2017 Mazda Miata RF

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The one thing wrong with the Miata – for some people – Mazda just fixed.

That thing being the Miata roadster’s convertible top. Not everyone likes a soft top – including some people who really like the Miata.

Soft tops, though much improved in terms of protection from the elements – still don’t offer much in the way of physical security from the element. A switchblade grants instant access to the car – and whatever’s inside the car.

But it’s not just that.

Convertible soft-tops are harder to keep looking good; park a convertible outside in the elements for a few years and the top tends to stain – and the stains can be a pain to get rid of.

Also, some people just don’t like driving with the top down. They are Hardtop People.

Well, Mazda’s got the Miata for them.

Maybe for you, too.

WHAT IT IS

The RF – Retractable Fastback – is a new version of the Miata roadster. Instead of a fold back convertible soft-top, the RF has a sliding back hardtop section. When in place, the Miata is a sport coupe with a more physically secure roof.

Otherwise, the RF is functionally and mechanically identical to the soft-top Miata. Both have the same engines, same transmissions and share identical interiors and general specifications.

The RF’s base price is higher – $31,555 for the Club trim with six speed manual transmission; adding the available six-speed automatic bumps the sticker up to $32,855.

A top-of-the-line Launch Edition (with the automatic) stickers for $34,925.

The regular Miata roadster starts at $24,915 with the six-speed manual and tops out at $30,065 for a Gran Touring trim with the six-speed automatic.

WHAT’S NEW

The RF version of the Miata is new.

The Miata’s mechanicals – which both versions share – were completely updated last year.

WHAT’S GOOD

A Miata for people who prefer a hard top.

Feel better about parking it on the street.

Easier to keep it clean – and looking good.

No loss of trunk space.

RF or not, the Miata is arguably one of the top two or three  sports cars ever made.

WHAT’S NOT SO GOOD

Almost a $7k bump to not go topless.

Trunk space is still effectively nil – 4.6 cubic feet – whether you go soft or hardtop.

The bar-none worst power point location of any car ever made. You might not even be able to find it. If you do, good luck reaching it.

UNDER THE HOOD

Last year, the Miata was all-new and one of the new things about it was a changed powerband. The engine is the same size as it was before – a 2.0 liter DOHC four  – but it’s been retuned – and here’s where it gets potentially dicey.

In terms of perceptions.

When you first scan the specs, you might be disquieted to discover that the current version of the 2.0 liter four – an engine revered for its revvyness – now makes less power and lower down: 155 hp at 6,000 RPM vs. 167 hp at 7,000 RPM previously.

Also, the redline on the tach has been dialed back from 7,200 RPM to about 6,600 RPM.

Have the Miata’s incisors been filed down?

Not if its bite is the measure.

The Miata is quicker than ever – with the roadster (soft-top) capable of getting to 60 in six flat vs. 6.7 for the previous-gen. Miata.

Part of the reason for the performance uptick is a curb weight downtick. The current Miata, redesigned for the 2016 model year, weighs 2,332 lbs. vs. 2,480 lbs. for the previous Miata roadster – a difference of 148 lbs.

The other part of it is that the updated 2.0 liter engine makes more torque now – 148 ft.-lbs. vs. 140 previously – and it comes on sooner – at 4,600 RPM vs. 5,000 RPM previously.

This is also a very high-compression (13.0:1) engine – the main part of Mazda’s SkyActiv system. High CR means more explosive explosions in the cylinders. Good stuff for performance.

Another small – but significant – upgrade, for both the roadster and the RF, is that a six-speed manual is now standard. Previously, a six-speed manual was available – but only in the higher-priced versions. The base trim Miata came with a five-speed manual.

Not a bad box at all, but the six speed’s tighter gear spacing gives a leverage advantage, especially in a light sports car with a small, revvy engine.

Speaking of that. Don’t believe the tach. While the redline might appear to begin earlier – according to the red hash marks north of 6,600 – the engine will still happily spin to 7,000-plus, as before. The rev limiter doesn’t curb your enthusiasm until right around 7,200 RPM.

But here’s the really interesting thing:

The RF, as it turns out, is 150 pounds heavier than the roadster. Put another way, the RF is almost exactly as heavy as the previous generation Miata roadster. And yet it is still much quicker – which is testimony about the importance of the torque difference and the leverage advantage of the six-speed transmission.

Either that – or Mazda is fudging the hp numbers  . . . in a way that’s in our favor.

