Road test: Hats off to Mazda – a brilliant car emerges from confusion

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Mazda's MX-5 RF


MAZDA’S stylish little sports car, the MX-5, seems to have been overcome by a confusion of styles in its latest RF format.

Don’t let that put you off, though, because both Auto Express and website Honest John named it roadster of the year for 2017.

From the side, the car looks like one of those desirable convertible-derived coupes from the 1960s, typified by the Triumph GT6, based on the dreadful Spitfire, but also recalling graceful hardtops from Lenham Garages and Harrington that worked the magic on the Austin Healey Sprite MkII and Sunbeam Alpine respectively giving sufficient aerodynamic boost to make them Le Mans competitive.

Most people want an MX-5 to get the roof down and the RF sort-of obliges. It’s not really a coupe, because when you look from the rear those flowing side roof lines turn out to be flying buttresses similar to the unloved Jaguar XJS, now fast becoming a “classic” as is the modern way for cars shunned in their day and therefore now possessing rarity value. The MGC is another example.

The disadvantage of the design is that over the shoulder visibility at oblique junctions is no better than that of a small van, a difficulty exacerbated by the already low stance of the RF.

Even with this seeming drawback it remains a great little car, a major advance from the previous MX-5 fitted with a folding hardtop.

Watching the RF gets its lid off is entertaining. Those flying buttresses and their connecting panel literally take to the air and the roof panel cleverly divides to disappear before the buttresses lower to create a cover.

The best thing is that, unlike other folding hardtops, the boot capacity remains unaffected so there are no worries about bags getting squashed or stopping the mechanism from working.

Despite its million dollar looks – stunning, especially in metallic red – the MX-5 RF won’t cause too much of a hit on the bank balance.

The revvy 1.5 litre, 131 PS Sport Nav test car had a list price of £24,895 on the road and with its 8.3 second 0-62 mph time and top speed of 127mph it’s quick enough to frighten you witless on back roads if you’re that daft to be over indulgent.

You can have a bigger, 2.0 litre engine for less money if you compromise on the kit (or have the kit and hand over another £1,100) but best bet is to save it all, buy the basic model for £22,295, and pop into a bargain bookshop to pick up an AA road atlas for £1.99. Failing that, use the maps app or sat-nav built into most smartphones and smile about the £2,600 saving you’ve made.

It will, after all, pay your fuel bills for quite some time and, when you own a car like this, plenty of petrol is something you’ll want as you’ll be driving for the pure hell of it.

Getting in and out of the RF calls for some dexterity, as with any other small sports car, but it’s worth the effort and much safer than a motorbike. True you can just swing your leg over a motorbike but bikes are not without their hazards.

Inside the Mazda MX-5 RF

The MX-5, like the sports cars that inspired it with that early Healey and the 60s Lotus Elan among them, is sure-footed and designed to handle well within the capabilities of an average driver. It proves you don’t have to have a muscly supercar to have fun, just an open roof and a bit of imagination.

There’s a lovely view along the bonnet, enough to take your mind off the slight scuttle shake with the roof down. Flipping the roof off lets the air to your hair but the buttresses result in feeling more enclosed than you might like, but if that’s how it is there’s a normal canvas roof MX-5 to enjoy instead.

Between the seats of the RF is a Perspex see-through wind deflector that doesn’t move but is almost invisible once the folding roof with its heated rear screen is back in place.

The decent boot area also means that going on a bit of a summer tour can be achieved with enough luggage to survive, even if you have to pack with sufficient gear to cope with our changeable weather. The hard top also makes this a good all year car, perhaps more so than the full soft-top version.

Maurice and Annette Hardy

Car: Mazda MX-5 RD 1.5i Sport Nav

Does it fit our ego…

0-62 mph: 8.3 secs

Top speed: 127mph

PS: 131 @ 7,000 rpm

Torque: 150 Nm @ 4800 rpm

…and your wallet…

Price: £24,895

Combined: 46.3mpg

CO2 emissions: 142g/km

Best bits: great value sports car

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