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Eric's Autos: Reviewing the 2017 Mazda Miata RF

Eric Peters on

The one thing wrong with the Miata -- for some people -- is something Mazda just fixed. That thing is the Miata roadster's convertible top. Not everyone likes a soft top, including some people who really like the Miata.

Soft tops, though they are much improved in terms of protection from the elements, still don't offer much in the way of physical security. A switchblade grants instant access to the car -- and whatever's inside it.

But it's not just that. Convertible soft tops are harder to keep looking good; park a convertible outside in the elements for a few years and the top tends to accumulate stains that can be a pain to get rid of.

Also, some people just don't like driving with the top down. They are hardtop people.

Well, Mazda's got the Miata for them -- and maybe for you, too.

What It Is

The Retractable Fastback, or RF, is a new version of the Miata roadster. Instead of a fold-back convertible soft top, it has a sliding hardtop section. When in place, the Miata is a sport coupe with a more physically secure roof. Otherwise, the RF is functionally and mechanically identical to the soft-top Miata.

The RF's base price for the Club trim with a six-speed manual transmission is $31,555. A top-of-the-line Launch Edition with automatic transmission goes for $34,925.

The regular Miata roadster starts at $24,915 with the six-speed manual and tops out at $30,065 for a Gran Touring trim with the six-speed automatic.

What's New

The RF version is new.

What's Good

It's a Miata for people who prefer a hard top.

You can feel better about parking it on the street.

It's easier to keep it clean and looking good.

There's no loss of trunk space.

What's Not So Good

There's almost a $7,000 price bump to not go topless.

Trunk space is still effectively nil -- 4.6 cubic feet -- whether you go soft top or hardtop.

Under the Hood

 

The RF uses the same 2.0-liter four-cylinder engine as the Miata roadster. It has 155 horsepower at 6,000 rpm. You can pair this engine with either the standard six-speed manual transmission or the optional six-speed automatic.

Either way, the Miata is quicker than ever: It can jump from zero to 60 mph in about six seconds flat, whereas the previous generation takes about 6.7 seconds.

The Miata is also a very economical car to drive. The soft top with the six-speed manual transmission gets 27 mpg city and 36 highway; the RF with the same transmission gets 27 mpg city and 34 highway.

On the Road

It's a bit quieter inside with the targa top in place, as well as when it's stowed away, because the only open section is the roof section. The RF's side/sail panels remain in place, and that dramatically reduces wind swirl.

The engine is brilliant and tractable. There's power (and torque) enough for the stop-and-go grind, and it's made even more agreeable by an easy take-up clutch and outstanding visibility all around. But when traffic dissipates or you feel like leaving traffic behind, you can grab a downshift and let the engine sing its song, all the way to 7,000 rpms or so.

No matter how bad a day you're having, if you take a Miata for the drive home, your day won't end badly.

At the Curb

Both the RF and its soft-topped sister have 4.6 cubic feet of trunk space.

This lack is one of the few non-practical things about the Miata. It goes with the two-seater sport car layout.

And for two, the Miata is just right. It's cozy and roomy, which sounds like a contradiction but isn't. There is more legroom (43.1 inches) in the Miata than in most midsized vehicles and several full-sized sedans. At the same time, everything is close at hand. The cockpit envelopes you like a bodysuit ... like a motorcycle-riding suit. This feeling is enhanced by the sport bike-like instrument cluster, which is happily analog and not digital.

The Rest

No car review is complete without at least one complaint. OK, here it is: Whether RF or the roadster, the Miata has an oddly located 12-volt power point. It is almost hidden, deep down on the passenger foot well, where it is awkward to get at unless you get out, go to the passenger side, reach down and plug in whatever you need to plug in.

But other than this? Don't look at me.

The Bottom Line

When all you can find to complain about is the location of the power point, you have a handle on the automotive filet mignon that's just been served up. Whatever they're charging for this thing, you're getting a deal.

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His new book, "Don't Get Taken for a Ride!" will be available soon. To find out more about Eric and read his past columns, please visit the Creators Syndicate webpage at www.creators.com.

Copyright 2017 Creators Syndicate, Inc.
 

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