Just in time for the warm weather, I’ve been handed the keys to a new Mazda MX-5 RF – and I reckon it’s the perfect car for a balmy British summer.
However, a weekend in the summer months here in the UK is just as likely to be hit by a thunderstorm as it is a heatwave, so it’s useful to know that your car is always ready for whatever the weather throws at it.
Mazda’s ‘Retractable Fastback’ roof – it’s a folding hard-top to most of us – couldn’t be a better solution to our unique seasonal weather patterns. With the hood in place, the convertible might as well be a coupe, because the metal set-up makes it feel much more grown-up inside.
The soft-top version of this car always stays nice and dry, but it’s not as refined as the RF while on the move, and any leaves, tree sap or seeds that drop on to it are more of a pain to clean off the fabric.
The Mazda gets parked under a tree at my house, and most of the debris that falls on to it after a shower will just fall off once it’s dry. The sap can be wiped off easily, too. The birds that live up there seem to have a grudge against the poor little MX-5, though, so I’m even more glad that I don’t have to scrub at a canvas roof every week.
It’s not always wet, of course, and a recent spell of hot weather means I’ve almost always been driving with the roof down. Since the rear window folds away as well, if you get the windows down it really does feel almost as exposed as the soft-top version, giving a similar sense of freedom that’s so brilliant about roadsters and so appealing.
There are few joys in motoring like getting the roof down on a hot day on a good road, and the RF is no exception. My only problem is that because the roof is electrically operated, it is much slower to fold down (13 seconds) than in the near-instant soft-top model – even if it is a lot less effort. Still, the MX-5 does happen to get most of the other joys of motoring spot-on as well.
The six-speed manual’s precise, satisfying gearshift means that every single journey in the RF is great fun. Slotting each gear into place positively, and using the responsive throttle to blip your own downshifts, is so involving. Even around town there hasn’t been a dull moment in the Mazda.
Few of the new cars that I test feature naturally aspirated engines, so the free-revving 158bhp 2.0-litre unit in our car is a delight to use and a refreshing change for me. It’s not as revvy as the 1.5-litre version, but it is a bit more powerful – and that extra grunt comes in useful in the slightly heavier RF.
It’s still not what most people would consider to be particularly quick for a sports car, but I think it’s just right for this type of vehicle. You can enjoy revving it to the red line on a public road without breaking the speed limit, and the low driving position makes it feel faster than it really is.
Mazda’s engineers have got it right with the MX-5, as they seem to understand better than most that blistering performance isn’t always required for a car to be genuinely fun to drive on the road.
The bits that they get right might not be at the top of the list in most marketing board meetings, but Mazda knows these points improve the car immeasurably for the customer. That matters.
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