REVIEW | Is the Mazda MX-5 RF a weekend special?

I'll make it known upfront that I didn't have great expectations of the MX-5 RF (Retractable Fastback), the reason? It was fitted with an automatic gearbox. 

Could that ruin the entire experience and driving pleasure that the diminutive Mazda is well known for. This particular model has been on sale since 2017, I've driven the normal MX-5 (that one had a six-speed manual gearbox) but not the RF. 

Mazda South Africa discontinued the soft-top convertible model and only flogs the RF derivative for R538 200. 

Here's what we discovered during our week-long test: 

The obvious difference is the roof, which can be opened or closed via a switch on the lower fascia. Opening and closing takes around 13 seconds, it's only activated at below 10km/h (not ideal).

Driving with the roof lowered enables easy conversation with my passenger thanks to the deflectors that are designed to reduce the wind in the cabin. 

Mazda has thrown in some new toys too: the LED headlights feature adaptive technology that can swivel up to 15 degrees depending on the steering angle, there's also a light that signals if another car is in your blind spot, the car will also alert the driver if they've wandered out of the lane, and lastly, navigation is standard fitment. 

The one drawback is the lack of storage space in the cabin, there is no cubby-hole or door pockets. The only place to place things is in the centre console (which could only fit the car key and my apartment's keys). 

There's a storage bin nestled higher up between the two seats, but putting an item in there is difficult.  

The keyless entry and start is a boon, and the car's styling is just superb. Despite being a three-year-old design in South Africa, our test unit gleaned in Crystal White Pearl and got attention wherever I drove it. 

To me, it has the right proportions, correct wheel size (17-inch) and looks sporty with the roof up or down. 

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Image: Quickpic 

What's it like to drive? 

The engine, a 2.0-litre naturally-aspirated SkyActiv loves to rev and also feels on the boil. It's a rather special and different experience to the usually forced induction engines that power most new modern cars. 

The gearbox and engine work simultaneously to deliver an adequate driving experience around the city. The 'box doesn't labour in a particular gear for too long and I can override it via the paddles located behind the steering wheel.

A sports button ups the ante when you feel like making the engine and gearbox go from Peter Parker to Spiderman.

With only 118kW (at 6000r/min) and 200Nm, the MX-5 ain't setting your pants on fire. What it will do, however, is give you a driving experience like very few cars on sale.

It weighs just over a 1000kg, incredibly light for a modern car, so the lightweight chassis coupled with a zingy engine up front, along with rear-wheel-drive and direct steering translates into a fun driving experience. 

I drove it vigorously on my favourite road in the city, De Waal Drive, and well, it's hard to describe the feeling. Because the little Mazda doesn't have much power, I could push the car to its limit and not feel scared. The car almost prods one to push more and more. 

The chassis is sublime, the steering is too, but I'd prefer to change gears manually if I'm honest. Thing is, people are less likely to want to lug around in a manual car these days. So I guess, Mazda had to move with the times. And with that decision, it takes the shine off a polished product. 

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Image: Quickpic