Saturday 14 December 2019

Pros and cons of new Mazda MX-5 RF

First Drive in Barcelona: Mazda MX-5 RF

On sale next month: Mazda MX-5 RF
On sale next month: Mazda MX-5 RF
Interior of Mazda MX-5 RF
A rear view of Mazda MX-5 RF
Eddie Cunningham

Eddie Cunningham

It should have been straightforward enough:

1. Drive along the squiggly, narrow hill roads around Barcelona in Mazda's new hardtop RF (retractable fastback) version of the World Car of the Year, the MX-5.

2. Try the new 2-litre engine and give the old/current 1.5-litre a run-out too.

3. Work out which combination of roof and engine I liked best and enjoy the drive.

It turned out to be not so easy. I'll tell you why after I've briefly explained what they have done.

They have made the RF version to go with the existing soft-top.

They still have the 1.5-litre petrol engine driving both but have added a 2-litre to the RF range.

So off I went in the latest combo: 2-litre and RF at full tilt on precipitous mountain roads that were originally carved, I suspect, for horse-drawn carts and wide enough for only one car on some stretches. Luckily there wasn't much on-coming traffic.

The RF is 45kgs heavier, thanks to the three-part roof, which folds away into its own little compartment (minimal impact on boot space) and they have tweaked suspension, steering, etc., to account for that - and to give it a bit more handling edge. Of course, it still has the classic sports car set-up: front-engine and rear-wheel-drive.

There was loads of torque in the 2-litre - much of my driving, even at its briskest, was in third gear. Colleagues who picked the 1.5-litre for that section reported having to work hard on the gears to keep it on song. Only to be expected; there is 30bhp of a difference.

I had fun. That's what the car is supposed to be about, regardless of roof or engine. The 2-litre sounded better, that's for sure. And in my subsequent 1.5-litre drive there was no doubting the gap in performance.

I wouldn't agree with some comments that it was 'gutless'. I enjoyed a less strenuous drive in it on better roads and flatter terrain.

With no pressure on it to perform, it was grand. The following morning I drove the 2-litre again on urban roads. All of which had me posing the question: what conclusions can be drawn? I think, after much deliberation, it's quite simple.

I think people who want a roadster with reasonable drive will buy the soft-top with the 1.5-litre engine.

I think men, in particular, would view the 2-litre RF as an indication they are driving something more (cliché) macho. I can't see too many buying the 1.5-litre RF, though there is a strong case to be made for it in our climate and it does have that extra bit of security.

Me? I think the RF changes the profile of the car. I think it works. But I'd opt for the roadster if I had the money and the inclination. And I am in good company. I asked the car's project manager, Nobuhiro Yamamoto (he is the Chief Programme Manager for the 4th generation MX-5) which he'd go for. He gave an honest answer: the soft-top. I'm in good company so.

Here are key things to know about Mazda's new RF:

* It goes on sale next month from €31,495 (1.5-litre); 2-litre starts from €36,695.

* The three-part roof and accoutrements add 45kgs. Roof goes up/down in 13 seconds.

* Boot space (127litres) is only three litres smaller than the soft-top.

* It's an affordable sports car.

* The 2-litre 160PS engine only comes with GT grade (which also has limited slip differential and 17ins wheels).

* Standard spec includes alloys, LED headlights, MZD Connect, cruise control, auto air con.

* GT models with the 1.5-litre have 16ins alloys and piano black wing mirrors. The 2-litre GT has 17ins bright alloys and body-coloured wing mirrors.

* An automatic transmission option.

* Recaro seats (brilliant on test) are not coming to Ireland.

* A 9-speaker BOSE audio system is optional.

* Key figures: 1.5 (6.1l/100km, 142g/km - 6spd); 2.0 (6.9/100km, 161g/km - 6spd manual).

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