Just like the Convertible model, the Mazda MX-5 RF comes with two petrol engines: a 1.5-litre with 129bhp and a 2.0-litre with 158bhp. Being a relatively light car even the 1.5-litre version feels brisk, if not exactly outright fast, and revving its engine to the high 7000rpm limiter to access its pace is all part of the fun.
The 2.0-litre also needs to be revved, but in doing so you instantly get pressed back harder in your seat by its extra grunt, yet it’s still not ridiculous enough to leave you fearing for your licence.
Both engines come as standard with a six-speed manual gearbox, but unlike the Convertible model, you do get the option of a six-speed auto ‘box, although we’re yet to try it out.
Mazda MX-5 RF ride comfort
The MX-5 RF is softly sprung, and as a result offers a ride that is quite un-sports-car like. It’ll soak up speed bumps and stays pretty settled even over awkward cambers in the road.
In fact, pretty much whatever the road can throw at it, from large potholes to rippled sections of motorway, the RF generally manages to filter it out. Even with larger wheels fitted – normally the death knell of a good ride - it remains comfortable.
The 2.0 Sport Nav model has firmer sport suspension and Bilstein dampers that transfer a little more impact from rougher surfaces, but it’s still bearable.
Mazda MX-5 RF handling
The RF’s solid roof sections make it 45kg heavier than the soft-top Convertible; you’d never know though, because it’s just as light on its toes, if not a touch better in the bends. It offers the same rear-wheel-drive set-up that gives all MX-5s their nimbleness and ability to change direction quickly, helped in part by the well-weighted and accurate steering.
The MX-5 RF also serves up plenty of grip, so you don’t feel afraid to use all its performance on the road. Compared with most similarly priced front-wheel drive hot hatches, the MX-5 RF is a much more involving, playful-feeling car.
The only quibble we have is the soft suspension that gives the MX-5 its comfortable ride also produces quite pronounced body lean through corners. Yet the RF version has slightly stiffer suspension than the Convertible model – to help counteract the roof’s extra weight – that translates in to a fraction less lean and slightly better control.
Sport models receive a stiffer suspension that keeps roll under much tighter control and also makes the MX-5 feel keener to turn in to a corner. On all 2.0-litre models you get better traction out of corners, too, thanks to a standard limited slip differential.
Mazda MX-5 RF refinement
Okay, this might sound a little befuddling, but bear with us: with its hard-top roof and extra sound proofing the Mazda MX-5 RF is quieter than its soft-top sibling, which was the whole point of its existence, but we still wouldn’t recommend you buy one instead of the MX-5 Convertible.
There’s reason to this apparent madness, though. You see the RF is quite a bit pricier than the Convertible, so we would expect it to be a lot quieter with its roof closed at speed. And yes, road noise is vastly improved, but wind noise is still pronounced once you reach about 70mph.
It fails to get better when you open the hard-top as well. Only the roof section and rear window fold away, leaving the ‘fastback’ section in place behind you. Certainly this creates a cocoon that helps shelter you from wind buffeting, but once you hit 60 or 70mph, the wind whistles around the frame and creates more wind noise than you’d get from the Convertible. This is a real disappointment.
The RF does match the Convertible’s slick gear change, though, and the positive clutch and brakes enable you to drive it smoothly. Both engines have a raspy exhaust note which, rather than being an annoyance, merely validates the RF’s sporty credentials.
It’s the lowest-power engine in the range and needs to be worked hard, but is still really fun to rev out and doesn’t leave the MX-5 feeling slow. It’s well worth considering if you just want a fun, unintimidating sports car that you can wring 100% from on the road, and still hold onto your licence.
Our pick 2.0 160 Skyactiv
Our favourite engine is thrilling without being frightening on British roads, and offers more top-end punch than the 1.5-litre for considerably more effective overtaking. The addition of a limited slip differential also brings more grip when accelerating hard out of corners.