2016 Mazda MX-5 RS

2016 mazda mx-5 rs – DOC649163

Anyone considering Mazda MX-5 ownership is probably concerned with one overarching attribute – fun. Not fun in the sense of tire-melting acceleration or space-time-denting speed, but the kind of fun that can only be had in taking a turn at the limits of adhesion as each contact patch talks directly to the driver’s spine. You could call it driving dynamics, or tossability, or even just handling if you want to be clinical about it. Either way, Mazda knows all about this kind of fun, and nowhere is it more prevalent than in the MX-5. Now, Mazda is offering the new MX-5 RS, which adds suspension upgrades and better interior equipment to the iconic drop-top, all with the aim of upping the fun factor to even loftier levels.

We’ve seen RS’ed versions of the MX-5 in the past, but this is the first time the badge has made it to the latest fourth-generation roadster. Mazda says the new suspension changes make for better control at high speeds, with cleaner weight transition when sailing through the corners. It’s also very affordable.

Sounds awesome, right? Well, I might as well break it to you now – the new MX-5 RS won’t be sold anywhere outside of Japan. Commence the waterworks.

Exterior

Given the driver-centric nature of the RS, it’s no surprise Mazda left the exterior styling untouched. You still get the ND’s chiseled good looks and Kodo design language, both of which depart from the librarian aesthetic seen in years past.

Mazda’s attention was better spent polishing the suspension.

However, there are a few upgrades the RS throws in to keep things interesting, namely an adaptive front lighting system and high beam control. These features are particularly useful when attacking a twisty canyon road at night, offering better visibility around that next bend and keeping both hands on the wheel at all times.

It may have been appropriate to add a bit of aerodynamic enhancement in the form of a new front lip and rear spoiler, but I suppose Mazda’s attention was better spent polishing the suspension. 

Interior

Mazda MX-5 RS

The RS adds some very nice equipment the interior of the MX-5, starting with two new seats from Recaro. While highly bolstered, these seats are also adjustable, helping to maximize comfort for the longer drives. They also come upholstered in Nappa leather and Alcantara, and there’s red contrast stitching and piping along the outer edges. Additionally, the RS adds a seat heating function, which should come in handy if you want to open the top on a chilly day.

Surprisingly, the RS also comes equipped with upgraded infotainment, including a CD/DVD player and a premium Bose sound system with nine speakers.

Drivetrain And Suspension

Mazda MX-5 RS

Now for the important bits. Making the MX-5 handle even better was surely not an easy task, but Mazda started by swapping out the stock dampers for new units from Bilstein. Complementing these we find a new front strut-tower brace. All together, these upgrades should make the MX-5 feel even tighter. Finally, there are bigger brakes in the corners for more consistent stops.

The MX-5 RS’s curb weight remains a feathery 2,300 pounds. Under the hood, the JDM-spec 1.5-liter four-cylinder engine offers the same output as before, producing 129 horsepower at 7,000 rpm and 111 pound-feet of torque at 4,800 rpm. It may have been prudent to bless the RS with the more potent U.S.-spec four-banger, which makes 155 horsepower and 148 pound-feet of torque, but again, this model is more concerned with driving dynamics and handling, so I guess its absence isn’t that surprising.

There is, however, one engine upgrade the RS can offer buyers. It’s called an “induction sound enhancer,” and basically it’s a pipe that routes whooshing intake noise into the cabin (not artificially via the stereo, thank goodness). It’s a bit gimmicky, but I like it. It should make the four-cylinder more entertaining at full throttle, even with just 129 horsepower on tap.

Routing the power is a six-speed manual transmission. The sprint to 60 mph takes a little over eight seconds, and top speed is rated at 127 mph. Not exactly neck snapping, but if you’re thinking about taking the MX-5 RS to the drag strip, you’re doing it wrong.

Safety

Mazda also added a few safety items to make driving the MX-5 RS through traffic a little easier. These include a lane departure warning system and a blind spot monitor with rear cross traffic alert. These types of features are becoming more and more commonplace, so it’s nice to see them added to the bare-bones MX-5.

Prices

Mazda MX-5 RS

If you live in Japan and are looking to buy the RS, you’re in luck, because pricing starts at just 3,196,800 yen, or about $26,652 at current conversion rates (10/2/15).

Anyone with a little extra cash in their pockets can also choose between a few options if desired, starting with two upgraded paint colors. For 32,400 yen ($270), you can get your MX-5 RS in “Crystal White Pearl Mica,” or for 54,000 yen ($450), you can get it in “Seoul Red Premium Metallic.”

There’s also the optional Mazda i-Eloop regenerative braking system, which uses waste energy to power the car’s accessories, increasing efficiency. This is bundled with the i-stop idling stop system for even higher mpg. Pricing is set at 86,400 yen ($720).

Competition

Subaru BRZ TS STI

Subaru BRZ tS STI

Subaru has its own upgraded small RWD sports car, and like the MX-5 RS, this improved BRZ comes with new gear in the cabin and new suspension pieces under the skin. Buyers get lightweight 17-inch wheels, bigger brakes, performance-tuned struts and springs, a large-diameter driveshaft, and a V-shaped strut-tower brace. There’s also a new intake filter for those enjoyable whoosh noises.

Unfortunately, the Subaru is much more expensive than the Mazda, starting at 3,990,000 yen ($33,287). Of course, it also comes with more straight-line grunt thanks to that 200-horsepower flat-four engine.

Mini Roadster

Mini Roadster

Chop the top off the classic Mini and you have quite the potent little roadster on your hands. Not only does this two-seater come with eye-catching exterior styling and a comfortable, nicely appointed interior, it also offers a total of four different engine packages to suit your individual sporting intent. At the top of the heap sits the John Cooper Works edition, which produces a healthy 208 horsepower at 6,000 rpm. Other highlights include an active rear spoiler and a semi-automatic soft top.

Pricing starts at 3,340,000 yen ($27,853).

Conclusion

Mazda MX-5 RS

Looking at the list of upgrades for the MX-5 RS, there are some items that make total sense, while others leave me scratching my head. The new dampers, strut-tower brace, plus-size brakes, Recaro seats – those are all to be expected. Even the induction sound enhancer is totally acceptable. But when it comes to stuff like the new stereo, blind-spot monitor, and rear-cross-traffic alert, I can’t help but wonder why.

In the end, I guess Mazda’s goal was to enhance every aspect of driving the MX-5, even beyond performance in the twisties. If that’s the case, job well done – the RS should not only handle better, but it should also be nicer to drive in traffic and on the highway (you know, where 90 percent of the car’s life will be spent).

Would I have preferred other upgrades instead, like stickier tires and even less weight? Well, yeah, obviously. But it doesn’t matter, because in the end, the RS should appeal to most MX-5 drivers, from the commuters to the track rats.

LOVE IT

  • Even tighter handling
  • Nice equipment
  • Low price

LEAVE IT

  • No extra power
  • Might not be hardcore enough for some
  • Only available in Japan

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