Miata’s new hard top model changes the narrative

CASEY WILLIAMS | Auto Reviewer

Back in 1989 at the Chicago Auto Show, Mazda ripped souls out of classic European roadsters and planted them in the refreshingly reliable MX-5 Miata. But the Miata has yet to conquer the near-luxury German roadsters from Mercedes, BMW and Audi. The next front is opened with the MX-5 Miata RF that flips its hard lid.

I love the Miata’s manual cloth top that can be flipped back with one arm in a fraction of a stoplight, but on the road, it has typical convertible road noise. Banishing all that is the RF’s targa top — a one-button power affair that retracts behind the seats like a folding hardtop. In photos, the RF looks a little frumpy, but in the metal, it looks bad sexy.

My favorite view is from the rear three-quarter where you can see the wide curvy fenders draped over 17-in. gray alloy wheels. Up front, the angry air inlet echoes the first-generation Miata, but is flanked by LED headlamps and running lights.

The fastback roofline gives the car an entirely different profile — much more mature.

Once pretzeled behind the wheel, the interior is pretty classy. I’m a big fan of the brown leather seats with baseball stitching.

Large analog gauges, leather-wrapped steering wheel and God’s shifter make driving a pleasure. Heated seats, automatic climate control, push button starting and Bose audio are above basic roadster specs — as are navigation and rain-sensing wipers. Enhancing safety are blind spot, lane departure and rear cross path warnings plus forward collision warning with city brake support.

Ergonomics are mixed. Large climate control knobs and air vents are excellent, and while the joywheel for the infotainment works well, it’s awkward to reach if you have long arms. Given the easy reach to the monitor, a simple touchscreen would be better. I’m not sure why you have to click into a tuning mode every time you want to advance radio stations or songs in your music library. It’s all so extra. At least there’s a large cubby accessed between the seats and a reasonably sized trunk if you’re packing duffle bags.

The 2.0-liter 4-cylinder engine is spot on with its balance of power and refinement, generating 181 horsepower and 151 lb.-ft. of torque. You can get a paddle-shifted 6-speed automatic transmission, but I would lose a lot of respect for you when one of the world’s best 6-speed manual transmissions is available. Expect 26/34-MPG city/highway.
Driving the Miata is not centered on outrageous power; it’s about the precision of tight steering and agile handling. The manual transmission is a model of mechanical delight. You just want to find a sunny curvy road and drive, drive, drive.

I love the inherent simplicity of the Miata with a canvas roof, but the hard top changes its character. It’s a car that enjoys Interstate travel and city commutes as much as free-breezing backroads. It’s a sexy little car that I would enjoy owning very much. A base price of $32,345, or $36,005 as tested, puts it against the Mercedes-Benz SLC, Subaru BRZ, Toyota 86 and Nissan Z.

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