Mazda MX-5 RF: My love/hate relationship

By Nick Hodgson

The new Mazda MX-5 really annoys me, more than I ever thought possible. The reason is simple. On one hand I still absolutely love this little roadster, and on the other I think it’s been completely ruined. This just leaves me feeling conflicted as unlike most cars, the MX-5 perfectly balances its flaws with its outstanding qualities. It’s a difficult feeling to describe, but hopefully once you’ve come on this conundrum of a journey with me you’ll understand.

First off the looks. I’m on the love them side where I know many of you are wondering what they were thinking. The reason I love them is the previous generation looked somewhat bulbous and ungainly, particularly from the front, which didn’t inspire those “drive me I’m fun” feelings. The new MX-5, even in RF format looks slim, focused and the sharp angles on it give a sense of purpose and serious intentions. We could argue for days as to which is the best looking generation, but I think the ND generation, as this one is termed among anorak MX-5 fans, will be remembered as one of the better looking ones.

But it’s more cramped on the inside. Now I know Mazda has gone to great lengths to impress on us the engineering wizardry used to fit even the tallest of humans behind the wheel, yet as a relatively short human I feel like head room is lacking, so goodness only knows what someone in the high six-foot range will experience. Also, once again there is no glove box so I’m stuck with tiny storage spaces inconveniently scattered around the cabin. Behind the wheel though I’m much more at home. Sure the driving position has always been a little odd in an MX-5, but as a previous owner I felt comfortable and at home in no time. The steering wheel is wonderful too, maybe on the thin side for some people, but in a tiny roadster it’s perfect in my opinion. Steering wheel controls are wonderfully placed and combine that with the exceptionally intuitive Mazda infotainment system and it’s a great user experience.

But it’s an automatic and only available in RF form here in South Africa. Don’t get me wrong, Mazda automatics are some of my favourites, but that’s in their standard family vehicle form. A roadster like this needs some pep, some fizz to it. Those economical designed smooth gear changes combined with a smoothly revving naturally aspirated engine make for a very civilised driving experience, but not a fun one. So I find myself wondering why I still enjoyed driving it on a day to day basis, with the answer simply being that everything else is just that nice. The engine is lovely for a car like this, that bonnet gives an amazing view for the driver and the ride is superb for town driving. The whole experience just makes the daily commute better, even if I do find myself subconsciously reaching for a gear lever the whole time.

By now I’m sure you’re beginning to grasp why I’m so conflicted. However the biggest problem by far is this. Since Mazda dropped the soft-top completely and only offers an automatic gearbox, the price is now some R80,000 more. As a manual is undoubtedly how I want to drive this car every single day and quite frankly while the RF hardtop is somewhat of a novelty, a manual soft top is much faster and lighter. Mazda of course explain this away by justifying the soft top as the car of hard-core enthusiasts, while the RF is for those who want 90% of the experience with all the conveniences. Whether you buy this or not is going to come down to personal preferences, however I just cannot justify the price tag for these so called conveniences. Annoying too as I’ve always loved the MX-5 and indeed owned one at one stage. In such tough economic times, the new MX-5 needed to be a slam dunk and it’s a serious problem that it’s not.