Mazda MX-5 RF Sport Black

There's a £2,000 premium to order the RF variant over the standard fabric-topped MX-5 roadster model. And a further premium of £2,000 or so is needed to order this 'Sport Black' special edition variant over the standard 2.0-litre 160ps 'SE-L Nav' derivative it's based upon. That takes the asking price to nearly £26,000, so it's just as well that the 'Sport Black' is generously endowed with equipment. Included in the tally are leather seats, rain-sensing front wipers, rear parking sensors and automatic headlights, plus you get Mica paint. In addition, there's a standard limited slip differential. On to safety, intrinsically engineered into this car, says Mazda, thanks to its 'SKYACTIV-Body' which absorbs and disperses impact energy to prevent cabin deformation.. Twin front and side airbags are standard across the range, as are the usual electronic safety aids - ABS, Dynamic Stability Control and Traction Control. There's also a bonnet designed to limit injuries should you be unfortunate enough to hit a pedestrian. In addition, MX-5 buyers get an isofix childseat attachment for the passenger seat, Tyre Pressure Monitoring and Hill Hold Assist to stop you from drifting backwards on uphill junctions.

Driving Experience

Under the bonnet, this RF Sport Black model gets the same 2.0-litre 160PS powerplant available in the standard range.

This fourth generation MX-5 design conforms to five key criteria that Mazda claim define this model line - rear drive with a front-mid engine layout, 50/50 weight distribution and an eagerness to change direction, plus a low kerb weight and an affordable price.

You'll swap cogs with a six-speed manual gearbox and benefit from a standard limited slip differential in getting the power down out of tight corners. As you would expect, the suspension and electric power steering parameters of the MX-5 have been specifically tuned for the Retractable Fastback version.

In addition, a sound-absorbing headliner used in the front and middle roof panels combines with sound insulation around the rear wheel housings to deliver a significantly quieter cabin when the roof is closed.

If you want to open the top, this can be done on the move at speeds of up to 6mph.

Background

So what have we here? A special edition version of a roadster with a hard top folding roof.

Ah...

Pardon my reticence but cars with folding hard top roofs can be rather grotty things.

Curiously malformed with distended bottoms and pinched cabins, they usually lose their looks and their practicality once the roof's up and all you're left with is toothbrush room in the boot once the hood has done its contortionist's trick.

Oh yes, these cars offer the customer more.

More weight, more complexity and more expense, that is.

Therefore, we shuddered when Mazda first announced a 'Retractable Fastback' 'RF' version of its fourth generation MX-5.

But we needn't have worried.

It's the exception that proves the rule. Utilising the basis of an existing MX-5, Mazda has managed to build a car that appeals to a subtly different audience.

For many metropolitan types, parking on street is a way of life but the hard-topped RF variant offers additional security and is vandal-proofed in a manner that no fabric-roofed car can be.

It's also a little more refined than the soft-top model.

And looks great in this limited edition Sport Black guise.

Cost of Ownership

In contrast to the metal folding top 'Roadster Coupe' bodystyle in the previous generation MX-5 range, this RF model's top doesn't add a significant amount of weight to this iconic little car.

Which means that in this form, the MX-5 should cost you pretty much the same amount to run as the equivalent fabric-roofed variant.

To be specific, the 2.0-litre version featured here will return a combined fuel consumption return of 40.9mpg and a CO2 reading of 161g/km. On to residual values, always a relative strongpoint with this car.

Independent experts CAP reckon that after the usual three year/60,000 mile ownership period, this car will retain between 39 and 42% of its original value.

To give you some perspective, a premium open-topped sportscar like, say, a BMW Z4 or a Mercedes SLC would give you between 33 and 34%.

Yes, something like an Audi TT Roadster would do better, but its higher purchase price inevitably means that you'll lose more money throughout your time of ownership.

CAP forecasts suggest that over the regular three year period, the TT will lose over £19,000, well over £6,000 more than the value this MX-5 would shed.

Makes you think doesn't it?

Design and Build

This MX-5 RF Sport Black model follows Mazda's long held tradition of producing distinctive limited edition MX-5s with stand-out looks, enhanced equipment and a bit of exclusivity.

The black rear spoiler, piano black door mirrors and gunmetal alloy wheels contrast with the 'Eternal Blue Mica' paint, while inside unique floor mats, scuff plates and badging further distinguish this more individual MX-5. The MX-5 RF's electrically retractable hardtop consists of front, middle and rear roof sections - and a rear screen.

When the top is lowered, the front and middle portions are stowed together, while the rear glass sits behind the seats, leaving the rear roof section in place to create a unique open-topped look, plus a cabin feeling that combines a sense of open air freedom with the impression of being securely ensconced within the car. A 5mm increase in roof height aside, the RF retains the same overall length, width and wheelbase as the standard MX-5 convertible, but thanks to gently downward-slopping buttresses that tuck in at the sides to create a teardrop shape, the RF's elegant fastback silhouette accentuates the MX-5's dynamic and contemporary sports car proportions in quite a unique way. Otherwise, things are much as they are in any other MX-5.

True to sportscar tradition, there's a stitched leather-trimmed short-throw gearshift lever, with further premium leather on a grippy three-spoke steering wheel that looks and feels great but sadly, still only adjusts for height and not for reach.

Through it, you view three satin chrome-ringed gauges, a large rev counter centrally positioned in pride of place.

Summary

If you've decided you'd like an MX-5 RF, then you'll certainly like the idea of this Sport Black version.

The Mazda MX-5 is a tough car to improve upon but the Retractable Fastback version just about manages it, effectively offering added capability with - cost aside - almost no downside.

With many MX-5 models down the years, the ethos was always less is more.

The entry-level car was usually the best bet but the RF variant changes this, offering a slightly more mature feel that rewards a bigger engine and more kit. The hard-top version of the MX-5 has brought the car onto the radar of a new group of buyers.

The security and refinement associated with the metal roof will certainly appeal and the automatic gearbox option will also prove a neat fit with buyers wanting a more relaxed everyday drive.

To this, the Sport Black embellishments should prove the icing on the cake to buyers who, understandably, can see nothing else on the roadster market that quite replicates what's on offer in this Mazda.

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