Car reviews - Mazda - MX-5 - RF LE
Attractive styling elements, classic lightweight and analogue driving experience, enhanced brakes and shocks, rarity
Room for improvement
Price premium hard to justify, cramped cabin, engine can feel underpowered at times
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14 Feb 2018
MAZDA has a long and storied history of creating limited-edition versions of its venerable MX-5 sportscar, with the latest iteration coming in the form of the new RF Limited Edition.
The latest iteration of special MX-5s is based on the2.0-litre RF (retractable fastback) GT variant, but adds a number of special goodies that make it worthy of the Limited Edition nameplate.
Just 110 examples of the Limited Edition are making their way to Australia, and the privilege of owning one will mean buyers have to take a hit to the hip pocket when compared to the donor vehicle.
Has Mazda done enough to make the price increase worth it for buyers?
The MX-5 RF is the first limited-edition version since the 25th anniversary Edition was created in 2014 as a send-off to the third-generation NC MX-5.
This time around, Mazda is targeting MX-5 enthusiasts with a manual-only Limited Edition that features a selection of extra equipment such as four-pot front Brembo brakes with red callipers that have never been seen before on an MX-5, as well as Bilstein shocks, Recaro seats, a purpose-built front strut cross brace bar, bodykit flourishes and 17-inch BBS alloy wheels.
Keen trainspotters may be able to distinguish the Limited Edition from the regular model, however the visual differences are certainly subtle.
In the cabin, the Recaro seats are the only distinguishing factor.
The steering wheel, 7.0-inch infotainment screen and trim levels remain unchanged, retaining the simple, driver-focused cockpit of the rest of the range.
It is an easy interior to navigate (apart from the glovebox set behind the driver’s left shoulder), however for taller or wider occupants, roominess can become an issue.
The handbrake tends to rub on your left leg while driving, and for drivers measuring over six feet tall, hands must be placed near the top of the steering wheel as turning can result in knuckles getting jammed against thighs. Having a steering wheel that is tilt-adjustable but not reach-adjustable also limits comfortable driving options.
Driving position is wonderfully low to the ground and the Recaro seats are a comfortable substitute for the regular pews, while road vision is good for such a low-slung car, with the exception of both blind spots which are obscured by the RF’s targa-style headrests.
Mazda had a winning formula with the ND MX-5, and thankfully the driving experience remains just as engaging in the Limited Edition.
At this stage it is somewhat of a cliche, but the MX-5 really does offer unrivalled driving purity with its lightweight, rear-drive construction, aspirated petrol engine and six-speed manual gearbox – the sole transmission offering for the Limited Edition.
The six-speed manual is user-friendly, easy to shift and offers gentle and responsive clutch play that even someone with limited three-pedal experience could manage.
Given the relatively low outputs of the 2.0-litre aspirated engine, the MX-5 not only wants to, but needs to rev hard to extract all of its 118kW, which makes for a smile-inducing drive as the tachometer soars and dips. Given its limited-edition status, a special exhaust system would have made for a great addition, as the MX-5’s donk is not the most sonorous unit at the best of times.
With only 200Nm of torque on tap, the MX-5 can struggle with accelerating up hills and overtaking at speed, however diligent gear selection and a healthy dose of right shoe takes care of that problem in most instances.
The best thing about driving the MX-5 is you can regularly get that addictive feeling that can usually only be achieved in other vehicles when travelling at illegal speeds – not that we support speeding.
While the regular MX-5’s handling needed no improvement, the addition of Bilstein gas shock absorbers gives the car a settled and comfortable ride, while aiding in the twisty stuff.
Steering turn-in is focused and balanced with ample feedback through the steering wheel, showing why the MX-5 is regarded by many as one of the all-time great handling vehicles on the market.
Its light weight and rear-drive set-up make it a joy to throw into and out of bends, with ample front-wheel grip that prevents over or understeer and gives the driver supreme confidence on the road.
Braking power has been enhanced with the addition of Brembo four-pot front brake callipers which Mazda says saves weight, improves brake cooling performance and improves brake pad fade resistance by up to 26 per cent over the standard-fit brakes.
It is also the first time an MX-5 has been offered with red brake callipers, which combined with the 17-inch black BBS alloy wheels give the Limited Edition a sharp and sporty look.
Brake performance is more than suitable and provides feedback to the driver through the brake pedal, but for most buyers, the red callipers will be considered enough of an upgrade.
The MX-5 Limited Edition takes the regular MX-5 and adds some extra equipment without stepping on the toes of what made the original such an icon. For most people, the mechanical changes will not be easily identified – the brakes, shocks and aerodynamic bodykit will most likely be bragged about by owners as opposed to immediately noticed while driving.
The visual touches add flair to an already-exciting vehicle, and will give owners something to boast about at their next MX-5 club meeting.
However at $55,790, the Limited Edition asks a lot for all but the keenest MX-5 enthusiasts, and is starting to get into the price range of other driver’s cars such as the most potent hot hatches on sale – namely the Honda Civic Type R, Ford Focus RS and Peugeot 308 GTi 270.
If you’re looking to buy an MX-5 but don’t desperately need the bells and whistles that come with the Limited Edition, the RF GT on which it is based can offer almost all the performance at a much more wallet-friendly equation.
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