The Mazda MX-5 RF made its world premiere in New York today, bringing a new twist to the traditional idea of how to produce a folding hardtop.
The ‘RF’ in Mazda MX-5 RF, as you’re no doubt wondering, stands for Retractable Fastback, which outlines what you need to know first and foremost about this new take on the world’s most popular convertible.
Unlike the third-generation MX-5 hardtop, the new ND version doesn’t simply replace the canvas roof with a harder shell. Instead, it now has its own distinctive stylistic identity to broaden the range well beyond its enthusiast base.
However, this new take on the MX-5 is still some time away from arriving on Australian shores. Mazda Australia has no fixed launch date yet, but don't expect to see it locally before early in 2017.
The MX-5 RF's novel roof consists of segmented front, middle and rear sections, and retractable back window glass. The C-pillar lifts, and the middle section of the roof is stowed away in the boot, all via the flick of a switch (not like the manual-folding soft top). While the C-pillar is fixed in place when the top is down, the glass back window is retractable.
The aim is for the driver to feel more ensconced than in the soft top, courtesy in part of the large aero board wind blocker, while giving the car distinctive lines that make it appear coupe-like in silhouette with the top up. The Machine Grey is a new premium colour, which joins the existing Soul Red hero hue.
The MX-5 RF’s roof can drop or raise via the switch, at speeds of 10km/h or less. Boot capacity with the roof down matches the soft-top, another benefit to only lowering the middle piece. You’ll get two carry-on bags in there.
“We asked ourselves what it meant to make a driver’s car with a power-retractable roof, ditched the traditional idea of stowing the entire roof and realised styling that further articulates an iconic sports car design,” said MX-5 program manager Nobuhiro Yamamoto.
“… While the fourth-generation soft-top model honed the pure driving pleasure of a lightweight sports car, the hardtop model, with its exquisite fastback styling and a new open-top feel, has a personality all on its own.”
Dimensionally, the MX-5 RF matches the soft-top in all areas bar height. It’s only 5mm taller. The interior is undoubtedly cosy, to say the least. The roof adds to the kerb weight over the soft top, but Mazda is not yet saying how much. It’ll almost certainly undercut the old NC hardtop.
Further differentiating the RF is the extra sound-deadening in the headlining and around the rear wheel housings. You can also option up to real Nappa leather trim, while the RF is further differentiated inside by the 4.6-inch TFT LCD screen in the instrument cluster that displays an animation of the roof when in operation.
The MX-5 RF “significantly improves” ride quietness, according to Mazda, as well as what it calls “the feeling of high quality”. It also gets its own unique suspension tune to work better with the small weight impost of the hard roof.
“If we consider the soft-top model to represent the purist appeal of the lightweight sports car… then the retractable fastback represents a new type of MX-5 that aims to be a compact sports car with a natural charm that anybody and everybody will find beautiful,” asserted MX-5 chief designer Masashi Nakayama.
“… To convey the fun and charm of the MX-5 experience to a larger and more diverse range of people rather than just sports cars fans, I felt the MX-5 RF must embody natural beauty and not attempt to attract attention by merely being different.”
Full Australian details are being held back until the car launches, but we do know that it’ll only be available with the bigger 118kW/200Nm 2.0-litre engine, matched to either the six-speed manual or automatic transmission.
Expect a price premium of about $3500-$5000 over the equivalent soft-top, pointing to a starting price in the high $30Ks for the 2.0 manual and low-$40Ks for the GT.
By the end of the third-generation NC MX-5’s model life, the retractable hardtop accounted for more than 50 per cent sales globally. It was far higher than that in Australia, and even became the sole offering near the end of its cycle.
The arrival of the MX-5 RF will give the Mazda a nice kick along in Australia. Since the soft-top launched here in August last year, Mazda has sold 1241 — this is record pace.
Note: We haven’t yet driven the MX-5 RF, so we can’t tell you much about its performance beyond what you’ve read already.
Click the photos tab above for more official and live photos of the MX-5 RF.
Tell us below in the comments what you think of the new Mazda MX-5 RF's roof design. Does it float your boat? Do you have any questions you'd like us to ask Mazda regarding its newest variant?