2017 Mazda MX-5: A $30K price tag with an $80K driving experience [First Look]

2017 Mazda MX-5 Retractable Fastback (Sinclair Broadcast Group / Jill Ciminillo)

Every time I watch the top of the 2017 Mazda MX-5 Retractable Fastback in operation, I’m mesmerized. It’s like watching a mechanical ballet in 13 seconds.

It’s as beautiful in operation as it is motionless – up or down.

The RF is all-new to the MX-5 lineup for the 2017 model year, and it is Mazda’s newest interpretation of the power hardtop. Rather than opting for a full convertible top, Mazda designers went with a targa-style top with an open rear window. While this is a huge departure from the previous-gen design, it is in line with the new design direction Mazda has taken with its entire brand: It’s sleek, powerful and looks like it’s moving even when it’s still.

Ken Saward, design manager at Mazda North America Operations, said people who buy the hardtop convertible are more likely to drive with the top up, so the primary goal was to create a dazzling top-up design.

I’d add this to the win category. Frankly, I think it looks amazing either way. And no, it doesn’t bother me that this isn’t a true convertible. The targa top provides plenty of open air, and those rear flying buttresses make a stunning statement.

Other than aesthetics, there really aren’t too many changes between the MX-5 with the soft top and the RF. The big changes include an extra 113 pounds on the RF and a retuned suspension to compensate for the additional weight.

Other differences to note:

  • The RF will not have a base Sport trim – it will only be available in Club or Grand Touring trims.
  • The RF will carry a $6K premium over the soft-top model.
  • The Machine Gray Metallic paint is exclusive to the RF Model.

Like the soft-top model, the MX-5 RF is equipped with a 2.0-liter, 4-cylinder engine that delivers 167 horsepower and 140 pound feet of torque. This was just the right amount of power for a 2,445-pound vehicle.

The standard transmission is a 6-speed manual, and a 6-speed automatic is available for an additional $730 on the Club trim and $1,205 on the Grand Touring trim.

But why would you do that to this fun-to-drive roadster? Seriously. This is one manual transmission that can be used as an every-day driver. The short-throw shift makes it easy to move through the gears, and the clutch isn’t very stiff, so it’s not too difficult to operate – even in stop-and-go traffic.

During the brief test period, my partner and I had the opportunity to hit the highway as well as some serious S-curves, and the MX-5 RF did not disappoint. It was quick to accelerate and gripped all the curvy bits in all the right places.

While the RF is a rear-wheel-drive roadster, the hard top makes it a more accessible vehicle in colder climes. And if you invest in snow tires, you might even be able to make this a year-round driver as long as you don’t live in one of the far northern states that regularly gets 6 inches or more of snow throughout the entire winter.

Base price for the RF is $32,430. You’ll add slightly more than $1K if you upgrade to the Grand Touring trim. Feature breakdown between the trim levels is as follows:

Club ($32,430 - $32,285): Standard features include 17-inch wheels, Mazda Connect infotainment system, Bose audio system with 9 speakers, black cloth seats, backup camera, blind spot monitoring, rear cross-traffic alert and a sport-tuned suspension with Bilstein shocks.

Grand Touring ($33,495 - $34,700): This trim adds auto on/off headlights, automatic climate control, leather trimmed heated seats, rain-sensing wipers, navigation and lane departure warning.

One random thing to note: Advanced keyless entry is a $130 option on both Club and Grand Touring trims.

There is a lot to love about this new car: The affordability, the driving dynamics, the 13-second top operation and the decent trunk space were a few of my faves.

However, I do need to point out that this car might not fit all shapes and sizes. I’m 4 feet 11 inches, and I had plenty of room in both the driver’s and passenger’s seat. I could not say the same for my 6-foot-tall driving partner. He looked cramped in the passenger seat as his knees pressed against the padded dash, and the cup holder intruded on his personal space, knocking against his knee.

The driver’s seat was certainly better, but he still looked a bit oversized for the space – even if he assured me it was perfectly comfortable.

I love pretty much everything about this car. Other than the Fiat 124 Spider, there aren’t any other affordable two-seat convertibles on the roads right now. There certainly aren’t any affordable hardtop competitors out there. At all.

Bottom line: The MX-5 RF looks – and drives – like it is much more expensive than it is.

Editor’s Note: Driving impressions in this “First Look” review are from an invitation-only automaker launch event that allowed special access to the vehicle and executives. Mazda covered our accommodations, meals and transportation costs.


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