2020 Mazda MX-5 RF Review
2020 Mazda MX-5 RF Review By Auto Critic Steve Hammes
If you’re lucky enough to consider a summer toy, Mazda’s been tempting shoppers with this one for 3 decades. Of course, it’s the Miata; the world’s fun-loving, affordable roadster.
The weather is warming up and top down driving is on your mind. But the dwindling 2-seat convertible segment is typically reserved for the wealthy. No worries; the Miata and its Fiat 124 Spider counterpart are the least expensive new roadsters on the market with starting MSRPs under $28,000.
After that, you’d end up at a $50,000 Audi TT. Now, you can stick with the base Miata soft-top or opt for this more sophisticated RF model…short for retractable fastback. After toying with a number of approaches to creating this beautiful silhouette while largely preserving the 4 ½ cubic feet of cargo volume, engineers developed this ingenious folding top that isn’t pure convertible as much as it is targa. It takes 13 seconds to deploy and is fully automatic with nothing more to do than hold a switch, though the car basically needs to be stationary for it to work.
How can you not love the look? Visually, it’s far more alluring than the soft top, adds only a little more than 100 pounds and divvies up the weight distribution to a perfect 50/50. There’s no base Sport model as with the soft top so this MX-5 Club is the entry trim with an MSRP of $33,990; a premium of $2,755.
But this car has an option I haven’t tested in a Miata for a long while; an automatic transmission. For an extra $600 this 6-speed auto replaces the 6-speed manual. On the plus side, it nets slightly better fuel economy of 30mpg and thus provides a bit more driving range. Unfortunately, it eliminates available features such as the induction sound enhancer, Bilstein shocks, a shock tower brace, a limited slip differential, a sport tuned suspension and a black roof. Apparently, Mazda thinks if you’re choosing the auto your driving intentions are a bit more subdued.
Now last year, Mazda upped the output from the 2.0-liter engine to 181 horsepower at a higher 7,000 rpm and a much more modest 151 pound-feet of torque at 4,000 rpm. It still doesn’t feel quick but that’s really never been the Miata’s M.O. anyway. Spirited driving is done safely because the Miata is gradual and predictable in its handling. You can really feel what’s happening at the rear wheels and react accordingly. It’s pure and organic driving unlike anything else this side of an Alfa Romeo 4C.
As you know, I’m not part of the save the manual movement because I really don’t care that much BUT there are certain cars that need a stick shift and I would put the Miata in that group. It’s not that this 6-speed is bad it actually fires off some quick shifts using the paddles, but the lack of engagement truly dings this experience. Mostly because this engine is a lightweight so take away the ability to select gears and it can feel rather boring.
Some sexy exhaust sound would aid in the cause but Mazda’s engines sound completely unappealing.
The new tilt and telescoping wheel is a welcome addition because finding just the right fit in here isn’t always easy.
Now, I’m not a broad-shouldered guy and even for me the top of these seats feels narrow…good for holding you in place but not necessarily comfortable if you’re at all husky. I do like the Bose speakers in the headrest, however.
New for 2020 on this Club model is the gorgeous Polymetal Gray paint and Apple CarPlay and Android Auto for the part-time touchscreen infotainment system.
The club also comes with ample safety features including blind spot monitoring with rear cross traffic alert which sounds superfluous in such a small car but when this roof is up rearward visibility is challenged. There’s also a backup cam now but no navigation on this car. There is no glove box either but there is a deep center storage console and some more cubbies behind the seat. There are also heated seats so if the weather’s crisp just pump up the heat and warm them up. Yes, there’s more wind noise but it barely invades the cabin so easy conversation is still possible.
My car is also equipped with the optional $800 Appearance Package which includes Side Sill Extensions and a Rear Diffuser in Brilliant Black. The Miata RF is sexy and is still turning heads. Total MSRP of this one is $35,390 – but do yourself a favor. Save some money and keep the manual.