Mazda MX-5 RF Launch Edition
The Mazda MX-5 RF (Retractable Fastback) is on the way, with sales kicking off on March 4 2017 with the Launch Edition – although all 500 cars we’ll get here in the UK have already sold out.
The MX-5 RF Launch Edition in our pictures costs from £28,995 and gets a two-tone roof, BBS alloy wheels, black door mirrors and a black rear spoiler. The 2.0-litre petrol-powered special edition also gets the Safety Pack, Alcantara trim and Recaro seats as standard. However, the entry-level 1.5-litre SE-L Nav from the standard range costs from £22,195.
Two engines will be available for the RF, with the 1.5-litre cars available from May 2017 – and the trim structure follows that of the convertible MX-5 closely, as 2.0-litre cars still get the larger wheels and limited-slip differential as standard. An automatic version will also be offered. The cheapest 2.0-litre model is also the SE-L Nav, from £23,095. Sport Nav models, which get upgraded suspension, start from £24,795.
The RF, which was first revealed at the New York Motor Show, follows the previous-generation Mazda MX-5 folding hardtop version, which accounted for up to 80% of all MX-5s sold by the time the Mk3 edition of the car was phased out in 2014. However, it takes a more radical approach than its predecessor, with a complex mechanism that’s similar in principle to the set-up used by Porsche on the latest 911 Targa.
Mazda MX-5 RF Launch Edition interior
“We started work on this car eight years ago,” Nobuhiro Yamamoto, Program Manager of MX-5, told Auto Express. “We had the soft-top and this version in mind right from the start.”
“We wanted the cars to have two different characters: the soft top is more casual and the RF is a little bit more formal.” That’s reflected in the interior, too, according to Yamamoto-san, with a higher quality feel and a new LCD display in the dash.
Mazda’s designers have created new bodywork, which joins the central roof panel to the boot deck, giving the RF different side and rear profiles to the regular car. A switch on the dashboard operates electric motors, which lift a section of rear bodywork up as a single piece, allowing the car to tuck away the central roof section. The process takes around 12 seconds, and it can happen at speeds of up to 6mph.
Mazda MX-5 RF Launch Edition roof up
Accoding to Yamamoto-san, the priorities for the roof were for it to stow away easily, for the mechanism to stay true to Mazda’s light weight philosophy and for there to be no increase in wheelbase.
Mazda’s engineers assessed eight and six-part folding roof mechanisms, before settling on the four-part structure shown in our exclusive drawings by MX-5 chief designer Masashi Nakayama (below).
Mazda MX-5 RF – roof down
Despite the intricate construction, boot capacity remains the same as the regular MX-5’s, at 130 litres. The rear glass can also be lowered with the roof in place, allowing more air into the cabin in conditions where a fully opened top would not be desirable.
Few official figures for the new car have been released, but Yamamoto-san did reveal to us that we should expect an increase in body weight that’s slightly more than the 40kg extra the old folding hard-top MX-5 used to carry over the old soft-top model.
Mazda has retuned the RF’s power-steering set-up to reflect changes in the car’s balance, while suspension settings have been tweaked to reflect the car’s different character and to adjust for the extra weight. The new MX-5 is the same length and width as a regular roadster, and its roofline is just 5mm higher.
Mazda open to more MX-5 variants in future
Mazda’s European Design Director Kevin Rice told Auto Express that the RF sits in “a new niche that hasn’t been tried before,” and that it has much more of a 1960s sports car feel – appealing to buyers who want a touch more sophistication in their sports car.
Rice told us that while there’s no chance of a proper fixed-roof coupe with the current car as it would require too much extra investment, “there’s always more room for variants. The question is whether they make sense financially.
“We’ll have to decide what the future brings with the next NE model,” he said, referring to Mazda’s product codes for the cars (the current one being ND). The next version won’t arrive for some time yet, though, possibly around 2020.
Sporty design is in Mazda’s DNA, according to Rice, with future cars set to follow from the RX Vision concept car – and that means Coupe-SUVs like the CX-4 that was revealed in China could join the range in Europe. “I think the CX-4 finds the right balance between sportiness and practicality. A coupe-SUV suits Mazda,” Rice told us, but downplayed the idea that it might appear in Europe soon.