Another thing in our favor is that the Miata – RF or roadster – is a very economical car to drive. Its gas mileage – 27 city, 36 highway for the soft-top with the six speed manual and 27 city, 34 highway for the RF with the same transmission – is with a couple of MPGs of cars like the Toyota Corolla and Honda Cvic – and while those are great cars, they’re . . . economy cars.

The Miata – RF or roadster – is the antithesis of that.

Yet, it is still economical to drive  . . . every single day.

There may not be such a thing as a free lunch – but the Miata comes really close.

ON THE ROAD

It is going on 30 years now. That’s how long the Miata has been around. And there are lots of Miatas still around. Nearly 1 million of them of them have been produced since the first one, way back in 1989.

That is stupendous for a two-seater fun car.

It is a function of the car being more than merely fun.

Consider how many other fun cars have come – and gone. And do not last as long. Either in production or on the road. How many ’90s-era Corvettes do you see around? Or for that matter, how many other sports cars from the ’90s?

Or the early 2000s?

Miatas abound for several reasons – perks that come along for the extremely excellent ride. We have touched on two. The roadster’s almost unbelievable affordability – and the Mazda’s economy car mileage, roadster or RF.

Another is the Miata’s unkillability. It is a car that you can treat like a weekend SCCA racer every single day and it (paraphrasing Kyle Reese in the original Terminator) absolutely will not blow up, ever. Hell, it’s hard to get the thing to burn oil.

There are Miatas out there with 150,000 miles that drive like Miatas with 15,000 miles. It is incredible. And it explains why there are so many. They don’t attrite. They just get better.

Which brings us to this RF.

Same goodness – plus more.

It’s a bit quieter inside with the targa top in place – and also with it stowed, because the only open section is the roof section. The RF’s side/sail panels remain in place and that dramatically reduces wind swirl vs. the roadster with its top down. It reminds me a lot of my high school ’78 Camaro with T-Tops . . . minus the leaks (and squeaks).

And also, the work.

With T-Tops, you had to stop, get out, pull the tops off, and stow them in the trunk. In the RF, you just press (and hold down) a switch. The sail panel section cantilevers up and rearward, making room for the roof section, which stows underneath. And you can do this with the car moving – up to about 6 MPH.

Targa top or soft-top, the Miata is 190 proof fun without the hangover.

The engine is brilliant – and tractable. Power (and torque) enough for the stop-and-go grind, made even more agreeable by an easy take-up clutch and outstanding visibility all around you. But when traffic dissipates – or you feel like leaving traffic behind you – grab a downshift and let the engine sing its song, all the way to 7,000 or so. Stab the clutch, grab the next gear. The power hits and the car’s rear does a pleasant little left-right stagger step, accompanied by the cheery chirp of the tires as they regain full grip.

Then, a downshift as the next curve approaches; feather the brakes just a bit to settle the thing in its groove and then kick it in the ass again, hard. Full power at the apex, the engine orgasmic now.

 

And so, almost will you be, too.

It is your boon companion, sheetmetal musketeer – up for any adventure, just the two of you.

No matter how bad a day you’re having, if you take a Miata for the drive home, it won’t end badly. Therapy and drugs are oversold.

Miatas for all.

World peace might ensue.

AT THE CURB

Opinions will vary but in my sight, the RF is a better-looking Miata than the Miata roadster. The sail panels have a Ferrari 308-ish vibe to them and whether the roof section is in place or stowed, the lines just seem right.

Also, the artistry of the up/down ballet would have impressed DaVinci.

Particularly that not an inch of trunk real estate is sacrificed when the roof section is retracted.

Which is good because there isn’t much to spare.

Both the RF and its soft-topped sister have 4.6 cubic feet of trunk space. This, for reference and scale, is about half the space available for stuff in the backside of (wait for it) the Fiat 500 micro-car (reviewed here).

This lack is one of the few not-practical things about the Miata. It goes with the two-seater sport car layout.

And for two, the Miata is just right. Cozy – and roomy – which sounds like a contradiction but isn’t. There is more legroom (43.1 inches) in the Miata than in most mid-sized and several full-sized sedans. At the same time, everything is close at hand. The cockpit envelopes you like a body suit  . . . like a motorcycle riding suit.

This feeling is enhanced by the sport bike-like instrument cluster, which is happily analog and not digital.

On the center console – just aft of the couldn’t-be-more-ergonomically-inspired gear shifter – is the manual pull-up emergency brake lever. A sports car without that – and with an electronic parking brake – has been badly gimped and its owner ill-served.

No such worries here.

The RF’s trim structure is a bit different than than the soft-top’s. No Sport trim. The RF starts with the Club trim, can be upgraded to Grand Touring and offers a unique-to-the RF Launch Edition, of which only 1,000 will be made.

