2017 Mazda MX-5 Miata RF

Back in 2003, Mazda converted the NB Miata into a coupe, but only in limited numbers, and only for the Japanese market. The roots of that car actually go back to an American Miata coupe concept from 1996, and aftermarket hardtops have provided an easy upgrade since the early days. But the RF was born in part because the NC-generation Power Retractable Hard Top actually outsold the soft-top for several years. Therefore, the ND was designed with the retractable fastback body in mind from day one.

2017 Mazda MX-5

Simultaneously, Mazda is trying to go upmarket. So instead of directing its limited resources towards expanding production capacity (and thus cutting waiting times), all the money will be poured into the engineering and design departments to make future Mazdas look, feel and drive better than anything for the price.

So far, Mazda’s naturally-aspirated engine strategy has worked out just fine, and with the new “Kodo” design language hitting the spot for more and more people, Mazda is aiming for the same levels of customer emotional attachment that most premium brands enjoy. The Miata RF, and its roughly $2600 price hike over the soft-top, fits right into that picture.

Mazda says only a quarter of Miata soft-top buyers would consider going for the transforming coupe. It’s no secret that the RF targets a completely new audience, perhaps an older generation looking for more comfort than the Colin Chapman fans, without giving up on the roadster experience.

Mazda clearly didn’t try to beat Fiat in the horsepower game either-the Italian’s 164 hp turbo Miata, known as the Abarth 124 Spider, will always be the torquier twin. If you want more power, Mazda recommends looking into the mirror, and repeating “balance, balance, balance” for as long as it takes to chase your demons away. That being said, I was hesitant to believe that the RF would drive as nicely as the soft-top. While 113 lbs. might be a surprisingly low weight penalty for a proper roof, 155 horsepower and 148 lb-ft of torque doesn’t offer much of a reserve to cope with the added mass.

But lightness has its price, and with or without a hardtop, the MX-5 remains barely more than a sports car chassis with some shiny aluminum bolted to it for legal reasons. I love that fact, and I’d daily both versions without hesitation. Even if at 6′ 2″, I’m much taller than Miata program manager Nobuhiro Yamamoto (who has since retired, and now serves as Miata brand ambassador), so my knees often clunk against steering column.

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