Britain’s most popular new sports car’s gone hard-core, writes Robin Roberts.
On 4 March the first batch of 500 2017 Mazda MX-5 Retractable Fastback models with an “origami-style” aluminium powered folding roof will be driving out of showrooms and into spring.
After the runaway success of the MX-5 convertible, Mazda says it believes the RF will take about 75% of 3,500 sales this year.
This latest fourth generation of the two-seater which has found favour with 120,000 British enthusiasts since 1990 has the newest 131ps 1.5 from May, or launch model’s 160ps 2.0 litre engine with six speed manual gearbox or for the first time in the new series, a 6-speed automatic.
Power is up and so is economy and the larger engine models have revised steering, brakes and suspension to cope with the additional power over the smaller unit.
The SE-L Nav and Sport Nav trim levels are familiar although the first launch batch of 500 models come with distinctive BBS wheels, Recaro seats and upholstery, standard Safety Pack, black roof section, door mirrors and boot-lid spoiler with red or grey metallic paint. Prices generally are about £2,000 more for RF versions of the two-seater range.
Despite the fitting of the powered roof, the engineers managed to keep the luggage space for a couple of weekend soft-bags or shopping while the folded hardtop sits in its own compartment between the cabin and bootspace.
Jeremy Thomson, Mazda UK managing director, said the MX5 is a crucial car for the company, with 12% of sales in Britain and globally a million are on roads. In a few weeks, Mazda anticipate announcing 1.55 M sales of all its models since March 2016 a rise of 50,000 on previous 12 months.
“UK sales went up 10% in 12 months compared to 7% in Europe and that was remarkable given the challenges of currency exchanges and headwinds of the Brexit negotiations,” he said.
The previous third generation of the car included a hardtop and as it was run-out the soft-top was being overtaken by the metal topped version, so the newcomer arrives on the crest of a customer wave. Now deliberately styled to resemble a coupe, rather than an open topped car with a roof just slid on top, the b-pillars are made from composite materials to give sharp angles and edges to them and it looks a different car to its soft-top convertible stablemate.
Mazda has made coupes since 1968 and the Japan-market only Cosmo, but some enthusiasts will remember the NX7 which was the basis for the Ford Probe, the MX3 with unusual V6 1.8 litre engine and of course the groundbreaking RX7 rotary coupe which won numerous championships and endurance events. Ironically, the new MX-5 is the basis for the Fiat 124 and Abarth Spider models, but they use their own powertrains.
For the new 2017 MX-5 range, Mazda expect 75% will be RF versions, and 60% will be the 2.0 litre derivatives and early orders suggest 15% will be supplied with the automatic transmission and 29% will be the higher Sport Nav trim.
The launch series will be £28,995 with the extra equipment and paint details while the remaining five-model range will then run from £22,195 to £27,095.
The “targa-style” top to the RF version sets it apart from its stablemate while the sweeping b-pillars give it a true coupe profile when the roof is closed.
We tested 2.0 and 1.5 versions with six-speed manual gearboxes as there were no automatics on the launch. Of the three cars we drove over two days, one displayed a rattling roof trim but otherwise they were refined and quiet with very agreeable exhaust notes.
The 2.0 was more of a grand tourer and because it did not have to work so hard it gave us 36.3mpg while the edgier 1.5, which felt lighter, returned 35mpg.
Only in very hilly countryside were we aware of the reduced power in the 1.5, which necessitated more down-changes. It was eager and responsive while in the 2.0-litre there was simply more underfoot and the power band had a better spread.
The excellent driving position remains for anyone up to 6ft, the boot is small but deep and wide and compensates for the lack of oddments space. Visibility is excellent and when the roof is open there is little wind ruffling around the neck while the heater does a really good job on a cold day.
Mazda MX-5 has always and rightly been a success, and the RF simply moves it on and gives you an open or shut case for buying.
|Mazda MX-5 RF 2.0 Sport Nav||Price: £25,695|
|Insurance: 29E||Mechanical: 160ps 4cyl 1998cc petrol, 6sp|
|Max: 133mph||0-62mph: 7.3sec|
|Fuel: 36.3mpg on test||Emissions: 161gkm|
|BIK: 29%||Warranty: 3yrs/ 60,000 miles|
|Sizes: L 3.92m, W 1.74m, H 1.23m||Boot: 130 litres Kerb: 1075kg|
For: Ride, handling, powertrain, comfort, visibility
Against: Some road noise, small boot and oddments room.