Mazda MX-5 coupe performance
Just like the regular MX-5, the MX-5 RF offers a choice of two petrol engines: a 1.5-litre with 130bhp and a 2.0-litre with 181bhp. As it's 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 181bhp 2.0-litre also needs to be revved, but it feels a lot stronger lower down in its rev range. It's also has a significantly more enthusiastic top end. In fact, you often find yourself waiting until the heady 7500rpm redline before changing up a gear, such is the engine’s appetite for revs. Do this and the MX-5 gets down the road rather briskly.
Both engines come as standard with a six-speed manual gearbox, but, unlike in the regular model, you do get the option of a six-speed auto ‘box, although we’re yet to try it out.
Mazda MX-5 coupe ride
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 MX-5 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+ and GT Sport Nav+ models get firmer sport suspension and Bilstein dampers that transfer a little more impact from rougher surfaces, but it’s still bearable.
Mazda MX-5 coupe handling
The RF’s solid roof sections make it 45kg heavier than the soft-top, but you’d never know it, 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-5 variants 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 that the soft suspension that gives the MX-5 its comfortable ride also produces quite pronounced body lean through corners. Yet the RF has slightly stiffer suspension than the regular model – to help counteract its roof’s extra weight – that translates into 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 coupe refinement
This might sound a little befuddling, but bear with us: with its hard-top roof and extra soundproofing, 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 regular MX-5.
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. 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 in the regular MX-5. This is a real disappointment.
The MX-5 RF does match its sibling's slick gearchange, though, and its positive clutch and brakes enable you to drive smoothly. Both engines have a raspy exhaust note which, rather than being an annoyance, merely validates the RF’s sporty credentials.