The higher features/trim content of the RF – vs. the base Sport trim roadster  – includes a nine-speaker Bose audio system and standard 4.6 inch LCD display, iPad/floating style. These amenities help take the bite out of the $6,640 price bump from the base Sport trim roadster to the base Club trim RF.

THE REST

No car review is compete without at least one complaint. Okay. Here it is – and I had to dig deep for it:

The Miata – whether RF or roadster – has an almost-unbelievably inaccessible 12V power point. The thing is located way deep in the passenger side footwell. It is literally almost impossible to see it and if you wanted to plug in a device – a radar detector, for instance – you will have to get on hands and knees and go spelunking.

Seriously.

It’s the most perverse power point I have ever had to deal with in 20-plus years of test driving new cars.

But other than this?

Don’t look at me.

THE BOTTOM LINE

When all you can find to complain about is the location of the power point, you have a handle on the automotive filet mignon that’s just been served up. Whatever they’re charging for this thing, you’re getting a deal.

. . .

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46 COMMENTS

  1. Eric,

    I had you pegged as a rational, logical enthusiast who prefers simple, elegant solutions over expensive, heavy monkey motion. The Miata RF and the current 911 Targa are examples of “just because you can, doesn’t always mean you should.”

    Explain to me why moving the back light and sail panels on the Miata and the Porsche’s huge curved rear window plus parts of the body work with motors is required or even preferable to spending 5% of the time, effort and money to engineer a modern version of Porsche’s original removable Targa panel or the Corvette’s removable roof panel.

    Overly complex overweight bullshit for non-enthusiasts who worship Rube Goldberg. They can cruise down Rodeo Drive at 5 mph cycling their tops in public. In Germany 20 years ago the people responsible would be shot. In Japan they would be offered Seppuku.

    Mazda should have spend the money on making the current Miata about 6 percent bigger so normal sized guys could fit behind the wheel. As it stands now, the Miata’s potential buyer’s pool is comprised of midgets and double amputees.

    • Hi Sonic,

      I like the RF because it’s different. Sure, Mazda could have done something simpler, but given the Miata roadster (which is as simple as it gets, for those who prefer an elemental car) why not try something different for those who prefer it? One has the option to choose, too – which very much appeals to me.

      Besides which, it looks great! Granted, that’s entirely subjective. But to me, it’s a better-looking car than the roadster.

      It’s not overweight, either. Just 150 pounds more to the curb weight. Unnoticeable effect on the car’s performance (balance as well as acceleration).

      As far as the size/room issue, I have to disagree with you on that one. I am 6ft 3 and 200 pounds – so larger than the average dude – and I fit in the car comfortably.

      Now, that said, I am an athletic 6ft 3.

      Fat guys and guys with mobility issues will have issues in a car like this. In a 911 or Cayman, too. 🙂

      • Same roofline, same shape, removable Targa panel, save 100 pounds and $5,000. If 150 pounds makes no noticable difference, why did Mazda spend so much time and money shaving off way less on the current version of the car?

        At 6’3″ You must be looking through the windshield header when driving!

        • Hi Sonic,

          Yeah, but it’s cool to just push a button and the top stows neatly, no fuss/muss. That’s the draw. And while it does cost a lot more than the roadster, relative to a targa-top Porsche . . .

          The RF weighs 150 lbs. more than the roadster, so the feel/handling of both is essentially identical. The roadster is slightly quicker by the stopwatch – but you need a stopwatch to tell the difference.

          On the room inside: Nope. I fit comfortably inside. There is plenty of leg and headroom for me. The seat has ample adjustment provision. Now, my buddy Troy – who is not quite my height but much heavier than I am – is hopelessly too big for the car.

          • Eric,

            Despite my posts, I do like the Miata. I especially liked the Monster Miatas I’ve driven. The real problem is the car, like all current Mazdas is under powered. My driveway is at 5,200 ft. and my favorite driving road top out at 10,990 ft.

            That means the current Miata starts out at 131HP at my house and has a whopping 101HP at the top of the Beartooth Pass. My neighbor’s stock 2008 Miata is no fun with 131HP around town and absolutely pathetic at anything over 6,000 ft.

            The car is made for curvy roads. Haven’t seen too many curvy roads at sea level outside Pacific Coast Highway where traffic makes HP irrelevant. The rest of the great driving roads all all in the mountains.

            • The Miata, like the “underpowered British roadsters” of the 50s and 60s, which “couldn’t get out of their own way”, are meant to be powered at just the level they are.

