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People have been customising Mazda’s cult hit, the MX5, for 27 years now. Just a simple Google search will bring up hard-top, low-rider and even off-road versions of the iconic car. It was about time Mazda got in on the action by trying something new to spice-up its best-selling sports car. If you leaf through the great book of iconic ’70s Japanese sports cars, you’ll come across the likes of Datsun’s 240Z, the original Toyota Celica or even Mazda’s own rotary-powered RX-7. They all have a long bonnet and teardrop cabin styling that, in my opinion, has been injected into the new Mazda MX5 RF.
Despite its wealth of motoring awards and accolades, it has taken generations for the MX5 to shake its unfounded ‘hairdresser’ reputation. However, this new, butch-looking RF, with its retro, retractable targa-top, has hit the nail on the head in terms of looks. The new roof, which Mazda tells me now opens and closes while the vehicle is in motion at speed of 10km/h or less, leaves the rear buttressed section in place for that ’70s look.
It’s not just a style upgrade for the MX5; the team at Mazda revamped another department too — its motor. The GT version of the RF is available with the 2.0-litre engine the MX5 has been craving for over 20 years. You can get a standard RF with the 130bhp 1.5-litre engine, but as far as I’m concerned, that’s akin buying a vegan kebab. Having owned and lived with a 1991 1.6-litre MX5, I know first-hand how much you yearn for the little bit of extra power required to perfect the recipe. This new 160bhp, 2.0-litre engine is perfectly at home in the RF-GT and combined with the limited slip differential, Bilstein dampers, strut brace and 17-inch wheels, it delivers a full house of credentials to solidify its reputation as a bona fide sports car.
The MX5 RF has a noise-absorbing headliner in the roof and noise insulation in the rear wheel housing, which will make for a much quieter ride when the roof is up. The RF-GT boasts rain-sensing wipers, rear-parking sensors, smart keyless entry, premium Bose surround-sound and heated leather seats, as well as alloy wheels, LED headlights, MZD connect, cruise control and automatic air conditioning. Its boot is large enough, at 127 litres, for two carry-on luggage bags and the folding roof doesn’t go into the trunk, so you can pack up for a weekend away and take the roof down without having to put bags on your lap.
Last year I had the pleasure of taking both the standard 1.5-litre and the 2.0-litre GT through the Montserrat Mountains outside Barcelona. As with all MX5s, the car felt like it was welded to the road as I zig-zagged along the mountain pass. The small 1.5-litre engine with its 130bhp was a blast as it sang and begged to be revved to the very peak of its range. All fun and games when on a mountain climb, but in real life you’ll find yourself caning it to within an inch of its life every time you feel like joining a fast-moving road. The 2.0-litre stole the show that day and continued to do so back in Ireland. Its extra power is practical and usable.
I love this car, but I have to be honest about something; it’s a little tight inside. I’m 6’1’’ and 85kg and I felt a little cramped on board when wearing a coat. They’ve also gotten rid of the glove-box and there are no door pockets. I honestly don’t understand why they would dispense with storage areas in such a small car. The central console has a cubby hole in it and two ridiculously-placed cup-holders that you are guaranteed to knock with your elbow when changing gear or trying to access said cubby-hole.
However, this car isn’t about well-placed cup-holders or room for children; it’s about driving it and my God, does it do that properly. Nothing is as poised, planted or responsive as the RF-GT. It’s naturally aspirated motor has plenty of guts through every gear. It delivers power in that old-school sports car way and it feels simply magic.
The 1.5 litre RF produces 141 CO2, gets 6.1 litre/100km and goes from 0-100kph in 8.6 seconds, while the 2.0 produces 161 CO2, gets a slightly worse 6.9 litre/100km and goes from 0-100kph in a very respectable 7.4 seconds. The 1.5 starts at €31,495 and the road tax will cost €390; the price jumps to €33,695 for the RF-GT and then on again to €33,995 for the RF-GT with tan leather interior. The 2.0 RF GT will be retailing in Ireland for €36,695 and road tax will set you back €570 a year, while the version with tan leather interior will be an extra €300, at €36,995.
My advice to you would be to get your children a bus pass or leap card and treat yourself to an MX5 RF-GT.