The word Miata hasn't appeared on a roadster from Mazda since 2005. It's not on the door sills, it's not on the seats, it's not on the trunk lid, it's not stamped secretly on any parts, it's not hidden somewhere in the radio.
(There's snow in these photos because we drove the RF for the first time a few months ago. There's no more snow in New York now. It's June. - Ed.)
Yet, somehow, the MX-5, yes, the car's given name, has still been a 'Miata.' Since 1989, that word has implied a sort of lightweight zen, a car that has everything you need, nothing you don't. You can pull one (or two, if you have an older one) clips, throw the top over your shoulder, and then you're off, top down and all.
That's something every Miata has in common. But it's not something the MX-5 PRHT and the MX-5 RF share.
Now, before I dive further down this little rabbit hole, I want to make something very clear: I'm fanboy number one when it comes to the Miata. I've owned a 1996 Miata for 13 years. When people ask what car they should buy, I inevitably tell them to buy a Miata. I don't care what their needs are or if they specifically said that they didn't want a Miata, I will suggest the Miata.
That means I'm also a bit of an asshole about these cars. I have very particular thoughts and feelings about the small Mazda roadster, and I tend to think that anything which dare spoil the minimalism of the experience is an affront to not only Miatas, but to all of humanity.
The first problem was the MX-5 PRHT, the power retractable hardtop that was available on the NC generation. The PRHT was a hardtop that fit in the exact same space that's reserved for the soft top on the regular Miata. It gained about 80 pounds compared to the base car and still let you maximize the top down enjoyment. The only negative is that there was a wait for the top to go down. Yes, it only took 12 seconds for it to drop, but a regular Miata took one second, one hand, and could be done at basically any speed. Easy peasy.
What made the folding hardtop less objectionable on the NC is that while it was a great car, it wasn't necessarily a great Miata. It had ballooned in size and weight compared to the previous two generations, so another 80 pounds wasn't really that big of a deal.
But it's a big deal on the ND.
Why? Because the ND was painstakingly engineered to be as light as possible. Mazda employed something called the 'gram strategy,' which means they took out weight wherever they could. There's no glovebox. The glass has tiny holes cut out of the parts you can't see. The gearbox housing is smooth, not ribbed, and varies thickness to make it rigid but not heavy. That means the 2,332 pound ND saved about 150 pounds from the NC, a huge achievement.
The RF adds back 113 of those pounds. Imagine you're an actor and went on a diet for a role. You lose 100 pounds (great job, you!). But then the director tells you the role has changed and he needs you to gain back almost all of it. Sucks, right?
Am I being overly critical? Of course. Also, see above where I said I'm insufferable. The driving experience with the hard top is roughly, if not exactly, the same as the regular Miata. But there are a few issues.
With an insulated top like this, you'd expect it to be a quieter car. And it is. But it's not "grand touring quiet." It's marginally quieter with the top up, and actually kind of worse with the top down. And that's thanks to the flying buttresses, which don't actually let you have a full top down experience. It should have been called the Miata RGA, because mashing that together would create something called a Miatarga. And like a Porsche 911 Targa, it's a beautiful car that's needlessly compromised with top up or down.
Once the top goes down in either a Miata or 911 Targa, the buffeting isn't horrible–it's not like a Miata is the greatest with keeping your hair in place–but the wind noise is the opposite of excellent. And that's because the air hits the cross bar above the buttresses, accelerates around it, and then back into the cabin where it messes up your hair and hits your ears.
Top up, you have more road and wind noise than you'd want with a hardtop. And it's more noise than I think many potential RF buyers would be interested in hearing, though I could just be wrong.
So, a heavier, more expensive Miata that's worse with the top down and marginally better with the top up. It looks excellent in profile with the top up, but any angle that shifts slightly rearward is awkward at best, thanks to the way the separation between the rear window and buttresses. And with the top down, the fake rear quarter window (which is just a piece of black plastic) becomes painfully obvious.
I know I should be excited about another version of the world's best selling roadster, but I'm too close to the subject in question to be anything but biased. Is the RF a bad car? Not at all. It's still better than 99 percent of what's out there. But would I rather own a soft top over a retractable hard top Miata? 100 percent of the time, yes. I realize that the RF isn't for a hardcore Miata purist, but if it's meant to appeal to an audience looking for more comfort, it may not have gone far enough to appease them either.
For me, the RF is too compromised for its own good. But is that the case for the casual buyer? We'll have to wait and see.
Correction: An earlier version of this post stated that the ND Miata weighed 250 pounds less than the NC Miata. The difference is closer to 150 pounds. The story has been updated accordingly.
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