              They are designed to be slow cars that must be wrung out just to keep up. The whole point is to enable the enthusiast to wring out the car by upshifting through the gears, but NOT wind up traveling at over twice the legal limit at the end of the process, as one would be with a 427 Shelby Cobra.

              Adding HP totally misses the point, and defeats the very purpose of the design concept. It results in another category of sports car, with an entirely different raison d’etre.

              • bevin,

                Until you drive a stock Miata with two adults in it over the Beartooth Pass in Wyoming / Montana you don’t have a clue. Have you ever owned an MG or Triumph or Miata let alone driven them on mountain roads?

                • Hi Sonic,

                  Google Bent Mountain in SW Virginia; check out the roads in my neck. I have driven numerous Miatas on such roads over the years. My 6ft 3, 200 pound self and a passenger about 90 percent my size.

                  We don’t have issues with leg or head or shoulder room. You may. Body types do vary considerably, even when height/weight are roughly similar.

                  This is why I always urge people to actually test drive a car – whatever car it is. Because the specifications – headroom and legroom and so on – only tell part of the story. You have to actually get in the thing yourself and drive it to see whether it fits you!

                  • Eric,

                    According to Google Earth, the highest asphalt around Bent Mountain s 3,033 ft. You’e only lost 9% power. Try losing 15% at your house and 33% on the Beartooth Pass.

                    • Hi Sonic,

                      Yeah, but how many people live at extremes of elevation like that? Should Mazda build cars for those altitudes? The Miata has been enormously successful since 1989 and that is a long run for a two-seat sports car. Clearly, they have the recipe right.

                      Note that more powerful cars like the RX8 did not last; the Nissan Z is also in trouble.

                      I’ve been doing this gig a long time and the Miata is one of my all-time favorite cars, even if it’s not nearly as quick in a straight line as so many others! 🙂

              • bevin,

                Do you work for CNN delivering fake commentary? Where did I write flawed design.

                Every single current Mazda is under powered. If you think not, perhaps you should be reading Consumer Reports car reviews in between their tests of inflatable wading pools and toasters.

                I’ll bet you got a discount from Progressive Insurance by plugging in one of their OBD II Driver Nannies for two weeks to prove you don’t burn rubber or speed.

                • “A good rule of thumb in political debate is that you can judge the seriousness of an adversary’s argument by the seriousness with which he treats yours. If he takes you seriously, it means he’s pretty certain he’s got you beat on the merits. But if he resorts to hyperbole, parody, and sarcasm, then he clearly fears an honest debate.”

                  • bevin,

                    Your sure like to use quotation marks. I guess you have trouble with your own prose. At the very least, how about a footnote?

                • Hi Sonic,

                  You write that “every single current Mazda is underpowered.” This is, of course, a subjective judgment. The current Miata can do 0-60 in about 6 seconds flat. I do not consider this underpowered.

                  Yes, there are quicker cars.

                  But how many people make use of the capability? A V6 Camry is potentially very quick – as quick as the Miata. But the Miata is much more fun to drive and – because most Camry drivers do not use the performance the car is capable of – it’s easy enough to leave the Camry receding in the rearview.

                  I state the above as someone who does drive – and not slowly. And who has driven pretty much every car made during the past 20-something years.

                  Mazda builds cars that are dynamic and exceptionally fun to drive. Power/raw acceleration alone don’t define a car as great or even enjoyable.

                  And, again, so much of the foregoing is subjective.

                  I personally would much rather have a Miata RF than a Camaro SS or even a Corvette. I prefer a sports car – and the Miata is the apotheosis of this – over a muscle coupe or a high-powered GT.

                  Mazda focuses on cars that appeal to people who like the types of cars it builds!

    • Agree in part.

      I really would have preferred that Mazda came up with a simple manually removable hardtop roof panel that one lifts out by hand and stashes in the trunk. It would be cheap and unbreakable. No motor to malfunction.

      The Miata is not really “undersized”. It’s more that we in the US are accustomized to a much “looser fit”. I’m 6’2″, 185 pounds, and have never found the Miata or British and Italian roadsters “too small”.

      Just the opposite. The first time I drove a 60s era Mustang it felt big, roomy, with lots of space to move around in.

      • bevin, my boss back in ’80 or ’81, somewhere in there, bought a Mercedes coupe with a hard top. It came with a system of attachment points and a block and tackle so you could leave the top in the garage. I liked the car with the top on, not a big fan of open cars. Of course the main reason I’m not a big fan of open cars is west Tx. sun and the fact there is no roll-over protection and when you drive like I always have you damn sure need to keep that thought foremost in your mind.

