First Drive: Mazda MX-5 RF

The Mazda MX-5 RF – which stands for 'Retractable Fastback' – is best described as the fourth generation car with the addition of a powered hard top roof.

Is this a useful new feature or a pointless gimmick? AOL Cars went to Devon to investigate.

What is it?

The key difference between the regular MX-5 and the RF is the new roof. The electric folding mechanism takes 13 seconds to rise up or fold away at speeds of up to 6mph.

It should be noted that only the centre section of the roof disappears. This targa-style arrangement means the RF always looks like a small sports coupé.

There is one other change in this car, which is the suspension, which has been stiffened in order to cope with the new roof.

What's under the bonnet?

The RF features the same choice of petrol engines as the regular MX-5 – the 1.5-litre and 2.0-litre variations of the Mazda SkyActiv-G engine.

The 1.5-litre has 129bhp and 150Nm of torque – very similar to the output of the original MX-5 from 1989 – while the more potent 2.0-litre is packing 158bhp and 200Nm.

Both engines are connected to a six-speed manual gearbox, but the top-spec 2.0-litre Sport Nav is available with a six-speed automatic. The last time an MX-5 was available with an auto was 15 years ago with the Mk2.

What's the spec like?

The MX-5 RF is rather good value for money, with Mazda even pointing out that the highest priced version – the limited-run Launch Edition – is still less expensive than the cheapest variation from 1990, adjusted for inflation.

The model we tested was worth £25,695 and came with just about every gadget you could possibly want in an MX-5, such as heated leather seats, LED adaptive headlights, satellite navigation, Bluetooth connectivity and DAB radio.

First Drive: Mazda MX-5 RF

First Drive: Mazda MX-5 RF

Any rivals?

It's tricky to identify rivals for the RF because there aren't many 'affordable sports cars' around. It could be compared to the Toyota GT86, Audi TT and Fiat 124 Spider.

The MX-5 is built on the same platform as the 124 Spider in the same factory, but the Fiat is only available as a soft top.

The GT86 and TT both outperform the MX-5. However, the GT86 does not have a convertible option, while the TT is pricier and not as enjoyable to drive.

What's it like to drive?

The MX-5 is a fantastic car for those who really like driving. The 2.0-litre engine is perfectly content to sit in gear and cruise along, but will jump to attention if you want to have some fun on a good driving road.

The RF roof adds an extra 40kg to this relatively lightweight car, meaning the 0-60mph time is increased by a tenth of a second, but this isn't noticeable on the road.

One strange issue when driving the MX-5 RF is the wind noise. When you have the roof up, you'll notice a swirling sound at anything above 45mph. With the roof down, it becomes a bellow, meaning hearing anything your passenger says at motorway speeds is impossible.

AOL Cars verdict

The RF doesn't quite hit the mark as a more refined MX-5, thanks to the obvious wind noise at higher speeds, but it is calmer around town and still an astonishingly well-sorted drive on the open road. The stunning good looks might sell the car without any other consideration.

The Knowledge:

Power (bhp): 158
Torque (Nm): 200
Max speed (mph): 134
0-60mph: 7.2 seconds
MPG: 40.9
Emissions (g/km): 161
Price: £26,795