Sunny forecast for MX-5 RF

Giving the world’s best-selling roadster a retractable solid top will harden up its appeal, the distributor reckons.


PAST buyer preference for the MX-5 in its purest – and some might say, most appealing - state is over now a retractable hardtop edition is here.

This view is suggested by Mazda New Zealand, having launched three versions of the RF, a model designed to appeal to those who while enjoying a wind-in-the-hair sporting experience also desire the convenience and security that a folding three-piece metal roof brings.

The six-speed manual provides in $48,495 GSX and $51,495 Limited formats while there is also a Limited with a six-speed automatic, for $52,995, that Mazda NZ reckons will be the most popular choice.

This is the second generation of MX-5 to be designed with a mechanical hardtop roof. Before that the solution was a cost-extra bolt-on hard top.

The new RF – for ‘Retractable Fastback’ - represents a departure from previous design in that it has a coupe-like body styling with a targa roof that folds away electronically.

What’ll be the take-up? Historically Kiwis have shown preference to run with a soft option. The country supports thousands of roadster editions – many being ex-Japan used imports.

The count includes the latest ND generation, which has accrued 135 registrations since introduction in 2015, initially in 1.5-litre form with the 2.0-litre joining last year. The ND count is thought to comprise entirely NZ-new cars.

The enthusiast preference for the soft-top was reaffirmed to Motoring Network at the weekend, when we took part in a regional MX-5 club event in the Manawatu.

The gathering reaffirmed the MX-5’s incredible reliability and longevity with the majority of models being NB editions, which came out in the late 1990s, though a handful were the later NC. Motoring Network and one other entrant represented the car in its earliest, 1989-launched NA format. At the other of the stick, the club welcomed its first ever ND owner at the weekend.

Interestingly, though, all were roadsters. And most were manual gearbox cars.

That insight into the club scene, however, doesn’t seem to cut so much ice with Mazda NZ.

Having expressed view last year that the RF would create a “bigger volume opportunity” than its predecessor, Mazda NZ has now stated nine out of 10 ND buyers will from now on will prefer to run with the option of a solid roof, which is operable – both ways – on the move, albeit at just 10kmh, a brisk walking speed.

There’s also thought most within that crowd will want the car with an automatic transmission, not the manual that was, until the second-generation car, the sole choice.

To start off that trend, the brand has included 15 special edition Limited RF-S automatics at $54,995.

Despite this, there is no intention yet to dilute the roadster choice, which covers a 1.5-litre GSX grade six-speed manual ($40,995), and a 2.0-Litre Limited grade in a six-speed manual ($46,995) or automatic transmission ($48,495).

The distributor forecasts selling 135 MX-5s for the remainder of this year.

In material sent to MotoringNetwork by Mazda NZ, the operation’s managing director, Andrew Clearwater, expresses thought that the RF will see the acceleration of open top motoring to a wider audience.

“The RF is a car that broadens the appeal of the MX-5, and it is something that only Mazda could create,” he said.

Actually, that's a bit of a stretch. Overseas’ commentators have not failed to notice how similar the Hiroshima brand’s roof system actually apes that which debuted on the Porsche 911 Targa.

As on the German car, the Mazda’s system enables the rear deck to lift up entirely in order for the removable section of roof to fold away beneath it.

Regardless of the provenance, it’s a stylish solution – and a swift one. Mazda reckons the car will go from being a coupe to a targa-top cabriolet in a world-beating 13 seconds.

Mazda’s designers had to create some new bodywork to achieve the targa. The RF has different side and rear profiles to the roadster. The roof is made of four parts – with the rear roof rising up and back to swallow the front and middle roof, as well as the rear window, then easing back into place to retain the fastback shape.

The design that means the styling flows over the windscreen and down the rear in an unbroken line missing only a segment overhead when the top is off. The NC generation hardtop iteration would fully collapse its roof into the space between seats and the boot, so the back was flat from the headrests to the tail.

The RF is 47kg heavier than the Roadster but maintains the same 50:50 weight distribution as the roadster and also keeps an identical boot capacity, though it’s a modest 130 litres.

The decision to restrict the RF option to the 2.0-litre seems to be designed to ensure there are no performance concerns due to the extra weight.

Meanwhile, attendees at this weekend’s Leadfoot Festival on the Millan Ranch at Hahei, on the Coromandel Peninsula, will see the one millionth MX-5 produced, a current generation car.

The popular hillclimb event is one of the last public duties for the example, which has been touring the world.