Car shoppers looking for a Mazda Miata coupe have a new choice for 2017: the new Mazda MX-5 Miata RF, with a targa-looking, power hard top.
The 2017 MX-5 RF — for Retractable Fastback — is the closest Mazda has come to a coupe version of its long-selling Miata roadster. It's also the first Miata with beefy buttresses aft of the rear window. The new styling makes the car look like it's in motion even when it's parked. The MX-5 RF also is quieter inside than a soft-top Miata, at least when the metal roof is on. When the roof is lowered, some riders can notice a bit of wind buffeting from the buttresses area.
The Miata remains a recommended buy of Consumer Reports magazine, which lists predicted reliability as above average. The RF carries a starting manufacturer's suggested retail prices with destination charge of $32,730 with manual transmission and $33,460 with automatic.
The new RF is positioned above the 2017 soft-top Miata, which remains the most affordable MX-5 Miata with a starting MSRP with destination charge of $25,790 for a manual transmission model. The starting MSRP with destination charge for a 2017 MX-5 Miata soft top with an automatic transmission is $27,720. Both of these base models have Sport trims and include canvas roof, black, cloth-covered seats, keyless entry and power windows, door locks and outside mirrors.
The RF is available only in the upper trim levels of Club and Grand Touring and comes standard with the power-operated, body-color rectangular roof piece, larger wheels and tires, and a new instrument cluster.
The power roof can go up or down in as little as 13 seconds and can be activated while the car is traveling slowly, at speeds up to 6 miles per hour.
The rectangular metal roof piece is small enough that it doesn't reduce the Miata's already diminutive trunk space too much. Mazda reports the RF trunk capacity at 4.48 cubic feet compared with 4.59 cubic feet in a soft-top Miata where the folded fabric takes up less space.
The hard roof, though, does add more than 100 pounds to the lightweight Miata. The base, 2017 Miata Sport soft top model weighs some 2,330 pounds while an RF with manual transmission weighs 2,445 pounds.
The test MX-5 Miata RF in top-of-the-line Grand Touring trim didn't show ill effects of the added weight, though.
The low-slung car with 17-inch tires clung to the pavement and tenaciously held its line in long sweeping curves with off-camber patches of road.
A few big potholes demonstrated the limits of the travel in the car's suspension and jolted passengers, but the overall ride was firm and sporty. In fact, the hard roof appeared to help stiffen the car structure, making the tester handle like a solid, cohesive package.
Steering was responsive, and the car maneuvered nimbly into openings in traffic and tight parking spots.
Factory brakes in the test car worked just fine, but Mazda offers a $3,400 Brembo brake package for drivers who want even quicker stopping power.
Road noise and traffic sounds from nearby cars were muted compared with Miatas with canvas tops.
When the hard top came down, the Miata's open-air experience was as enjoyable as ever, even if some passengers might notice a bit of wind noise coming from the buttresses area.
All 2017 MX-5 Miata come with the same engine that was in the 2016 models.
With 2-liter displacement, the SkyActiv-G direct fuel injection four cylinder is not turbocharged and generates up to 155 horsepower and 148 foot-pounds of torque at 4,500 rpm. That's enough to make the less than 13-foot-long two-seater quick and fun to drive.
The six-speed manual transmission, with its short throws, is as pleasing to use as it has been in past Miatas.
The tester approached the U.S. government's estimates of 26 miles per gallon in city driving and 33 mpg on highways.
The MX-5 Miata interior can feel uncomfortable and tight for large-sized adults. With the roof on, headroom in the RF is just 36.8 inches, which is akin to what's in the back seats of some sedans.
The Miata has minimal storage space. Even cup holders in the test car were at the back wall, between the seats.