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New York show: Mazda raises the roof with MX-5 RF

Hard to top: Mazda says the MX-5 RF was developed in response to the demand for the retractable hardtop version of the previous model.

Mazda’s MX-5 RF uncovered ahead of Australian launch in next 12 months


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23 Mar 2016


MAZDA has surprised fans by lifting the lid on a targa-style version of its popular new ND-series MX-5 sportscar ahead of the sleek new variant’s launch in Australia inside the next 12 months.

Revealed at a special event on the eve of the New York motor show today, the MX-5 RF – for retractable fastback – is the latest addition to the MX-5 range that started its rollout in Australia last August.

Mazda says the RF variant stays true to its goal of making “open-top driving more accessible”.

It marks the first time the Japanese manufacturer has offered a fastback version of the MX-5, with the first two generations using a detachable hard-top and the previous NC-series offering a three-stage power retractable hard-top.

The RF has a power-operated roof that can be opened or closed at speeds up to 10km/h and maintains the same 110-litre luggage capacity as the soft-top.

The time it takes for the roof to open and close is still to be confirmed, but Mazda said the RF achieves “one of the fastest opening/closing times of any retractable hard-top”.

While the RF will be offered in 1.5 and 2.0-litre guise in some markets, Australia will only get the version powered by the 118kW/200Nm 2.0-litre four-cylinder naturally aspirated SkyActiv-G engine, paired with either a six-speed manual or automatic transmission.

Specification and pricing are yet to be announced for Australia, but it is likely to mirror the soft-top and be offered in base and GT trim, and GoAuto understands it will carry a premium over the soft-top of between about $3500-$5000.

That should put a base manual version somewhere between $37,990-$39,490 plus on-road costs, while a GT auto could retail from $45,050-$46,550.

The rival Toyota 86 is priced between $29,990 and $35,990 plus on-road costs, while the related Subaru BRZ is priced between $37,150 and $38,650 driveaway.

Mazda is also yet to reveal the weight of the RF, but the additional weight of the roof is likely to be similar to that of the hard-top version of the NC, which added 36kg. This would bring kerb weight to about 1069kg for the new model.

Acceleration times and other performance measures, including fuel consumption, have not been announced but the weight gain is likely to have had a slight impact on the figures.

Mazda Australia marketing director Alastair Doak said the strong sales of the previous NC retractable hard-top in the later part of its lifecycle proves there is demand for the RF in Australia.

“There certainly was (demand) in the previous generation, obviously at the end we were only selling hard-tops in Australia,” he said in an interview with GoAuto in New York.

“The demand was there. People like the functionality of the automatic folding roof and I guess the added security as well if they have to park on the street, so that became the most popular model.”

Mr Doak said Mazda has gone to great lengths to differentiate the soft-top and the RF, which was an issue with the previous MX-5.

“The design was very similar between both cars. One was a hard-top version of the soft-top. The RF is quite different to that,” he said.

“When you see the car in the metal you can see that it actually has a very different character, a very different look and hopefully it will appeal to a slightly different buyer as well.”

Mr Doak said he did not believe the RF would dilute the simplicity of the MX-5, adding that demand for a hard-top has not waned since the new model arrived.

“We have proven with the previous generation that it is something customers want. We have kept weight to an absolute minimum. And the fact that it did become our exclusive seller in the previous generation proves that it very much fits in with where MX-5 is at,” he said.

“You could argue the 1.5 manual (soft-top) is the purest expression of MX-5 and we can’t see that model being impacted by our efforts.”

While the company expects solid demand for the RF in Australia, Mr Doak said Mazda was not anticipating that it would overtake the segment-leading Toyota 86, which sold more than 3000 units last year – and more than 4000 the previous year.

“MX-5, given it is a pure two-seater car, that will always limit its appeal to some degree. It is a more pure sportscar experience I think. It’s just the way it is.

“We are not really an alternative to a hatchback from a space and practicality point of view, but we offer a very pure driving experience and the fun of an open-top and that is what MX-5 is all about and all models will deliver that.”

The RF has a coupe-like silhouette when the roof is closed and Mazda says the side sections of the rear roof slope down towards the rear and tuck in at the sides to create “a perfect teardrop shape for the cabin”.

When the roof is opened, the overhead roof panels and rear window glass are stowed out of sight behind the seats, giving what Mazda says is a unique look in the segment.

There is a large acrylic aero board wind blocker that helps prevent wind blowing back into the cabin. A sound-absorbing headliner on the inside of the front and middle roof panels also helps improve cabin quietness.

Aside from the Porsche 911 Targa and more exotic fare such as the Lamborghini Aventador Roadster, the MX-5 is one of very few targa-like offerings in the sportscar segment.

The RF is 5mm higher than the soft-top but retains all of its other dimensions.

The Japanese car-maker says that when the roof is down, the result is a “pleasing sense of freedom combined with a reassuring feeling of being wrapped securely in the cabin”.

While the cabin carries over unchanged from the soft-top, there is now an open/close button below the air-conditioning controls and a 4.6-inch TFT colour LCD display to the left of the speedometer with a roof lowering/raising animation.

The RF ushers in a ‘machine grey’ body colour to the MX-5 range, first shown on the new-generation CX-9 SUV. Mazda says this is the second ‘premium’ colour to be slowly rolled out to its line-up, following ‘soul red’.

The sides and rear of the roof match whatever body colour is chosen, while the top of the roof is offered in piano black or the body colour.

When the hard-top is in place, the MX-5 RF “significantly improves ride quietness and heightens the feeling of high quality”, according to Mazda.

Mazda MX-5 program manager Nobuhiro Yamamoto detailed some of the development challenges of the RF, which was planned from the beginning of the ND’s development.

“The basic premise of the soft-top model is top-down driving, and in comparison we expect MX-5 RF owners will spend more time with the top closed,” he said.

“So we began development by throwing our thinking into reverse our aim was a convertible sportscar with gorgeous fastback lines when the roof is closed and an exhilarating open-air feel when open.

“We asked ourselves what it meant to make a driver’s car with a power-retractable roof, ditched the traditional idea of stowing the entire roof and realised styling that further articulates an iconic sportscar design.”

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