        In my mind car companies were always selling you a line of bs when never mentioning the fact a car driven at any speed and at the utmost ability to be safe could always roll. Of course they wouldn’t want to hurt their sales by even hinting that was a possibility.

  2. Great write-up, thanks! The RF is a home run, that red and tan color combo is my top choice, and I can’t wait to own one in a few years (after some depreciation.) I also watched your video. Brother Eric, you don’t need a clone. You just need a tripod. B-)

  3. re this: “Either that – or Mazda is fudging the hp numbers . . . in a way that’s in our favor.”

    Possible, but even if those numbers are strictly accurate, these numbers on the previous version are telling: max horsepower at 7,000 rpm, shift point at 7,200 RPM. So, you’re flooring the pedal, you fleetingly hit max HP for maybe a tenth of a second, maybe not at all if you shift a bit before redline, and then you shift — and the RPMs drop way below 7,000. More torque lower down will beat that every time.

    The previous engine would have been vastly improved by a CVT transmission, since then when you floored it, you’d instantly get 7,000 RPM and peak HP and it would STAY at 7,000 RPM until you lifted off the gas.

    CVTs are wildly underrated, since most of them are hobbled by underpowered engines, making a great transmission appear sucky when the actual problem is the FN engine. Case in point — I recently rented a Nissan Murano with a standard V6 pushing 300 HP mated with a CVT. I’d be cruising down the road at 70 MPH, the CVT keeping the revs at 1,500 RPM for max fuel economy, and then floor it, and instant peak HP right away and for as long as I dared to keep it floored. No lag as with a conventional automatic which is hobbled by first a lag before it downshifts, and then another series of lags as the engine spools up toward peak HP after each upshift.

  4. I gotta wonder if a GM guy or Mazda guy was traded for the other. The wife’s Cutlass has the exact same placement of the power point. Speaking of not making any sense. I guess it was done to keep somebody from plugging a cigar lighter into it and blowing it’s smaller fuse.

    One thing I did with my Chevy pickup with only the one cigar lighter recept was to wire in a strip rated for higher amperage. I often used it for my inverter. I had an air card(house style, 120V) from ClearWire, a big HP desktop unit behind the driver’s seat, a bluetooth mouse and a 19″ monitor with a printer/fax under the back seat. It was a nice office, never too hot for it to be as cool as you like and never too cold to be comfortably warm.

    Trouble having a conversation or having one overheard or just to get away from smokers and loudmouths, just have a seat in my diesel powered office.

    • Do you agree Mr Bevin, that Eric should do an adjusted November Support Graph and also revise December to include enough money to buy a different (gently used I would imagine) Mac Book so this site isn’t one spill away from oblivion.

      I hate people that always ask the owner everything since he is the final word. Eric is Captain Kirk here. But maybe you can be our Cappy Pickard?
      https://i.imgur.com/9Mnhh75.png

      WTF Tor This is a mazda miata article bad bad man so far OT you can’t even see the Topic on Ghoul Gull Maps.
      https://i.imgur.com/9Mnhh75.png

      • I don’t understand. Why do you need a Mac Book to run a simple template based website or the most complex custom built website on the planet?

          • Eric,

            Since your business is on your Mac, I hope to God you clone your hard drive. That’s what I do on my PC laptop. If my HD fails, I just go to my safe, get last night’s clone swap out drives losing no more that one day’s work (I also save files to the HD and a thumb drive during the day, so I’ve never lost more than an hour’s work in the last fifteen years).

            In case you are unaware, a clone is a mirror or your HD, not a back up. When you put a cloned drive in your computer, everything is ready to go, you files, your programs and your settings. If you just back up your files, you have to reinstall all your programs and set everything up all over.

            Of course, if removing the back cover of your Mac requires special tools and the HD is buried in the middle of the computer’s chassis, you might not be equipped to swap drives.

            My laptops all have HDs easily accessible immediately behind the bottom cover.

            It’s my understanding Mac Book owners are pretty much at the mercy of Apple repair. Good luck!

  5. Bravo brother, the following made me smile and, quite literally, laugh out loud…

    Eric wrote:

    Then, a downshift as the next curve approaches; feather the brakes just a bit to settle the thing in its groove and then kick it in the ass again, hard. Full power at the apex, the engine orgasmic now.

    And so, almost will you be, too.

    It is your boon companion, sheetmetal musketeer – up for any adventure, just the two of you.

    No matter how bad a day you’re having, if you take a Miata for the drive home, it won’t end badly. Therapy and drugs are oversold.

    Miatas for all.

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