How much car do you really need? Do you need another SUV? Do you need a 5 door hot hatch? Or do you just need something to drive to work, get the shopping and go out in on the weekend? The ND RF MX5 presents a compelling argument to take over the role of your everyday car, not just a weekend cruiser. It is easy to drive. It is cheap to run. Best of all, it is fun.
How I Came to Own One
When the ND generation of MX5 launched in 2015 I was immediately a fan; I owned a 2001 MX5 and was invited by my local dealer to test the new 1.5-litre roadster. I was impressed at the refinement, technology and the immense reduction of wind noise with the roof down; however I chose to buy a second car and modify my MX5 for the weekend / track instead. After realising the cost and impracticality of running two cars (why is the battery always flat!?!), I traded both for a much lauded V6 Italian coupe, before eventually growing tired of the exorbitant maintenance cost and (lack of) reliability. I was a young professional and I needed a new (or near new), sensible and reliable car; but I didn’t want boring.
Enter the ND RF (Retractable Fastback; the hard top) MX5. A mechanically simple car with great fuel economy, offering immense fun to drive. I was also considering the facelifted Toyota 86 GT and a used Fiesta ST (which was out of production). The 86 presented a compelling argument, especially when considering the extra storage space, however ultimately I found it less enjoyable in day-to-day type driving scenarios (less low-mid range torque / cheaper interior). With the (then) recent announcement of the updated 2019 ND leading to slashed prices of demo and floor models, I picked up a lightly used car on the private market with a significant saving off sticker price (mid-$20k’s).
On the Road
This car, for me, strikes the perfect balance between ease of use and driver engagement. The controls are relatively light, like most modern cars, which makes the car very easy to drive in stop-start city traffic. The pedals are nicely spaced. However, the floor-hinged accelerator pedal did take some getting used to; especially for heel and toe downshifts (a performance driving technique, where you blip the throttle with the side / back of your foot whilst braking to change down gears). Steering is quick and sufficiently communicative. The throw of the shift lever is short and precise, and has a feel that even the most famed hot hatches would struggle to match. The turning circle is fantastic; the car is very easy to park and manoeuvre.
Performance is adequate. It is not a powerful car, but it is light and quick off the line. The gearing is short enough that you can enjoy accelerating and changing gears without risking tickets. It works extremely well together as a package. The engine has a torquey feel, however it doesn’t rev as highly as most naturally aspirated performance cars. This is something that has been fixed in the 2019 update, however it is not something that bothers me day-to-day.
Road and wind noise with the roof up is well controlled. I bought this car with the intention of using it primarily with the roof up, and when doing so it is easy to forget that you are in a convertible and not a coupe. With the roof down, it is another story. Most reviews at launch mentioned an increase in wind noise over the soft top; I underestimated how significant this would be. If you plan to drive with the roof down regularly, I strongly recommend driving both back-to-back on 80-100kph roads to see if the versatility and security of the RF is worth that trade-off.
Like many sports cars and convertibles (with the roof up), there are a few large blind spots behind you. These are mitigated by the compact size of the car, and by the standard blind spot monitoring system that I have found to be a very reassuring back-up.
One of the primary differences between this car and most hot hatches and performance models on the market is the ride comfort and suspension. Manufacturers use very stiff suspension, firm anti-roll bars and very low profile tyres to make ordinary hatchbacks feel like race cars. Whilst this feels fun when you’re pushing the car to its limit, and is effective on a smooth race track, it can be tiresome to live with on a day-to-day basis. The MX5 doesn’t need all of that to handle well; instead providing soft, comfortable suspension that feels smooth (even on ‘average’ roads) and takes speed bumps with ease. I have had no issues scraping the front bumper on driveways, which can’t be said for a lot of sporty cars. The drawback is that taking a high speed corner on a highway on-ramp can lead to an uneasy level of body roll. It handles mid-corner bumps well, and produces plenty of grip. Where my old MX5 would require keen concentration in the rain to not slide the tail out, the ND feels safe and stable in all normal driving conditions.
