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First road test 2017 Mazda MX-5 RF: live life to the fullest

One of the many trending topics pertaining the automotive industry is the inevitable arrival of the autonomous car. You’ve more than likely read a number of stories on the subject and if you’re looking for a precise timeline as to when to expect them, you’ll have noticed that experts can’t agree on a date, year or even decade.

2017 Mazda MX-5 RF

Mazda MX-5 RF

Thankfully, and in the meantime, Mazda’s still hard at work producing cars that are not only attractive, affordable and useful, but amongst some of the best to drive in their respective categories. The best-of-the-best in this group is the MX-5 and the latest ND generation clearly demonstrates Mazda’s intent. Contrary to trends and expectations, the car is lighter and less powerful than the previous. Have they made a mistake? As far as I’m concerned, I thank them from the bottom of my heart.

Since 1989, the Miata has put a solid smile on more than 1 million happy owners’ faces and if we’re to believe Mazda, they’re far from done with the über-popular roadster. I headed down to San Diego, in very-warm Southern California, to sample the latest RF (Retractable Fastback), its nifty folding roof and flying buttress inspired rear quarters.

Mazda’s styling team was looking to create a sleeker fastback coupe-like shape for the RF. According to some in-house studies, 80% of power-retractable-hard-top (PRHT) MX-5 owners drive with the roof in place more often than not. The goal then was to create an MX-5 that looks as good with the roof up, or down. Would you call me crazy if I told you that it reminds me of the E-Type Jaguar?

Mazda MX-5 RF

Mazda MX-5 RF

Because of the roof’s shape, the car’s cabin seems to have migrated towards the rear, creating the illusion that the bonnet has grown considerably. Don’t be fooled however as only the quarter panels and trunk lid are not shared with the roadster. Once aboard, we find ourselves in a very familiar environment, as the layout is unchanged from all other Miatas. Actually, there is one small difference and it is the roof operation switch located at the bottom left portion of the center console.

The MX-5 RF is the top-line premium version of the Miata and this explains why Mazda has lined two of the three roof panels with a sound-absorbing headliner. I can almost imagine the question of weight brewing in your mind. Surely, such a roof with its complex mechanism must add a considerable amount of girth and negatively affect the car’s performance. This is a valid question, and here’s the answer: It does not.

Mazda’s brilliant engineers were obviously prepared for this. It is true that the roof ads 56 kg (113 lbs.) but fear not, Mazda has it all figured out. To offset the gain, the RF’s suspension was retuned in order to bring it as close as possible to that of the roadster’s. The physical changes are limited to the rear, to one bushing and bump stops.

Steering was also recalibrated with a little less assistance from on-center for more feel for the driver. The brakes are strong, with all the necessary power and a responsive pedal that is easy to modulate.

Many non-believers are convinced that the 2,0-litre 4-cylinder’s 155 horsepower and 148 torques are insufficient to have any kind of fun. It is true that these numbers would only be impressive on a Mazda2 but the car has to be driven to be appreciated. Throttle response is second to none in the car world and the slick-shifting 6-speed manual transmission is perfectly suited to the engine. In real life, an MX-5 that will reach 100 km/h in just over 7 seconds is a quick one.

Obviously, we are not dealing with a drag car but once under way, the MX-5’s driver will be all smiles and for hours. The combination of controlled body roll, a sweet sounding 4-pot and top-down cruising equals to nothing short of the best of times. Nowadays, less than a handful of cars can accomplish such a tour-de-force.

The MX-5’s road handling is predictable, and there no way one can get bored by its behavior. Its neutral chassis setting limits over- and understeer, which makes it easy to drive. One must really take it for a spin to fully grasp what it is and what it can do.

The 2017 Mazda MX-5 RF is already in dealer showrooms and the retail price for the base GS is of $38,800. All that it requires is the $4,400 Sport Package and you’ll have yourself the perfect car.

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