NEW MAZDA MX-5 RF GT

Agile drop-top proves endlessly entertaining in RF manual guise with the clever retractable hardtop.

Engagement is the key to any MX-5 experience. Spread across four generations and 30 years, these diminutive but energetic sportscars are forever in tune with a driver’s mood. Factor in the low weight, low centre of gravity and 50/50 front-to-rear weight distribution of the current-shape ND and you have a sensational platform from which to exploit the ample torque of the 2.0-litre engine, the positive short-throw gearshift, and incisive steering.
The RF’s hardtop is a three-section affair constructed from steel, aluminium and plastic. It has three-layer headlining for refinement, and when it folds away, the glass rear window goes with it but the fastback-style buttresses remain in place. This fixed rear section means more protection from buffeting than the roadster with its small wind deflector.
The cabin is snug, of course, putting everything in close proximity and punishing those who fail to travel light. But it’s a comfortable cockpit in which to operate thanks to excellent ergonomics, wonderfully precise and responsive controls, and great visibility through the broad screen. Few cars immediately embrace you and get you in the zone so quickly that so you scarcely notice several hours at the wheel.
In celebrating 30 years of the MX-5, our focus was simply on driving and North Island scenery during an unseasonally warm first half of May. And to judge which was more memorable would be a tough call. The balmy weather brought birdsong, sea breezes and the smell of the country into the open cabin, and barely any bug splatter to the long snout and windscreen. The svelte two-seater remained unfazed by the elements; when showers burst onto the scene, or wind speeds suddenly rose, 10 seconds’ action on the roof switch was all that was needed to seal the cabin for comfort. Granted, working the roadster’s canvas hood is almost as easy, as it requires just one hand and a few seconds to open or close, even on the move, but you can’t beat the theatre of the retractable fastback or the added refinement that the hardtop brings.
There’s a delicacy to the way the MX-5 drives that is alien to most contemporary sportscars. It rewards positive, thoughtful inputs with eager and faithful responses that delight on trips of any length. You don’t need to thrash it to be thrilled by it. Of course, the 2.0-litre engine and six-speed manual ’box is a recipe for endless fun, and the MX-5 offers exceptional Jinba Ittai – the maker’s term for oneness between car and driver. This term also translates into outstanding body control and fluency when a flowing road begs to be devoured.
This fourth-generation Mazda MX-5 was not only voted 2016 World Car of the Year but also won the World Car Design award in the same year. New for 2019 (and coming soon to KiwiGarage) is an uprated 135kW version of the 2.0-litre MX-5. With more poke and the same purity of purpose, it promises to be the definitive version of Mazda’s small but perfectly formed roadster.

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MAZDA MX-5 RF GT

ENGINE 1998cc 4-cyl 16v

POWER 118kW (158bhp)

TORQUE 200Nm @ 4600rpm

TRANSMISSION 6-speed manual

DRIVETRAIN rear-wheel drive

WEIGHT 1110kg

LENGTH 3.95m

WHEELS 17-inch alloy

TYRES 205/45 (f) 205/45 (r)

0-100km/h 7.2 secs

FUEL CLAIM 7.0L/100km

PRICE from $52,990

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