bose 9-speaker audio system sounds delightful. But just trust me on that. No need to turn it on.
That’s because the exhaust note from the dual exhaust (I guess that makes it an exhaust power chord) is just wonderful. With six gears to row through, you can enjoy the tuneful motor at all speeds.
Furthermore, the 7-inch display is no midget in this RF, and the controls from the command dial are easily operated.
On the road: The MX-5 handles superbly. It’s a blast on country roads and in town.
Bring the Advil: Road seams are tough on the little car. Avoid all the potholes you can, but fortunately that’s easy.
Outside: You’ll forgive this car for a lot, because not only is it fun, it’s really pretty. Those curves are something else.
Friends and stuff: It’s the Chihuahua of cars, not a pack mule.
Space did get bigger with the 2016 redesign, though. Operating the pedals used to be a knee-scraping experience, and getting in and out was embarrassing. Now the interior room is noticeably better, and exiting simply requires some advance planning.
Of course, at 5-foot-10, Mr. Driver’s Seat fits in the car nicely. Six-foot-one Sturgis Kid 4.0 is not a fan, and I don’t think driving would be an option for him anyway. Even if I would let him. Which I wouldn’t. Rotten kid, getting so tall.
Fuel economy: I averaged 35 mpg in this fun little ride, which is far better than the 30 mpg I’d gotten in the 2016 convertible version, or the 31 in the 124 Spider.
Where it’s built: Hiroshima, Japan.
How it’s built: Consumer Reports puts the reliability of all MX-5s in the above-average category.
In the end: I love top-down driving, but the RF out-Miatas the Miata.