In the Cabin
The cabin is well laid out, and feels quite premium with the choice of materials. The dials are well lit and easy to read, and the larger colour information screen of the RF gives the cluster a premium feel. The top of the doors inside are painted to match your exterior paint. It is an interesting quirk, but on a sunny day with a pearl white car, the glare from the long hood and door cards make sunglasses a necessity.
The multimedia system in this car; a 7-inch colour touchscreen with a rotary control dial, is intuitive and well featured. The Bluetooth audio streaming and handsfree is easy to set up and use. It does come with navigation, however I tend to use Google Maps on my phone instead for up to date traffic information. I am looking forward to upgrading the system to support Apple CarPlay at my next service, which Mazda should be applauded for offering as an upgrade to existing customers (at a cost). Rearward visibility isn’t great, so I’m considering adding a Mazda reversing camera that will integrate that into the central display (another standard inclusion in the 2019 model). The speakers in this base model RF I consider above average, but definitely leaves room for improvement. The GT model comes with an upgraded BOSE system, among other things.
My biggest gripe in the entire car comes from the AC vents. The air-conditioning itself is extremely effective, however the vents on either side of the steering wheel are very close to your hands and do not swivel sufficiently to push the cold air away from the wheel. With these vents closed, the narrow central vent struggles to cool the cabin, so I will be investigating to see if there are aftermarket solutions to this problem, or will make a DIY air diverter in the future.
Drawbacks with the seating position include the lack of reach adjustment on the steering wheel (now included in ‘19+ cars), and seat rails that raise the seat up as it gets closer to the steering wheel, instead of giving you a separate adjustment. The cloth seats themselves look neat, and are very comfortable.
There is a notable lack of storage compartments in the cabin. There are no door pockets on either side, there is no glove box and the centre console is only big enough to hold the keys OR a mid-sized smart phone. The saviour is a reasonably sized storage compartment mounted vertically between the seats. I grew accustomed to this quickly, however it has lead to awkward moments with passengers searching around the cabin for somewhere to put their stuff.
There is sufficient room in the boot for the weekly shopping (although a value pack of toilet paper rolls might have to ride shot-gun), and enough space for a weekend away for two if you use soft bags.
I have a small budget set aside for hire cars if I ever need one to transport larger goods, but the vast majority of the time I have a friend or family member who is more that happy to swap cars for the afternoon instead. A very reasonable trade-off to enjoy all this car has to offer.
Fuel economy in this vehicle is excellent. The car is not driven gently, but returns roughly 7.5L/100km when commuting in heavy stop-start traffic, and down to 6.5L/100km on the same routes when working outside of peak times – including a reasonable amount of top-down driving.
Servicing costs are reasonable, but are higher than some competitors (12 months/10,000kms, usually about $350 at the dealer).
As an under-25 male, I was pleasantly surprised at the insurance premiums for this car – costing half of that of my last two (older) European cars.
This car has a 3 year warranty, and hasn’t had any issues so far. However those purchasing a newly registered car now should receive a 5 year factory warranty.
As a general inconvenience, the roof will only operate at speeds of up to 10kph, and takes roughly 15 seconds to open or close. Trying to open or close it at a set of lights can therefore be a game of Russian Roulette, risking getting stuck with your roof half open on a green light. Driving off will result in the process freezing, wherever it’s at.
Even in base specification, the car is very well equipped; 17-inch alloys, excellent LED Headlights, touchscreen media with navigation, colour LCD in gauge cluster, LED DRL, blind spot monitoring, tyre pressure monitoring etc. The only time I really feel like I am missing out is when I have keyless push-button start, but have to get out the remote to unlock the car because the base model doesn’t have the little buttons on the doors.
Unless you specifically require rear seats for the kids, before you go out and buy another hot hatch, I would encourage you to take one of these for a test drive first. It is engaging, comfortable, well equipped and just easy to drive every day. You can always hire a bigger car for a day if you need the extra space once in a blue moon.
With the upgraded 2019 model hitting dealership showrooms, there may still be some keenly priced demonstrator and near new ’17-18 cars on the market, which can offer excellent value for money. Otherwise, new 2019 models now include a more willing engine, reach-adjustable steering, a reversing camera and a 5 year warranty amongst other things.