Roadster Failure or how I did not fall in love with newest Miata

If it would be just another dull subcompact I could just go through some objective data and measurements like acceleration, mpg or trunk size, add some info on available trim levels and be done with the review. With MX-5 it’s completely different – it’s about how this car makes you feel, about emotions it enables. This car is all about how you experience it and if you enjoy it or not, purely subjectively. Of course you can discuss trunk size but it somehow feels rather secondary.

The car

After quite some going back and forth I finally managed to put my hands on newest addition to Miata family – the RF model. This is not a first attempt to build a factory Miata-based fastback but for sure the first mainstream one. And there’s also an amazing twist: it’s actually a targa, sporting the same type of automatic roof as MK3 PRHT.

I landed a top version sold in PL, SkyFreedom, in Meteor Gray with some accessories on top – like for example sport exhaust.

The testbed

Since I had the car for two days only I could’ve just give it a spin around Warsaw center, drive it throughout the city and call it a day. But such a car clearly calls for more, so I opted to do the only right thing – take it to curvy back roads and enjoy the Mazda there.

I have chosen surroundings of Walbrzych, which give great opportunities for spirited driving (and mixture of great and not-so-well-maintained roads). Of course I needed also to go there and return, so overall the ratio of boring (highways) vs exciting (curves) kilometers was not exactly what I could have hoped for… but local roads were more than rewarding.

The good

First and foremost – it’s a Miata. It’s exactly how you would expect it to be – nimble, inviting and engaging to drive. I have driven over 300km of twisty roads during the weekend and every single one was just a pure joy.

For me, the key feeling there is lightness of the car, especially after experiencing Mk3. No wonder, Mazda really applied itself to shave some excess weight.

Other thing that contributes is a splendid gearbox. Of course when it doesn’t break down… it’s precise, with short throw and can be operated with ease. This does not mean you lose this specific mechanical feeling that I so much enjoy in every other generation. Again – it’s just as ‘Miata’ as you can expect.

Next in line is engine, which pulls nicely even on low revs. Combined with low weight you don’t need to visit high range too often during day to day driving. On top of it fuel economy is way better than in MK3 2.0. Seems perfect? There’s just one tiny issue but I’ll come to that later.

One of my biggest complains for MK3 was quality of interior, which even compared to MK1 and MK2 felt cheap and not durable. In MK4 this was addressed, though it’s still not a premium level and you could already see that it wears down slightly after just 5000km.

Finally, you get a car with all modern bells and whistles (at least in highest trim): automatic lights and high beams (although they can act strange sometimes), blind spot warning, auto dimming rear view mirror, infotainment from this century or line assist just to name a few.

The bad

Not that the car is just perfection on wheels. It has also quite a few weak spots. Let’s start with something that’s really subjective: the looks. While I really like side profile and I can live with front of the car, I still don’t get how Mazda could let slip through such a rear… especially when you look at recently released photos and it can be seen how many better alternatives were rejected during design phase. And this ugly rear is only emphasised by narrower rear part of the targa top.

When it comes to driving, I have really 2 complains. First one is electric power steering. Maybe it’s just my preference but I really like to feel resistance on the steering wheel. In RF the power steering makes you feel almost disconnected on occasions, which is not what I would expect from a lightweight sports car. Second one is the engine characteristics. I’ve already mentioned I like torque curve – what I don’t like is the power curve and usable rev range. I felt robbed from almost 1000 rpm compared to any other generation. In 2.0 MK4 rev limiter is at 6500 rpm and to be honest it wouldn’t make a difference if it would be at 5500 rpm. C’mon Mazda, it’s almost like a Diesel.

A word on accessory ‘sport’ exhaust – if I’d pay my own money for this one I would kick myself. I don’t know if you gain anything on performance side (guess not) but for sure you gain absolutely nothing when it comes to engine note.

Moving on to usability aspects that’s the first ever Miata that gave me trouble with packing for the weekend. Not because of trunk volume but because the trunk opening is just too small – for me it’s the smallest of all generations. To make things worse you don’t get much more storage room inside. Glovebox is gone to make room for passenger legs and you just don’t get anything reasonably compensating this. And speaking of legroom – my passenger complained that there is not so much of it anyway, especially if you’d try to put in the footwell something that didn’t fit into the trunk.

Last but not least, infotainment may be from 21st century but it’s quite counterintuitive and slow. What’s even worse at the beginning I thought that it doesn’t have a touch screen – wrong, it may be a bug or a feature but it stops working quite frequently making touchscreen unresponsive. Thankfully you can still operate it with knob in the center console.

The ugly

You’ve probably realised that up until now I didn’t mention the targa top and I assure you there’s a good reason for it. In many ways the top is brilliant: finally you don’t need to spend extra €300 for pleasure of operating the roof while in motion, everything really happens with one button, whole operation takes below 15 seconds. Also, you get nice fabric liner over your head and windows really go down and up without any help while folding the top. And on the topic of folding the top – that’s a real show on its own.

It has also few week points: blanks instead of rear quarter windows or the fact that rear pillar is so wide that for the whole weekend I thought I have a car next to me when I looked over my right shoulder. You also get a constant whine on window seals if only the weather is at least a little windy.

But still that’s not the worst… the worst thing is that if you chose to open the top, the rear hoop is just noisy as hell. At around 70km/h it gets really annoying and at around 110 noise gets unbearable. Honestly, that’s a first ever MX-5 I prefer to drive top up.

The crux

Bottomline for me is that if you are looking for a pocket-size fastback which drives like a Miata, it’s a perfect choice, especially that there is almost no real competition. If you foresee any longer (and faster) trips targa style – you’d be probably better off reconsidering soft top or MK3 PRHT. If we are talking purely about my subjective reception of the car… well, I realised that I fall in love with every odd generation of MX-5, so despite the fact I admire progress Mazda made with ND, I still opt to stick to NC and wait for 5th generation.

Acknowledgements

  • Mazda Nivette for providing the car after only 5 months of nagging
  • Iwona for making this trip fun, doing part of the shots and surviving aggressive cornering
  • Bella & Bert – a great and calm place to stay if you’d ever visit Wałbrzych

Cutting room floor

Andrzej Kozłowski
Owner of a Miata trackday rat, petrolhead, casual traveller, amateur photographer.
https://www.instagram.com/flatline_pl/

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