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Car reviews - Mazda - MX-5 - RF Limited Edition

Our Opinion

We like
Tough-looking Kuroi bodykit, tight handling, slick manual gearbox, rev-happy four-cylinder engine, surprising fuel efficiency
Room for improvement
Questionable price premium, no powertrain tweak, harsh urban ride, lacks parking sensors and reversing camera, limited storage

Mazda’s MX-5 RF is already sportscar perfection, is the Limited Edition even better?

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Mazda logo25 Jun 2018

Overview

 

LIMITED-edition variants are like opinions, every car-maker has got one. Australia’s second best-selling brand, Mazda, did not want to be left out of this conversation, of course, so it’s ushered in the MX-5 RF Limited Edition – aptly named, we know.

 

The MX-5 RF pedigree is well known. It is one of the best sportscars money can buy, regardless of price point. Naturally, Mazda wants to capitalise on this and increase its models’ dynamic edge. To do this, a bodykit, sports seats and an upgraded suspension have been included in the package.

 

Restricted to 110 examples, the Limited Edition is sure to be a collector’s item, but is it any good? The MX-5 RF is already brilliant in its own right, so has Mazda managed to elevate it to another level? We put it to test to find out.

 

Price and equipment

 

Priced from $55,790 driveaway, the MX-5 RF Limited Edition commands a hefty $7406 premium over the manual GT grade upon which it is based.

However, buyers are compensated with black 17-inch BBS alloy wheels wrapped in 205/45 tyres, front Brembo brakes with red four-piston callipers, a Kuroi bodykit, a front strut cross brace bar, Bilstein shock absorbers, Recaro sports seats trimmed in Alcantara and leather, and a custom-made Seiko Mazda wrist watch.

 

Standard equipment also found in the regular RF includes adaptive LED headlights with dusk-sensing functionality, LED daytime running lights, LED tail-lights, power-adjustable side mirrors with heating functionality, rain-sensing windshield wipers and a limited-slip differential.

Our test car was finished in Ceramic metallic paintwork, which is a no-cost option.

 

Inside, single-zone climate control, an auto-dimming rearview mirror, a leather steering wheel, gear knob and handbrake, keyless entry and start, a 203W nine-speaker Bose sound system, Bluetooth and USB connectivity, a 7.0-inch MZD Connect touchscreen infotainment system, digital radio, satellite navigation, and a 4.6-inch multi-function display feature.

 

Interior

 

Measuring in at 3915mm long, 1735mm wide and 1235mm tall with a 2310mm wheelbase, the MX-5 RF Limited Edition is especially compact.

Being a two-seat hardtop roadster, it is a tight, low affair, meaning ingress and egress can be difficult for certain groups of people. However, once you do find yourself in the RF’s cabin, you’re presented with a scaled-back, simple cockpit that aims to please purists the world over.

 

While the steering column features height adjustment, it lacks reach adjustment, which can hinder the otherwise-excellent driving position.

With the driver sitting so low to the ground, the MX-5’s perfect sportscar proportions are brilliantly complimented. This helps to establish the connection between the driver, vehicle and road. In this regard, the RF is beautifully setup to offer an engaging drive. This is even truer in the Limited Edition thanks to its superb Recaro sports seats, but they can prove to be too narrow for some drivers.

 

Just make sure you don’t bring too many bottles or coffee cups with you, because your options will be limited. While the MX-5 has two cupholders behind the central storage bin, they are flimsy and don’t lend themselves to any sense of confidence – so much so that they feel like an afterthought. Hot cups of coffee beware.

There’s no glovebox or door pockets, either, so storage options are limited to the small 127-litre boot and cubby hole between the seats – but you never buy an RF to be practical, do you?

 

Its electronically operated folding hard-top can be stowed in just 13 seconds while moving up to 10km/h – it’s a seamless part of the MX-5 experience, although it would be nice to see it operational at higher speeds.

Topless wind noise is typically disruptive at highway speeds, but the wind deflector and side windows do their best to suppress it as much as possible. Shorter passengers are likely to enjoy a more pleasant experience, however.

 

Engine and transmission

 

The MX-5 RF Limited Edition is motivated by a 2.0-litre naturally aspirated four-cylinder petrol engine that produces 118kW of power at 6000rpm and 200Nm of torque at 4600rpm. While these outputs don’t appear sportscar-like on paper, performance is actually quite spirited in the real world.

 

Critically, drive is exclusively sent to the rear wheels via a six-speed manual gearbox. This classic combination lends itself to extracting the powertrain’s best. The RF begs to be driven hard, and if you comply, you will be rewarded in spades. It even sounds good, too.

