Mazda weaves MX-5 magic

Mazda weaves MX-5 magic

In its latest form, Mazda’s MX-5 retains its status as a driver’s car that excites. What’s more, it’s relatively affordable compared with similarly styled sports car rivals, priced at R538 200. Wynter Murdoch reports


If you’re a motoring enthusiast who revels in the joy of a rewarding drive, one of the most alluring models you may want to try is Mazda’s MX-5 RF.


The two-seat derivative – which features an electrically powered retractable hard top – is the only model in the MX-5 range which Mazda South Africa currently imports, replacing the soft-roofed Roadster in the Japanese brand’s local line-up. 


Based on the fourth generation MX-5 and powered by a 2,0-litre, normally aspirated engine that produces 118kW and 200Nm, the RF has been widely acclaimed for the modern interpretation its clever roofing architecture brings to the convertible sector of the sports car market.



Characterised by fastback styling that is perceived to enhance the overall dynamic look of the vehicle – the RF nomenclature stands for Retractable Fastback – the roof can be opened or closed in 13 seconds at the flip of a switch. What’s more, it can be stored or erected even when the car is on the move, provided speed does not exceed 10km/h.


When stowed, the hard top’s components are designed to intrude as little as possible on boot space – meaning the model accommodates pretty much the same amount of luggage as the soft-top did; around 130 litres worth, enough for two overnight bags and some oddments.


In terms of dynamic ability, the RF is billed in the eyes of its designers as being representative of Jinba Ittai – a Japanese expression that describes the unity or bond between a horse and its rider, a concept has been fundamental in shaping MX-5 development.



Elements that promote the concept in the RF application include a low centre of gravity; an engine that’s positioned longitudinally, aft of the front axle, to facilitate even weight distribution; a light but strong chassis; rear wheel propulsion through a limited slip differential; and fast and accurate steering.


Shorter by about 100mm compared with the third generation MX-5, the RF’s body features a long bonnet, minimal overhangs at the front and rear, and a smooth roofline that angles down towards a docked tail. 




The engine, a four-cylinder SkyActiv unit, drives through a six-speed automatic gearbox – but for those who prefer to change cogs manually, paddle shifters are mounted on the steering wheel


Electrically assisted steering is light but sharp and precise, taking 2,5 turns lock to lock. Similarly, throttle and brake weightings show keenly crafted judgement in terms of their crisp responses, while gear changes are slick enough whether effected manually or automatically



The suspension system – double wishbones at the front, a multi-link set-up at the rear – copes admirably in soaking up imperfections, given its firm settings. Grip levels are high. In hard cornering or under severe braking a little body shimmy is discernable – but not enough to upset the vehicle’s composure. 



The engine thrives on hard work. Maximum power is achieved at around the 6 000 revs/min mark, while peak torque arrives at 4 600 rpm. Responses to throttle inputs are incisive. While the car’s 0 to 100km/h time falls within the six- to seven-second bracket, it feels much faster off the line. 


Another thing: With the top down the raspy exhaust note plays an invigorating tune, its tone turning to a snarl under hard acceleration. With the roof up the sound is well insulated, though still audible.



In terms of interior, the MX-5’s cockpit is well configured and surprisingly spacious for a car of such relatively inconspicuous proportions. Attention to detail is good, with enough leather, chrome, faux metal, colour-coding and soft touch plastic in evidence to suggest that it may have been conceived originally for a more expensive vehicle.


Standard features include keyless entry; front and side airbags, cruise control; an adaptive front-lighting system with LED headlamps; hill launch assist; i-Stop; blind spot monitoring; lane departure warning and internet radio integration.


Leather covered sports seats are supportive, comfortable and feature more fore or aft movement than was possible in the preceding model, though they are not height adjustable. And, while the steering column doesn’t telescope – allegedly in the interests of saving weight – it tilts up or down, so finding a comfortable driving position proves uncomplicated. 


Instrumentation – which features large white lettering on a black background – is dominated by a centrally placed rev counter flanked on either side by smaller dials which house, on the left, temperature, fuel and trip gauges and, on the right, a speedometer.


The infotainment system – which includes navigation – comprises a seven-inch, centrally placed display screen controlled by a rotary knob between the seats, with supplementary switches for audio and telephone on the steering wheel. The sound system incorporates speakers in the head rests – a clever piece of packaging in a cabin where obtaining optimum acoustic quality is difficult to achieve.  


Interior storage space is at a premium, however. There’s a small cubby hole and, at the rear of the centre console, a set of cup holders and, ahead of it, a compartment for a mobile phone. Door pockets are small.



From the outside, one of the most distinctive qualities of the MX-5 is the fact that even when standing still it looks fast – at least to my eye. From the narrow rake of icy LED running lights at the front to the juicy slices of red equivalents at the rear, there’s a swept back orientation to the styling that tends to accentuate aerodynamic efficiency.


From a behind the steering wheel perspective, the model certainly encourages driver and machine to work as one – and that, perhaps, has been the secret of the MX-5’s success ever since it was introduced as a rival to Lotus’s Elan way back in 1989.


In its latest form it remains a driver’s car that excites. What’s more, it’s relatively affordable compared with similarly styled convertible rivals, priced at R538 200.