 

As such, the 1078kg Limited Edition feels particularly zippy as you power through all six ratios. However, its low end is lacking in power, meaning you find yourself using the upper reaches to move things along with any sense of urgency. Did someone say turbocharger? Bring back the SP, we say. Some low-end torque would help to fill the hole.

 

As mentioned, the manual gearbox is key to the MX-5 experience, and what a delightful unit it is. Its tight H-gate and short throws lend themselves to slick operation. To make matters better, the clutch is well-weighted, meaning the learning curve is minimal. The RF is about as ‘plug in and play’ as you can get without opting for an automatic transmission.

 

Claimed fuel consumption on the combined cycle test is 7.0 litres per 100 kilometres, while carbon dioxide emissions have not been tested. During our week with the Limited Edition, we averaged an impressive 6.8L/100km, but our 800km stint was slightly skewed towards highway driving over urban commutes. Either way, the RF proved to be one of few models that could deliver on their claim in the real world.

 

Ride and handling

 

The MX-5 RF Limited Edition’s electrically power-assisted steering system is a treasure. It masterfully mixes meatiness with precision to great effect, making the RF a true point-and-shoot weapon. Its directness is a definitive feature of any legitimate sportscar.

 

Throw it around a tight corner and you will laugh out loud as it glides around like few other vehicles. The connection between the front and rear ends is exceptional. Rather than being at odds with another, they are united in delivery outstanding performance.

 

There is no better representation of the Limited Edition’s tightness than its 9.4m turning circle. The level of manoeuvrability it offers is top-notch. This is further enhanced by the RF’s suspension set-up, which consists of a double-wishbone front axle and a multi-link rear axle.

 

As mentioned, the Limited Edition goes a step further than normal with its Bilstein shock absorbers and front strut cross brace bar. These help to tighten up the set-up even further, but ride quality is diminished as a result.

 

By firming up the RF, the Limited Edition arguably performs better during dynamic driving, but its harshness can prove tiresome. For that reason, we can’t help but feel that these suspension upgrades are out of place here given how well the regular RF performs. It’s a case of ‘if it ain’t broke, don’t fix it’.

 

Safety and servicing

 

The Australasian New Car Assessment Program (ANCAP) awarded the entire MX-5 range a five-star safety rating in June 2016. Its overall score was 35.2 out of 37 – or 95.1 per cent – thanks to perfect scores in the side impact at 50km/h (16 out of 16) and oblique pole at 32km/h (two out of two) crash tests.

 

Advanced driver-assist systems extend to blind-spot monitoring, lane departure warning, rear cross-traffic alert, cruise control, hill-start assist, tyre pressure monitoring and high-beam assist.

 

For whatever reason, Mazda does not offer with the RF with parking sensors and a reversing camera as standard, which is a puzzling omission in this day and age. However, keen buyer can purchase such a package as a dealer-fitted accessory – not that they should have to in the first place.

 

Other standard safety features include four airbags (dual front and side), anti-skid brakes, electronic brake-force distribution, brake assist, and the usual traction and stability control systems.

 

As with all Mazda models, the Limited Edition comes with a three-year/unlimited-kilometre warranty. Service intervals are every 12 months or 10,000km, whichever comes first.

 

Verdict

 

There is no doubting that the MX-5 RF Limited Edition is a brilliant sportscar, but we’re not sure if it improves the regular model’s bang-for-your-buck proposition. While the Kuroi bodykit looks the business, the Limited Edition’s other unique features seem a little superfluous when you consider its powertrain is carried over unchanged.

 

Brembo brakes, Bilstein shock absorbers and Recaro sports seats are nice to have, but they don’t make the RF meaningfully better than its standard form. If a turbocharger made its way into the Limited Edition’s engine bay, its price premium would be easier to justify. Given that enthusiasts are likely to account for all 110 sales, this MX-5 may see some track time, making the upgrades worthwhile.

 

That being said, the Kuroi bodykit is available as a $4223.67 dealer-fit accessory, so there is a way to get the look without the unnecessary mechanical upgrades.

Nevertheless, to no one’s surprise, the Limited Edition is damn good, but it’s just not the best MX-5 money can buy. The $7406 premium can be better spent on something else, because the RF is already close to perfection.

 

Rivals

 

Toyota 86 GTS Performance manual ($38,840 before on-road costs)

An instant classic since its release, the 86 has reset the budget sportscars benchmark thanks to its ability to do the little things right, but a lift in powertrain performance wouldn’t go astray.

 

Subaru BRZ tS manual ($39,894 before on-road costs)

Just like its twin under the skin, the BRZ is a loveable little beast thanks to its superb handling and driving position, but it is starting to feel its age due to a lack of connectivity and active safety.


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